Gwaenynog Hall is today a largely 19th century mansion, built around an earlier 16th century building, though there are records pushing back the presence of a house here to 1403. Dr Samuel Johnson, who spent some considerable time in the Denbigh area with Hester Thrale visited Gwaenynog in 1774. The owner, the affable, polite and entirely likeable John Myddleton had been mayor of Denbigh and was good friends with Thomas Pennant. Dr Johnson did not enjoy his tour of North Wales over much, and was rather churlish in his writings.
'I dined at Mr Middleton's of Gwaynynog. The house was a gentleman's house below the second rate, perhaps below the third...The table was well supplied, except the fruit was bad. Middleton is the only man who in Wales has talked to me of literature.'
Yet, Johnson seemed to have enjoyed his time at Gwaenynog, and especially the company of Myddleton. Certainly, Johnson made an impression on Myddleton, who erected a monument to commemorate his stay.
Mrs Thrale loved her time at Gwaenynog, claiming, 'Here we are loved, esteemed and honoured, and here I daresay we might spend the whole Winter if we would.'
The Hall was owned by Fred and Harriet Burton in the late 19th century, who happened to be the uncle and auntie of the famous Beatrix Potter. While the creator of such popular characters as Squirrel Nutkin and Peter Rabbit is almost synonymous with the Lake District, as a young girl she visited her aunt and uncle at Gwaenynog Hall and fell in love with the 200 acre property, especially the walled kitchen garden.
It was the kitchen garden that served as the inspiration for her tale, ‘The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies’ in which the bunnies are captured by Farmer McGregor but are heroically rescued by Thomasina Tittlemouse. Between 1895 and 1913, it is thought Potter visited the property some thirteen times, and used her sketches of the walled garden in her illustrations for the tale, published in 1909.
By 1988 the garden had fallen into a state of neglect, but was brought back from the brink by the owners Janie and Tim Smith, who with the hard work of their daughter Frances, all relatives of Potter, set about restoring Gwaenynog to the glory it enjoyed at the beginning of the 20th century. To look at some of the original sketches that Beatrix created for her stories is to look at images of the walled garden at Gwaenynog House, so impressively has the property been restored.
Gwaenynog House is open during the summer months, and by appointment only. Contact 01745 812066 for details. It is usually open as part of CADW's open doors initative in September every year.