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A long history of Buckland

Buckland Hall History

The early years

Buckland Hall is sited thoughtfully on what has been the seat of power for the Brecon Beacons and the Usk valley – an area famed and fought-over for millennia.

One historian has noted: “The estate lies in the most fought-over area of the South Welsh Marches, where the Usk, having spread a delectable vale, opens a gateway through the Black Mountains, as though to tempt the invader within. Romans, rival native Princes, Saxons, Normans, English, all have poured in turn through this gap. The ancient road from Gaer to Caerleon, traversing the estate, is studded with Roman camps and memorial stones: close to Scethrog stands the ‘Victorinus Stone’ to the son of a general who perished in Cwm Gelanedd (the Valley of Slaughter) by the roadside there.” (You can tell they were less cautious about preserving the tourist image in those days.)

After the Romans left (and, I ask you, what had they done for us?), Brychan, grandson of Tewdrig, reigned in a stronghold on their castrum site at Gaer over the kingdom he called Brycheiniog. Centuries later, the area was seized by Bernard of Newmarch and its name (mercifully) Normanised to Brecon and the present town established as the capital. Bernard apportioned his new territory into fifteen manors among the knights who helped him to win it.

There are murmurings that sometime, during the so-called Dark Ages, the Welsh Arthur and Merlin were connected to the area, particularly to nearby Llangorse Lake.

Buckland, the starter home

The first house on the current Buckland site that we know something of was owned by Daffyd Gam, Prince of Wales. Actually, he was just one of many, many Princes of Waleses at the time, so not quite as notable as it sounds. Daffyd Gam fought at Agincourt in support of the young king, Henry V, who was born just 30 miles away in Monmouth. The story goes that Daffyd Gam fulfilled an important role in the Battle of Agincourt. Apparently, Henry asked him to go over the rise and check out the strength of the French army. When Daffyd saw the awesome French forces he was gob-smacked,they had three times the number of English soldiers, including real knights on horseback and proper foot-soldiers. The English team in comparison was mainly composed of around 5,000 bowmen who had been conscripted, mainly because bowmen were half the cost to employ than other soldiers. Recent historical opinion discredits the effectiveness of the long-bow in deciding the battle as the volleys of arrows were only threatening in the first few minutes of the three-hour battle and couldn’t penetrate the high-tech French steel armour.

Sorry, I digress – so there’s our man, Daffyd Gam, wondering what to say to Henry. If he gives a realistic appraisal, what to speak of a sexed-up dossier, Henry would wisely turn and head for home. Discretion being the better part of saving your skin. So, he decides to spin the intelligence and cheerily rides back to Henry’s camp. When Henry asks the score, Daffyd carefully replies, “there’s plenty of French to fight and plenty to kill.” King Henry took it positively “OK, let’s be at them.” And, the rest is history.

Unfortunately, poor Daffyd Gam was killed in the battle coming to the aid of Henry who was being hard-pressed in hand-to-hand combat and would have surely been overcome had not Davy Gam (yes, he was called that) and some other knights hadn’t intervened. Some say Davy did kill the French leader, John I Duke of Alencon, Some say he didn’t die then – there are alternative theories. It certainly was unusual for such an important noblemam to be killed. In those days, the main motivation for taking part in a battle was not actually to kill people, and certainly not celebrities who were far more valuable if captured for ransom. Henry V broke the convention and started killing the French nobles who were so shocked by this breach of etiquette that they swore never again to play cricket with the English.

But we must trust what the bard has to say. Surely, he couldn’t be wrong. So to quote from Act IV, at the end of the battle:

HenryV: Where is the number of our English dead?
(Herald shews him another paper)
Edward the Duke of York, the Earl of Suffolk,
Sir Richard Ketly, Davy Gam esquire:
None else of name; and of all other men
But five and twenty. O God, thy arm was here;
And not to us, but to thy arm alone.

There is also the suggestion that the character Fluellen was broadly based on Daffyd Gam – though Fluellen fared better by surviving the battle.

Our historian continues: “A few years later in 1460, the Castle and Manor of Penkelly (now the local village of Pencelli) were found to be held by Sir Hugh Mortimer. Henry VII granted them in his last year to our kinsman, Edward Duke of Bucklingham, who twenty years later forfeited them on his attainder (Oxford Dictionary to the rescue:- the extinction of a person’s civil rights resulting from a sentence of death or outlawry on conviction for treason or felony; i.e. he was either a traitor, a crook or framed.), when Penkelly was split up into five manors, of which the Welsh Penkelly was retained by Henry VIII and remained crown property until 1817. English Penkelly (and that’s the bit that includes Buckland) was granted to Walter Devereux, Lord Ferrers, and in 1601 to Michael Edward Stanhope.”

A succession of property deals

So, the Buckland site was changing hands as quickly as house next to a railway track. But, at least, it seems, successive owners invested something into the property. For instance, there is evidence of an Elizabethan garden under the archery terrace to the south of the mansion. And, at some point, the old home was replaced by a Jacobean house.

Back to the historian for clarification: “In 1709 it was purchased by Roger Jones of Buckland from Edward Games, together with the manor of Pencelly Castle and lands in Llanfigan, Llandetty and adjacent parishes. He already owned the manors of Wenallt and Scethrog, whose earlier history appears obscure. Buckland House had come to this owner through the marriage of his kinsman, William Jones, who died in 1661, with an heiress of Meredith Games, the probable builder of the house on the site.”

That paragraph needs help. So, Meredith Games built the Jacobean house in the early 1600s. His daughter was married to William Jones and, after he died, she sold it to Roger Jones who then was buying up everything going in the area. The name Buckland apparently is derived from the ancient local forest of Bychlyd (you pronounce the y’s as u in the word gun. Say it quickly and you nearly have ‘Buckland’). The forest was noted for its deer. On the death of Roger Jones in 1741, Buckland and the manors passed to his widow and then to her successors who then sold the whole lot to Roderick Gwynne of Glanbrane, Carmarthen in 1756.

Roderick had married well to the Hon. Anne Howe, the daughter of Lord Chedworth. On his death in 1742, she became the co-heir of his estate. Not only did she have money, she was in direct descent from King Edward I, II & III of England. We have the geneology to prove it, thanks to the internet.

This illustrious line starts off well with Edward I having married Margaret, the daughter of Phillip III of France and later marrying Eleanor, daughter of Ferdinand I, King of Castile. By Eleanor he begat Edward II who begat Edward III who begat John of Gaunt. By Margaret, Edward I begat Thomas Plantagenet, Earl of Norfolk and then there was begotten all manner of lords, knights, dukes down to Thomas, Duke of Norfolk K.G. described as the hero of Flodden. His son, Thomas Howard married back into the parallel line descending from Edward I, and his wife was Elizabeth, daughter of the Duke of Buckingham and, therefore, a distant cousin.

And so the begatting went on until we reach Anne Howe, 14th in direct descent from Edward III. With illustrious personages as Edward and Eleanor at the head of the family tree, it was natural that these forenames should be used in nearly every generation.

The Georgian estate

Now, it was this Roderick Gwynne (i.e. the one who married Anne Howe) who replaced the Jacobean house with a handsome Georgian mansion which stood exactly where the current mansion is today. In fact, it was the same size and on the pretty well the same footprint as the present Buckland Hall. Or, rather Buckland Hall as it is today was built on the same footprint and to be the same size as the Georgian mansion; but we’ll come to that presently.

What does remain of Roderick Gwynne’s Georgian estate are the out-buildings at Buckland Hall. There is a wonderful old Coach House and courtyard surrounded by a wall 4.5m high with a fascinating stone flat arch at one end and a stone collapsed arch (just a bit too flat) at the other. The Coach House has been extended at different times, but, even from the start, it had seven arched bays for the carriages; one for each day of the week, I suppose. This wasn’t the working farm; the Coach House was just for the transport and fun of the family. Down the lane, the mansion was served by the ‘home farm’ now in private hands called Buckland Farm. It still has the large walled garden which would have supplied Roderick, his family and guests.

The Coach House had accommodation for the equestrian staff, stables for the horses and even a sick-bay. Other outbuildings created at the time included a Smoke House (still existing with the original fire pit and hooks). This was for curing tofu, I believe.

There was also a fernery, because ferns were really big in those days. But, the star of the estate was the ice house built deep into the hill behind the Coach House. The labourers would haul slabs of ice from the frozen river or lake in the depth of a harsh winter and store it in the ice-house, covered with straw. The architecture of an ice-house is a doorway into a narrow passage curling around a central chamber which is sunk deep into the ground. They tell me that the ice could last for up to three years. It was a statement of the quality of your estate that you could serve Slush Puppies in a hot summer, years after the last real freeze. Great, as long as you remove all the straw beforehand.

I reckon it is Roderick Gwynne who we have to thank for the estate being in the shape it is today. By that I mean, not that he’s responsible for its years of neglect, but that he constructed the mansion, laid out the overall site and infrastructure and developed the gardens obliterating the previous efforts.

However, there seems to have been a quick succession of generations after the first Roderick. His son, Thynne Howe Gwynne (or TG, as I bet his mates called him – anything to avoid ‘Thynne Gwynne’) took the title Squire of Buckland and married Miss Mathew, daughter of the Squire of Lundock Castle.

In 1824, the Welsh bit of The Royal Manor of Pencelly was added to the estate. Remember, Henry VIII had taken it as crown property and so it remained until it was sold in 1817 to Charles Claude Clifton who then sold it to the Gwynnes.

TG’s son, Roderick, inherited Buckland and passed it on to his daughter, Anna Maria Eleanor, who in 1830 married James Price Holford, Squire of Kilgyn in County Carmarthen. The then Major (later Lieutenant-Colonel) J P Holford very gallantly allowed the family to be thereafter known as the Gwynne-Holfords. This kind of indicates that his wife was probably more than his equal in wealth and property. But, J P was a brave soul who fought at the Battle of Waterloo.

There is a historical dispute whether it was Major Holford or Roderick Gwynne who was so insistent people should not forget such a valiant victory, that he laid out part of the gardens with trees and hedges to depict the line-up of the French and English armies. Some of that horticultural battle-plan still exists. On the lawn, to the south of the mansion, there are four mushroom-shaped yew trees which represented something military. There are also a set of four squarish yews which we know more about. That was the guard around the Duke of Wellington and there in the middle of them, until latter days, stood a statue of the Duke on his horse. The story is that the French army extended up the hillside, but were mown down mercilessly by the Forestry Commission.

The couple had five children led by James Price William Gwynne-Holford Junior, born on 25th November 1833, incidentally sharing the same birthday as myself. Upon his mother’s death in 1883, he inherited both the Buckland estate and that of his father in Carmarthen.

Happy years

The 19th century seems to have been Buckland’s halcyon days. No more property deals, no traumatic events-just the century slipping by with a wealthy landowner enjoying the fruits of his industrial enterprises and the rents off the numerous tenant farms within his 25,000 acre estate. Unlike poor Scotland and Ireland, Wales was highly prosperous during the 19th century, mainly thanks to coal and steel. 150 years on, there has been a strange downside to this affluence. Because of the famines in Ireland and the clearances in Scotland, huge numbers of folk emigrated to America. Now, the 40 million US citizens with Irish connections and the 20 million with Scottish ancestry are pouring the green stuff into their respective homelands. By contrast, there are only 2 million Americans who have actually heard of Wales. Perhaps, if we converted from rugby to American football?

Prosperity allowed the Gwynne-Holfords to invest time and energy into the gardens. It was a period of importing all sorts of exotic plants, shrubs and trees from the far-flung reaches of the empire. Some of these were sensible imports and some have been regretted. Buckland Hall still has an amazing bank of rhododendrons stretching about 400 yards along the hillside. The original planting was probably much smaller and consisted of high-quality hybrids of at least six different colours. Nowadays, rhododendrons have a bad press in Wales. These hardy shrubs from the Himalayas flourish over everything around them. They vigorously self-seed and there is no stopping them. Grants are available in Wales to exterminate them. Even though they have strayed way beyond their intended beds, we are proud of our colourful rhododendrons which can be seen from miles away and we resist the cull.

The Gwynne-Holfords were especially interested in evergreens and planted many lovely specimens. Our favourites are the four redwoods of various species, the monkey puzzle and the Western Red Cedars, two of which have formed the ‘Teepee Tree’ with an internal space large enough for fifty people to hold a workshop. There was also a maze, reputed to be based on Hampton Court’s and a secret azalea garden. One recent visitor to Buckland claimed that she had played in the grounds as a child before the war and that there was another walled garden with peach trees now lost behind the burgeoning rhododendrons. She also said that there were mulberry trees around the lake, which is likely, as in the middle ages, there was a decree that all estates should grow mulberries to foster silk worms in an effort to reduce Britain’s dependence on imported silk.

All these added to the planting of previous centuries. The Tree Registrar folk reckon that the Buckland arboretum contains two Champions in the grounds, a Beech and a Silver Lime; both believed to be the largest of their kind in Britain. Perhaps the oldest inhabitant of the estate is the Sweet Chestnut at the edge of the lawn. Its huge girth indicates that it could be over 500 years old.

Add to the planted items, the innumerable statues and stone features strewn everywhere and the gardens must have been an absolute delight (when the sun was shining). Ah, these were days that will probably never be repeated. How could anyone match the legions of gardeners and estate labourers that toiled 24/7 to attend to every blade of grass. Modern machinery is no real substitute for an impoverished mass workforce. But, in losing such horticultural attention, we have at least said farewell to the worst excesses of bonded labour under a rigorous class system.

One interesting feature in the estate is the set of gravestones on the lawn near the main entrance. These are of a horse and dog, probably belonging to Major Holford. The inscription reads:-

‘Beneath lie the remains of Pen-Gwyn-Flandda who departed this life January 3rd 1841 aged 31 years. Fleetest of the Mountain Race; my gallant, docile, hawk-eyed grey.’
‘Also those of the noble grateful Guard deceased December 5th 1843 aged 15 years. May he who readeth this equal him in faithfulness and truth. Man can learn virtue from a dog.’

{The mantle of faithfulness and virtue has now fallen on Buffy, the working cocker spaniel you may see sitting outside the front door waiting for someone to go walkies with. She’s a definite contender in the World’s Friendliest Dog category, but even so she isn’t allowed in the mansion. She knows that, but hopes to take advantage of the fact that you may not.}

The young J P W Gwynne Holford was educated at Eton and Christ College, Oxford. He did a short stint with the 16th Lancers, but preferred to return to being a country squire. His mother tried to market him as a Liberal Conservative in order to win both the Whig and Tory votes, but no one, even then, bought the idea of Conservatives being anything other than conservative. Yet, in 1870 he did get elected as a standard Tory. In a tightly run contest, he polled 372 votes against his opponent’s 338. In the general election of 1874, he increased his vote by 2, but his majority was down to 21. Again in 1880, in what was described as the ‘most memorable in the annals of the borough’, his tally rose to 379, but the dastardly Mr Cyril Flower polled a massive 433. No, these tiny numbers weren’t because of a seriously apathetic electorate, it just shows how few people were actually allowed to vote.

J P W was depicted as a zealous churchman and was patron of Llandetty church. A pedestrian suspension bridge was constructed across the Usk so that Buckland’s inhabitants could walk across to the Llandetty church, cutting the trek from several miles to just a few hundred yards. This bridge was said to have been originally bought from a catalogue, erected in his estate in Carmarthenshire and then transposed to Buckland. Please don’t try and cross it now, it bears a health warning. He also practically rebuilt the church at Llansantfraed, one of the prettiest churches in the district. This church on the A40 towards Brecon not only has the Gwynne Holford tombs and memorials, it is also the resting place of the eminent Welsh mystic poet, Henry Vaughan (Silurist), author of Scintilla.

In 1891, he married Mary Eleanor Gordon-Canning from Hartbury in Gloucestershire who, at 25 years old, was 33 years his junior.

The great fire of Buckland

However, terror and tragedy was to befall this happy situation. In the early morning of Wednesday, 23rd January 1894, the family awoke to find a fire raging through the house. The Brecon & Radnor County Times of 25.01.1894 described the incident under the unimaginative title, Great Fire at Buckland, adding The Whole of the mansion Completely Gutted, Fortunate Escape of the Family?

On Wednesday morning, 23rd, probably the most disastrous fire of the century occurred at Buckland, the ancient ancestral home of Mr Gwynne-Holford, J. P. etc., some time member of Parliament for the borough of Brecon, which was completely laid in ruins. About 4.30 in the morning, Mrs Gwynne-Holford awoke, and at once observed a strong smell of smoke. She at once aroused her husband and Mr David Gwynne [her nephew]; and it was then discovered by the latter gentleman that the house was on fire.?

The local paper relates how a messenger rode to Brecon, asked directions to the fire station, the alarm was raised, the town’s volunteers donned their breeches, hitched the horses and clattered down the eight miles to reach the fire. No wonder the place was either a raging inferno or a smouldering heap by the time they arrived- either way there was not much they could do to save the building.

The Gwynne-Holfords then engaged the eminent Welsh architect, Stephen Williams, in rebuilding the mansion practically from scratch. They chose a Tudorbethan style, not quite the same as the eponymous Barratt and Bovis homes – but using a combination of rough local sandstone and finer dressed sandstone from Shropshire to recreate the stone mullioned windows, castellations and gabled dormers of an earlier era. Mr Williams was particularly renowned for church buildings and he included a gothic feel to the arches of the porte-cochere entrance. The Victorians loved their steel as it allowed unprecedented ceiling spans and support without load-bearing walls so that the reception rooms could be as large as they wanted. Even for the time, Buckland has unusually large rooms and spaces for a private dwelling. The main lounge, for example, is 18 metres at its widest point and has His and Hers fireplaces, one at either end. This building, completed in 1898, is the Buckland we know now, though subsequently ravished from a century of abuse and neglect.

The census of 1901 records that the three family members were present in the mansion on census night. James G-Holford is noted as Head of the family aged 68 and ‘Living on own Means’. His wife, Mary was just 35 and their only child, Eleanor, was aged one year old. We often think of Victorian mansions being occupied by large extended families, but at Buckland, there was just the three of them. By contrast, there were fourteen servants in the mansion alone, with many more in other estate buildings. They were all aged between 17 and 36 and only two of them came from Wales. The census reveals surprising mobility amongst the servant class with the staff hailing from as far afield as Cambs, Lincs, Somerset, Devon, Glos, London, Bucks and Hereford.

There were further additions and alterations made to the immediate estate during the Edwardian years of the early twentieth century. A generator house, now Lakeview Cottage, was constructed near the Coach House to supply the mansion with electricity. Buckland was probably one of the first mansions in rural Wales to be truly wired-up. The Gwynne-Holfords had a clear love of tennis and, in a bid to rival the fledgling Wimbledon Championships, laid out 6 courts in one field; four grass and two hard, overlooked by a octagonal pavilion with half-timbers and stone tile roof. Very pretty, but with rather less capacity than Centre Court.

The mansion also grew an appendage,the stone verandah on the West elevation, probably to enjoy the sunsets. Buckland is an evening sort-of place and has its own micro-climate based on the local hills and valleys weather as well as the overall geography of Wales. It is located in a rain-shadow. The main weather for Britain floats over the Atlantic from the SW and as it rises for the first time in thousands of miles, it dumps its rain on the famous valleys of South Wales. Having relieved itself there, it then arrives at the Usk Valley which runs at right-angles across the top of the other valleys. The clouds dip and retain just enough more moisture as to bless the area from Brecon to Abergavenny with half the overall rainfall of 10 miles South of us. The Buckland people had 25,000 acres to choose the perfect spot for their own home and my reckoning is that they chose wisely being strongly driven by meteorological considerations.

Another feature of the micro-climate is that, even if the day has been rain-swept, the whole atmosphere quietens down in the evening. The darkest clouds move away leaving pretty high clouds to be tinged orange and red by the last rays of sun as it sets behind the Beacons.

I mention all of that to explain the construction of the verandah, because otherwise it hasn’t much going for it. It doesn’t really sit well against the mansion and, after nearly 100 years, the stonework is being blown apart by the corroding steel structure within it. Stonework specialists tell us that it is a design fault with no remedy. We have requested permission from the National Park to dismantle it.

The passing of J P W Gwynne Holford in his 83rd year in February 1916 was noted in the local paper. Perhaps we’re now so accustomed to question marks over politicians and celebrities that the report may raise some eyebrows. I’ll quote a couple of sentences from the obituary and let you, dear reader, form your own opinion.

[His death] took place at Porthmawr, Crickhowell, the residence of Miss Solly Flood where he was on a visit on Sunday last.He had been paying visits to Miss Solly Flood’s residence for some time.?

Perhaps, the combination of the death of her husband, the fact that there was an only daughter and the changing society in the aftermath of the Great War led his widow, Mary, to decide to sell up and move back to her native Gloucestershire. Descendents of Eleanor Gwynne-Holford now run a stud farm in that county and very kindly allowed us to peruse their fantastic collection of photographs of life at Buckland during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They seem to show a family happy, well-established and generous to the local community. For her burial in the fifties, Eleanor chose to be laid in the vault at Llansantfraed church alongside her husband. Eleanor is noted as the founder patron of Roehampton Hospital, recently noted for the surgery of the young Iraq war-victim, Ali Abbas.

Lloyd and the lord

The new owner was Mr Berry, the son of a solicitor in Merthyr Tydfil. He and his two brothers did rather well for themselves, which must be a great encouragement to anyone growing up in Merthyr. Not long after arriving at Buckland Hall, ordinary Mr Berry did what any self-respecting man with money did in those days- he invited Lloyd George for dinner. I imagine that after a huge feast of local game, the two gentlemen settled into leather armchairs in the billiard room (Lloyd George having being allowed to win) and, as they sipped their cognac, the subject moved to titles. Lloyd George was notoriously open about selling titles. He regarded it as a fair means to raise serious income for the Liberal Party- two million pounds within two years.

Apparently, there was a set tariff:
Rates for Enoblement
Knighthood 10,000
Peerage 30,000
Baroncy 50,000

“I’ll have the peerage, please,” said Mr Berry and, with the signing of a cheque, he became Lord Buckland – later to become Baron. I think there was a bulk order deal as his brothers followed suit and became Lords Kemsley and Camrose – later both upgraded to Viscounts. The two brothers were media barons owning the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Times pre-Black and Murdoch.

But, alas more tragedy. (I suppose when you chronicle several centuries, under the laws of probability, there will be a number of deaths and troubles.) One day in 1926, Lord Buckland was out riding through the fields. He spurred his horse on to full gallop, but had he spotted the arm of the telegraph pole ahead? His groom following behind called desperately to attract his attention. But, as Lord Buckland looked around to find out what the groom was so frantic about, he hit the telegraph pole and was thrown from his horse.

The funeral cortege went by horse carriage from Buckland back to his native Merthyr Tydfil where a statue was erected in his honour.

A few years later, his widow put the whole estate back on the market. An advert by Knight, Frank & Rutley in Country Life described it as follows:-
Three-and-a-half miles of Renowned Salmon Fishing In the River Usk, including several famous pools One of the finest properties in South Wales, commanding some of its most glorious scenery.

The Buckland Estate?

The sale was to take place by auction, but the actual purchaser in 1935 was a friend of the family and, I believe, their solicitor, Mr Llewellyn. This was the father of Harry Llewellyn, the show-jumper famous for his exploits at the Olympic Games on Foxhunter. And, Harry was the father of Roddy Llewellyn.

War and peace

The Llewellyns used Buckland as a second home and, so when war broke out in 1939, it was a sitting target- not for German bombers, but for the War Office who thought it would be perfect for top brass meetings. The surrounding countryside was fortified with pill-boxes. You may wonder who they thought was likely to attack- a U-boat coming up the Usk, perhaps? The story locally is that it was the Canadian soldiers who used the statues in the gardens for target practice and who did the most desecration.

After Dunkirk, the priorities changed. The army brought many wounded soldiers from the Welsh regiments and converted Buckland to a military hospital, sort-of M.A.S.H in a Mansion. The initial conversions were rather crude. The verandah floor was hacked up and plumbing laid for a row of toilets. Beds were everywhere and the old kitchen became a make-shift theatre.

The poor Llewellyns returned to see their lovely home in 1941. Utterly dismayed, they passed it over to the War Office for a pittance. Buckland faired better than another local mansion the other side of Bwlch on the Glanusk estate owned by the Legge-Burkes. Their house was so badly trashed by the army, that the only conclusion was to blow it up.

There are many happy stories of local people enjoying the vibrant life that an army centre brought to the locality. It was the first time that many ordinary people could enter the building and the proximity of many soldiers, doctors, nurses, Italian prisoner-of-wars and local youth in the morally-liberating context of war is best left to your imagination.

During the forties, another visitor to the area was busy composing his opus magnum, a work that would make his name famous amongst the love generation of the Sixties and beyond. J R R Tolkien apparently visited Talybont-on-Usk, the village overlooked by Buckland, to write sections of Lord of the Rings. He borrowed generously from the locality to feed the voracious appetite of his book for people and place-names. His friend, Fred from Tredegar, appears as Fredegar and Crickhowell turns up as Crick Hollow. Merthyr with its’ industrial background Mordor, perhaps. Buckland, which as the book describes, does ‘lie on the east of the river?’ became the residence of the strange Buckleberries and was the childhood home of Frodo Baggins. It was the last place within The Shire that Frodo visited before leaving with the ring.

Now, some people may try to tell you that the Buckland that gets ten mentions in the Lord of the Rings is assumed to be a Buckland in Oxfordshire. However, we had a visit from a New Zealand researcher for The Lord of the Rings film production producing a photo record of all the places connected with the book. Their unequivocal conclusion is that our Buckland near Talybont was the real inspiration, so, that’s good enough for us!

After the war, the War Office passed Buckland on to the British Legion to look after the ex-servicemen who needed long-term care. The British Legion carried out some initial works to customise the place in 1951 but that was it for the next 35 years. The first and second floors were hacked around, but mercifully, the ground floor layout was largely unscathed. What did disappear were many of the fine features displayed in Knight Frank’s sale brochure of 1935; beautiful fireplaces, light fittings, a parquet floor. All the statues in the gardens were sold off cheaply (perhaps because of the Canadians’bullet marks) and there were murmurings of nepotism and corruption.

Despite this absence of period features, the ex-servicemen seem to have enjoyed their time at Buckland, which had been renamed Crosfield House after one of their own. It was a wonderful setting for them and there was a lot of interaction with the local community. Many locals recall coming to Buckland for dinners, carol services, concerts and outings, or just to play dominoes with the old boys.

But, as the numbers dwindled, it made sense for the British Legion to combine two homes and so, the boys of Buckland moved to Rhayader and Buckland was once more on the market.

It was purchased by Mr Bill Toye, a geologist-accountant-businessman from Cheltenham who had made his money from the family business of military insignia and ties. He converted the mansion for use as a residential conference centre and restored its name to Buckland adding Hall to distinguish it from the many other local places which, by then, had taken the name Buckland. Mr Toye was keenly interested in the horticultural merits of the estate and, when there was competition to establish the new Welsh Botanic Gardens, he proposed the Buckland estate as the ideal location. Because of its existing parkland and specimen trees, it was regarded as a good second choice, but the logistics of transport and parking would not have suited a site in the National Park.

Unfortunately, Mr Toye’s own enterprise at Buckland languished during the recession of the early nineties.

Buckland Hall today

And so it was that, in 1996, Buckland Hall was placed on the market by a long-suffering bank. On hearing of the sale, we gathered a group of friends to form The Buckland Project Ltd and made on offer for the property and contents. The company took possession on 23rd December 1996. For the first couple of years, the priority was remedial works; to repair the leaks and to stop the dry rot. In 1999, outline planning consent was granted for extending the mansion to incorporate a swimming-pool and health suite and to construct 40 new bedrooms near the Coach House. Currently, we are processing the detailed design of those proposals.

Blame us for giving Buckland its holistic flavour and vegetarian ethos. The place opened for business officially in the spring of 1999. Bookings have steadily grown and Buckland Hall enjoys an expanding base of loyal clients each adding their own style and spirit to the energy of the centre. It seems to be many things to different groups, but we think of Buckland as a destination life centre.

There is no doubt that Buckland is a building with a soul. It had a hard time in the 20th century, but it is perking up no end. It seems to relish having people to stay and we are grateful to all our guests for bringing such joy and positive energy to lighten and uplift this wonderful place.

May it be a happy home from home for everybody.

Update – Buckland Hall is permanently closed for renting.