Historic auction listing sheds light on I’m A Celebrity castle

A historic property listing for the 19th-century castle hosting this year’s I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! has been shared for the first time after being uncovered by archivists.

Gwrych Castle near Abergele, North Wales, was listed for auction back in July 1946 by its owners the Dundonald family, ending nearly 100 years of continuous family ownership.

Photos dating back to the early part of the 20th century show how the Grade I-listed castle looked before it fell into a dilapidated state following decades of failed attempts to turn it into a hotel or tourist attraction.

Described as the “The Well-known Picturesque Castle”, the nearly 80-year-old listing states that the castle was built during the Regency Period by Lloyd Bamford Hesketh, Esquire, and “is reputed to have cost a fortune”.

A photo of Gwrych Castle near Abergele, Conwy, in 1910 (North East Wales Archives)

The document says: “The magnificent 19th-century castle and estate, which is based near Abergele in Conwy, was built more than 100 years ago between 1812 and 1822 but has been preserved to an exceptional standard, with many original features remaining throughout.

“Situated adjoining the main coast road and within a short distance of the sea and main LMS Railway line. Providing easy access and transport links by road, sea or rail.

“The castle is set some 200ft above sea level on the side of hill, which is backed by woodland and commands magnificent views over the surrounding country and the Irish Sea as far as Liverpool.

“The approach to the castle allows you to pass by the Great Wood, terraced gardens and parkland. The drive passes through massive stone archways to the courtyard and entrance to the castle.

“Continuing past the entrance there are further stone archways to the Garage and Stable Yard before winding back round to the Great Wood.”

The auction listing for Gwrych Castle in July 1946 (North East Wales Archives)

The listing also details the castle’s mansion being built of limestone “in the Gothic style”, with turrets and architraves “in worked stone and with fine stone windows with leaded lights enriched with coats of arms and old coloured glass”.

It said there were 26 bedrooms, nine reception rooms and seven bathrooms within an estate that covered 1,400 acres – the equivalent of 700 football pitches – including outbuildings, lodges, gardens, woodland and parkland.

The listing included photos of the castle’s exterior which have also been shared for the first time.

Pictures of a dining room and one of a reception area, taken some time during the 1930s or the 1940s but not included in the listing, show the castle’s interior as it would have been at the time of the auction when it was in pristine condition.

As the family home of the Earls of Dundonald, during the Second World War it served as a safe haven for hundreds of Jewish children as part of Operation Kindertransport before being listed for auction.

A reception room inside Gwrych Castle thought to be from the 1930s or 1940s (Gwynedd Archive Service)

Ownership of the castle changed hands several times before it was asset-stripped around 1990 and was vandalised in the years after as the property fell into ruin.

It was eventually bought in 2018 by the Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust, headed by historian Dr Mark Baker, and following some restoration had rooms used by writing groups and its formal gardens opened to the public before the coronavirus pandemic struck.

It has now been temporarily transformed for the ITV reality show, with celebrities living and sleeping inside the ruined building.

The old property listing was found and shared by the North East Wales Archives, with pictures provided by the Gwynedd Archive Service to celebrate Explore Your Archive week.

The annual week-long campaign is organised by the UK Archives and Records Association, and supported in Wales by Archives and Records Council Wales, and encourages people across Wales to discover something new and exciting within the country’s archives.

A dining room inside Gwrych Castle thought to be from the 1930s or 1940s (Gwynedd Archive Service)

Sarah Roberts, archivist from the North East Wales Archives, said: “Gwrych Castle had kept the Dundonald family in lavish surroundings since the 1870s and would have been a much more comfortable place to live than the viper vaults the I’m a Celebrity contestants are putting up with right now.

“Despite numerous attempts over the years to turn the building into a hotel or tourist attraction the house fell slowly into disrepair until taken over by The Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust.

“It’s brilliant to see it reach households all over the country now and viewers can explore its story and others like this by looking into their local archives.”

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