Custodians of ‘haunted’ CADW townhouse delve into building’s ghostly history
Richard Evans, local democracy reporter
Custodians at a ‘haunted’ Elizabethan townhouse in Conwy have attempted to uncover the identities of its resident ghosts.
Staff working for heritage guardians CADW believe one of Plas Mawr’s most famous ghosts could be the son of the building’s original owner, Welsh gentleman and former MP Robert Wynn.
And the custodians at the historic building say visitors and volunteers have reported strange presences, sightings of a ghostly black dog, floating orbs, and the spontaneous smell of pipe smoke.
Dating back to the 16th Century, Plas Mawr is often described as one of the finest surviving examples of Elizabethan townhouses in the UK.
Today the building is owned by the Mostyn family, but the home is managed by CADW, whose staff look after the upkeep of the building, which attracts thousands of tourists every year.
Custodian Sarah Naylor said she wasn’t frightened whilst working at Plas Mawr but remained open-minded about the presence of ghosts.
“I’ve worked here for 13 years, and there are always visitors who will say they have felt something, a presence in certain rooms,” she said.
“We had a lady visit with her three-year-old child. She came downstairs and said when she was in the servants’ room, her child was upset and asked to leave because ‘the man in the bed looks angry about us being here’.
“We also had a volunteer who used to say she saw a black dog on the landing outside the chamber, and we’ve had reports of orbs in the attic room, but I think it could be specks of dust that are picked up by the camera lens.”
But Sarah was convinced there was physical evidence of occultist customs having been performed at the house.
“One of the things I am aware of is that all the fireplaces have witch marks on them,” she said.
“During the time the house was built, superstitions about witches and evil spirits were widespread. Nearly all the fireplaces and beams in the attic room upstairs have a star symbol (Pentagram) on them.
“They’ve been carved into the stone because they are supposed to stop evil spirits or witches entering from the chimney into the room.
“But the attic room is the darkest room in the house, and the floorboards are incredibly creaky. So if you are going to let your imagination run wild, it would be in that room. It’s not often, but if anyone does sense something or sees something, it’s up in that attic.”
While Sarah says she is open-minded about the presence of ghosts, she says she has never seen anything supernatural. She admits, though, to being baffled by a mysterious smell.
“When I’ve been in the shop, the gatehouse, intermittently over the years, I get a very strong smell of pipe tobacco,” she said.
“The first time I smelt it, I went outside to see if anyone was outside, but nobody was. One of the other custodians that used to work here could also smell it, but nobody else could. It was just the two of us.
“We had a lady visit one year who said she was a psychic. She came into the shop. I could actually smell the pipe tobacco that day, and the lady said, ‘Oh there’s a presence around you’. She said it was a gentleman smoking a pipe and that he was around me. She said he was protecting me, but I didn’t tell her I could smell the pipe smoke. I hadn’t told her anything. I was freaked out later because I’d been smelling pipe smoke off and on for years, but I’ve never been scared.”
Ghosts of Conwy
Former journalist and author Margaret Williams, a well-known local character, lived next door to Plas Mawr in the ‘Mansion House’ during her life.
Mrs Williams wrote the book The Ghosts of Conwy, documenting Plas Mawr’s reported hauntings, claiming its courtyard was visited by the ghost of a little girl wearing a blue dress and a civil war soldier.
Custodian Sarah said there was evidence that civil war soldiers had occupied Plas Mawr during the nine years of conflict (1642-1651).
“Margaret lived in the Mansion House next door, and she’s the one who often saw the little girl in the blue dress going through the archways and also the gentleman wearing a civil war outfit,” said Sarah.
“Margaret really believed it. She really did. But we do know a little bit about the civil war. The parliamentarians took over Plas Mawr during the civil war because they wanted to use the tower so they could see what was going on at the castle because of the building’s height.
“If there was fighting in the town, I’m sure there were some fatalities.”
Most famously, though, Plas Mawr is reportedly haunted by the ghost of a former housemaster and a doctor doomed to roam the halls for eternity after perishing in a chimney.
The story, written by the Victorian writer John F.Furness, tells the tale of an expectant mother carrying her three-year-old child down the steep steps of Plas Mawr’s tower.
The story goes that the pregnant woman had been staring out to sea from the building’s look-out tower, searching for any sign of her husband returning home from war in the 1600s.
But according to the tragic story, the woman fell down the tower’s steps and was knocked unconscious, as was her three-year-old child.
Seriously injured, both the mother and her child were placed in the building’s ‘Lantern Room’ and a doctor was called.
With the woman and child’s health rapidly deteriorating, a second doctor attempted to leave the tower to bring back a more senior colleague.
But an anxious housekeeper locked the doctor – Dr Dick – in the room to care for his patients.
When the master of the house returned, he found his pregnant wife and child dead and Dr Dick missing from the room – with only the chimney shaft offering an explanation as to how the doctor escaped.
According to the legend, the unnamed master of the house then died of heartbreak – but only after swearing revenge on Dr Dick, and on a stormy night, the doctor can still be heard scrabbling in the chimney as the ghost of the housemaster haunts the building’s corridors in search for him.
Whilst the identity of the housemaster has never been revealed, Sarah believes it is possible the man could be one of the sons of the original Robert Wynn.
“We have looked into the ghost story to see if there is any validity in it,” said Sarah.
“We wanted to know who the story could relate to. We know the housemaster is not Robert Wynn, and we know it is not his wife Dorothy (who fell to her death whilst pregnant).
“We know from the family tree that his first wife dies in her 60s, and they didn’t have children together. His second wife Dorothy is the one who has all the children.
“As custodians, we have done all this research, and we know Dorothy marries again. She marries into another wealthy family, so we know the story is not about Robert and Dorothy because Dorothy outlives him, and we know Robert died of old age.
“We know the story is based around this time. We don’t know anything about John, Robert’s eldest son, and we can’t find any information about Thomas, the second son, who inherited this house when they came of age.
“I found John’s will. John was married to a lady called Margaret, and in his will, he left everything to Margaret. So again, that doesn’t tally.
“But we don’t know anything about Robert’s other son Thomas. Most of these ghost stories are based on some elements of fact.
“If there is any element of truth in this story, it could have something to do with either John or Thomas, because those are the only ones here during the time the story was set.”
Sarah added: “Robert Wynn was an MP, so there were more documents about him.
“We went through ancestry and various documentation, but whatever John and Thomas did in their lifetime, they didn’t rise to a high enough status to leave many documents.
“If there is any truth in the ghost story, it could be based on either John or Thomas and their wives.”
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