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Pen Y Bryn
The Prince's Tower

Text copyright ©1998 by Jennifer Rahel Conover
Photographs copyright ©2010 by John Northall

Follow this link for a Welsh language version of this page!

Above: view of Pen y Bryn looking southwest along the front of the house

ales has long been known as a country of myth and magic. She hides her secrets in her hollow hills. Pen Y Bryn, The Prince's Tower is the latest treasure that has come to light and one of the most fascinating. In 1992 Kathryn and Brian Pritchard Gibson bought what they believed to be a thirty-six acre chicken farm with a 17th century Elizabethan manor house and it has changed their lives dramatically. The stone manor and out buildings are nestled against a forested hill in Snowdonia. It is just north of Bangor above the shores of Abergwyngregyn, "the mouth of the white shell river" overlooking the Menai Straights with the mountains forming a protective backdrop behind. Kathryn Gibson says, The locals, it seems, have always called the house Twr Llewelyn, or Llewelyn's Tower. They told us that's where the princes lived and that below it there's a Roman settlement and a bronze age fort. When asked how they came by this knowledge they always answered, "Nain (Grandmother) told me." It was only the academics who ignored this local lore that had been handed down for centuries.

 

Below: a sketch plan based on a map from www.old-maps.co.uk dated 1889

 

When you first see the house it is obvious the tower is by far the oldest section. You can also see where windows and doors have been blocked up. There is a distinct difference in the stones or the tower and those of the rest of the house but it has only recently been authenticated that the tower does indeed date back to Llewelyn's time. Shortly after moving in the Gibsons noticed a hollow sound in a part of the living room floor. Pulling up floorboards they quickly discovered secret stairways, hidden rooms, hollow walls, tunnels, tales of princes and prisoners, lovers and war. As Kathryn Gibson says "We live in the middle of a giant historical jigsaw puzzle." In fact Pen y Bryn is the lost palace of the Princes Llywelyn, Llywelyn Fawr (the Great) and his grandson, Llywelyn the Last, dating back to 1211. It is where Joan, King John's daughter and wife of Llywelyn Fawr lived and died, and it holds the key to the tragic story of Gwenllian, the first and last true born Princess of Wales. Gwenllian was the only daughter of Llywelyn the Last. Llewelyn had reluctantly been granted the title of "Prince of Wales" in perpetuity by the English crown at the Treaty of Montgomery in 1267. However, some years later Edward I stole back the title and bestowed it on his own son Edward II. The Princesss' fate was decreed after the English treacherously ambushed and killed Llywelyn the Last in 1282. Edward then ordered the abduction of the orphaned Princess from the palace. She was only nine months old at the time and was destined to spend the rest of her fifty-four years in seclusion in a priory of the Gilbertine order. Edward would probably have had her killed too were it not for the blood ties between them. Her mother, his cousin Eleanor, had died in childbirth.

This is truly one of the most spectacular finds of this century and would surely have been lost but not for the tireless efforts of the Prichard Gibsons who nearly went bankrupt in the process of trying to preserve Pen y Bryn as a trust and save it from the developers who were so eager to gobble it up. Ellis Peters, who wrote four books about the Llywelyn dynasty has helped with a generous offer of assistance as has Sharon Kay Penman who wrote the beautiful trilogy, Here be Dragons, on the Princes Llywelyn. Professor David Austin of the University of Wales, one of the world's top medieval archaeologists, states "This is an immensely important site in the national psyche of Wales." The Royal Commission of Ancient Monuments has finally declared it, "the most important site discovered in Wales in this century." It is indeed fortunate that Kathryn Gibson is such a gifted historical researcher. Without her efforts in the tracing of over 1,000 letters and other documents in various archives throughout Wales it would never have been proved that this was the actual palace. Ironically the Prichard Gibsons had moved here so Kathryn could be close to the archives in Bangor but she never dreamed that she'd be researching her own home. She told me regretfully that the previous owner had found some papers in a niche in the wall of the barn which has actually proved to be the old chapel. Unfortunately, because the papers were not in English or Welsh the lady destroyed them. They were probably either in French or Latin. Kathryn is hoping other papers will be discovered as they explore the buildings more thoroughly, unblocking windows and walls that were sealed so long ago. There are tunnels that go several miles down to the sea in one direction and several miles up the mountainside in the other. These would have been used as emergency escape routes, a wise precaution as they were so out numbered by the British. Kathryn and her family have also found numerous Roman artifacts, both in the house and in the garden, many of which are displayed on the first floor of the house. The Prichard Gibsons have plowed their life savings into this project and have endured endless red tape dealing with government bureaucracy. For a while it seemed they were fighting a losing battle but through an enormous amount of hard work on their part that danger is finally behind them and the preservation trust has applied for a grant for a major investigation of the site. Kathryn exuberantly describes her latest finds, saying, "It's a wonderful adventure. It’s living history." She is in the midst of setting up a very comprehensive display in the main house as well as the chapel. Pen y Bryn is now open to the public and all donations to the trust are gratefully accepted, however you must call the Pritchard-Gibsons to make an appointment. It's a modern day fairy tale come true, only in Wales could a chicken farm have turned into a palace!

The Aber Trust, c/o Pen y Bryn
Abergwyngregyn near Bangor, Gwynnedd
LL33 OLA, Wales
ph +01248 681150

Jennifer Rahel Conover
1261 Seminole Dr.
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33304
ph/fax (954) 565-8520

 

 

Additional photographs and descriptions of of Pen y Bryn by John Northall

 

View of the basement below the main part of the house is lit and ventilated by narrow window slits at ground level.

 

The rear of the tower shows that it is slightly irregular and lacks the battered plinth usually seen in mediaeval Welsh towers.

 

The line between the two different phases of masonry show that the house was rebuilt from an earlier ruin.

 

The rear of the house seems to be the oldest upstanding part and has a battered plinth.

 

The ditch in the parkland to the front of the house. It may have been defensive or to keep deer away from the park without spoiling the view.

 

The view from the front of the house looks directly onto the ancient crossing point to Anglesey, across the Lavan Sands.

 

The massive wooden lintel may have been a deck timber from a sailing ship that was dismantled on the Lavan Sands at the end of its useful life.

 

Follow this link for a Welsh language version of this page
More information about Llywelyn ap Iorwerth
More information about Llywelyn ap Gruffydd

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