Chapter 3: Nannau Estate

According to accounts by Welsh historian Thomas Pennant, and repeated by tourists, the 7th Lord of Nannau, Hywel Sele, was a supporter of the English crown, and had for a long time been at political odds with his cousin, a Welsh populace leader Owain Glyndwr, also one of the upper crust. Owain was born well, married well, educated well, and had developed relationships and associations with the English court. He was also an experienced soldier who had served with distinction in the Scottish campaign of 1385.

Unfortunately the two cousins took their quarrels to the Nannau woodlands where they were hunting game. Hywel took aim at a deer, but suddenly turned and shot the arrow toward the heart of Owain who was saved by the chain mail worn under his clothing. He lost his temper and killed Hywel. ((Bows and arrows don’t kill, people do.) To hide the crime, he stuffed the body in a hollow tree trunk. Hywel’s family searched for him for years while Owain became a legend.

King's Face Image courtesy of http://www.photoeverywhere.co.uk

King’s Face
Image courtesy of http://www.photoeverywhere.co.uk

When the combined flags of Powys and the Deheubarth county to the south were raised outside Lord Grey’s castle in Ruthin in September of 1400, Owain Glyndwr’s men proclaimed their 50-yr-old leader to be the Prince of Wales. He was the last Welshman to hold that title because he ignited a rebellion that lasted 12 years, finally overcome by superior fire power. Few revolts last more than a year. Fulfilling a mystical medieval prophecy, Owain Glyndwr later raised the dragon standard as a symbol of a revolt that put an end to tax payments to the lords and the crown. Some say Owain was the root of the “scorched earth” policy used in warfare because Henry IV followed him across north Wales with an army that burned and looted without mercy.

In the meantime, Hywel’s family was still clueless. It was only through the compassion of Owain’s friend, Madog, that they learned the truth. He led them to the oak, split it open, and revealed a white skeleton. (One variation of the account tells that the two cousins were not hunting game, they were fighting a duel, and they both wore armor.) According to the locals, the spirit of Hywel did not rest, and for years frightening sounds came from “the demon oak.” On July 13, 1813, a heavy wind blew it down.

Owain avoided capture and never appeared to accept the pardon offered by King Henry V. (Anger/trust issues)

Magical Hogwarts Castle Image courtesy of arkorn/freedigitalphotos.net

Magical Hogwarts Castle
Image courtesy of arkorn/freedigitalphotos.net

Hywel’s widow was Mali, daughter of Einion ap Gruffydd (ap Llywelyn ap Lynuwrig ap Osbern Wyddel of Corsygedol), and their son Meurig Fychan became Lord of Nannau. Meurig means Matthew. Fychan was also spelled Vychan and later became Vaughan. At this juncture in our story, the Nanneys are now related to the Vaughans of Hengwrt and the Vaughans at Corsygedol.

Aren’t these names fun? I think Harry Potter must have gone to school in Wales.

The Nannau estate is located north east of Dolgellau on the western side of Foel Offrwm mountain. I find it ironic that in an article about The Estuaries of Mid-Wales, this mountain area was once called the “California of Wales,” referring to a gold mining area. The interpretation of the word “Dolgellau is “meadow of the slaves,” because the Romans were hard taskmasters to the locals. Devout readers of this blog remember the Brackett Town NC series began with the introduction of gold mining discovered by the first settlers in our area. And here we have a neighbor whose ancestors left a gold mining area but somehow settled in another one.

Regarding the Nannau estate, the site of the original house (www.heneb.co.uk/dolgellauhlc/dogellaucharactareas/d) is uncertain, as it may have been in the present deer park. However, the house built in the 1690’s was constructed by Col. Hugh Nanney on the site of a prior home and some traces of this building remain. Created a baronet in 1791, heir Robert Hywel Vaughan built the current 18th century manor house. It is 3 story stone, “built of dressed blocks of local dark grey stone, with a shallow-pitched slate roof,” with a classic portico with sandstone columns. “The pavilion wings, designed by Joseph Broomfield and added in 1805 have been recently demolished.” The cellars survive.

Sir Richard Williams Vaughan spent vast amounts of money on the estate (adding gardens, greenhouses, and hothouses) at the beginning of the 19th century, “the golden age of Nannau,” reports the website. The grounds were designed to fit into the natural landscape with deer park, pheasant house, kennels and fish pond. Nannau remained in the hands of the Vaughans until the house was sold in the 1960’s. It has been sold twice since then. A circular walk around the woodland park extends around the lower slopes of Foel Cynwch and offers views of the Mawddach valley and to the mountains and sea beyond.

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