By David Raymond Hughes
Gwysaney is situated in wooded parkland between Mold and Northop. It has been in the same family’s possession, by descent, since at least the time of Cynric Efell (fl. 1200) who succeeded to the Lordship of Ystrad Alun on the death of his father Madog ap Maredudd, Prince of Powys, in 1160
The first move to abandon the traditional Welsh patronymic naming method came about in the midsixteenth century when John ap David decided to call himself John David. His eldest son, Robert Davies (1555-1602), so called from the onset, probably began building the present house of Gwysaney but died before its completion. That honour fell to the next heir, twenty-one year old Robert Davies II (1581-1633), who was more than likely responsible for recording the date of ‘1603’ found in a first floor room.
The succeeding Robert Davies III (1616-66) was born at Gwysaney and married Anne the daughter of Sir Peter Mutton of Llannerch (near Trefnant) when he was but fifteen years of age. Due to his young age he was placed under the joint guardianship of his father-in-law and his uncle Colonel Thomas Davies. Robert Davies III was a staunch Royalist and served as a captain in the king’s cause. On 12 April 1645 he and some twenty-seven of his men and supporters were besieged at Gwysaney by Sir William Brereton, leader of the Parliamentarians in Cheshire. They capitulated after a brief encounter. Shortly before the Civil War a new front door had been installed at the Hall, decorated with the initials of Robert Davies and his wife and dated 1640. The door still stands although the lower part was damaged by Brereton’s roundheads, and had to be repaired. After Robert’s death in 1666 his wife Anne continued to administer the Gwysaney estate until at least 1681. She died in 1690. Indeed, from now on Gwysaney ceased to be the centre of things and family interests moved to other homes. Gwysaney became neglected as the result of leasing it out to a succession of tenants for a period of nearly two hundred years.
Mutton Davies (1634-1684), the eldest son of Robert Davies III, made his home in Llannerch which he had inherited from his mother. Here, he made beautiful gardens from designs that he had acquired from travels as a soldier on the continent. They were destroyed in the eighteenth century. He died is buried at Mold.
Robert Davies IV (1658-1710) succeeded his father at Llannerch. He married Letitia, daughter of Edward Vaughan of Trawsgoed (Ceredigion). He was an antiquary and naturalist and an acknowledged collector of books and manuscripts. He spent much time away from home, often in London and Oxford, in search of antiquities and documents. This meant leaving his wife at home to run the Llannerch estate as well as finding suitable tenants for Gwysaney. On the positive side, the Welsh nation is indebted to him for preserving numerous early and rare poetry that would otherwise have been lost.
Robert Davies V (1684-1728)), who married Anne Brockholes, a member of a Lancashire Catholic recusant family. Whilst a Tory and staunch churchman he showed Jacobite sympathies and was member of the north-east Wales pro-Stuart club ‘Circle of the White Rose.’
Front view of Gwysaney Hall, mid-twentieth century.
‘It was (originally) H-plan… .unusually tall, having four storeys in the gable of the E. wing In c. 1823 the E. wing was demolished, together with some of the rooms behind the hall. The dormers were removed, and internal changes included the subdividing of the hall.’
Eldest son John, John Davies (1737-85) was a bachelor and last of the male line of the Davies family. Acclaimed as a good sportsman, a keen administrator of the Llannerch and Gwysaney estates, and also acknowledged careful in financial matters. Yet, mysteriously in 1771, he left Dyffryn Clwyd for London, never to return. In 1778 he leased Llannerch Hall and its library for fifteen years to the Dean of St. Asaph Cathedral. Since he died unmarried and intestate in the capital in 1785, his estates passed, as co-heiresses, to his sisters Letitia and Mary. Llannerch went to Letitia and Mary succeeded to Gwysaney, helping it to survive. She was married to Philip Puleston of Hafod-y-wern near Wrexham. Their daughter Frances married Bryan Cooke of Owston near Doncaster, hence beginning the Yorkshire family connection.
Bryan Cooke was Colonel of the 3rd West York Militia and Member of Parliament for Malton. His wife died in 1818 and was buried at Owston and he died over two years later.
Their son Philip Davies Cooke (1793-1853) was the first of his family to inherit both Owston and Gwysaney. The Gwysaney estate was in a poor condition due to eighteenth century neglect, money on improving agricultural practices and the maintenance of buildings having been concentrated upon Llannerch.
Even Gwysaney Hall itself was inhabited by tenants under a long lease and only reverted to owner residency during the time of Philip’s son. At the time of inheritance we are told that the hall was of a simple interior design. According to later nineteenth century descriptions one would pass through the front door straight into the great hall. The parlour and chapel were on the right, while to the left were the west-wing kitchens. The upper rooms were for members of the family. At the north-east of the building were the gothic windows of the chapel, which are now placed in the garden, north of the house. Gwysaney Hall had developed structural weaknesses by the time Philip Davies-Cooke entered upon the scene. By 1823 a large crack had appeared in the eastern gable, stretching from the top to the bottom of the four storeys. The east wing was consequently demolished while the chapel windows were preserved. The upper storey of the whole house was removed and the roof lowered. The masonry from the east wing was later used to build a new wing on the west side of the house. The old hall was no longer the centre of the house and was subdivided an entrance hall and drawing room. The kitchen in the west wing became the new dining room.
Philip Davies-Cooke was also concerned at this time about the woodlands and during 1823-4 much tree surgery and planting was carried out. As well as renovating and repairing Gwysaney he also built Llwynegrin Hall and Maes Alyn; both under construction in 1828.
Philip Bryan Davies-Cooke (1832-1903) left Owston in 1881, due to health reasons. He and his family first moved to Bournemouth before later moving into Maes Alyn on the Gwysaney Estate. The family settled in Gwysaney Hall itself in 1888 and it soon became both the main family seat and focus of family attention. Events to celebrate the coming of age of his son Philip Tatton occurred in Mold in 1884, the chief event being a banquet held in a marquee in the yard of the Dolphin hotel. Further celebrations took place some ten years later on the return of his son from honeymoon when a banquet was held in Mold for 400 guests, including friends, tenants and servants. The reception was in the Town Hall and the supper in The Market Hall.
Philip Tatton Davies-Cooke (1863-1946) succeeded to the estate at the time when domestic service was still an important occupation, and consequently, there was still a substantial workforce at Gwysaney at the turn of the twentieth century. Domestic service went into rapid decline after World War I.
The two world wars caused much social upheavals, and much change has occurred in this respect during the last century. Philip Ralph Davies-Cooke (1896-19 ) inherited from his father and the present owner is the grandson, Captain Philip Peter Davies-Cooke .
E. Hubbard, Buildings of Wales : Clwyd (1986).
G.A. Usher, Gwysaney and Owston (Denbigh 1964).
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