The Stables and the Nanteos Harriers
The Hoofs Of The Horses
The hoofs of the horses! — Oh! witching and sweet
Is the music earth steals from the iron-shod feet;
No whisper of lover, no trilling of bird
Can stir me as hoofs of the horses have stirred.
~ Will H. Ogilvie (21 August 1869 – 30 January 1963)
Gwarchod Briallen at the Nanteos Stables
Behind every ‘Big House’ lays the network of a working estate; the stables, walled garden and other amenities keeping the mansion and its estate running smoothly. With Nanteos looking calm, seated in its picturesque landscape; the hustle and bustle of the everyday running of the estate lays hidden behind the big house.
The stable yard was of major importance to country living, situated behind the mansion on the east side, where it still stands today. It was built in the Mid 1830s at the pinnacle of the hunting and shooting era, to replace an older stable. No expense spared for the Greek style architectural building, housing up to 18 horses and six carriages.
Dr. Glyn Jones with Gwarchod Briallen ( http://www.gwarchodstud.co.uk )
The older stable block was on the same site as the one that stands today. What it looked like is difficult to ascertain but judging by the maps that are available the original stable block looked long and rectangle, not square like we see today.
The cupola on the roof of the west side, seen in the background of the photograph above (renovated many times over the years) has been there since the original stables, the cupola built in ‘1788 by John Humphreys at a total cost of £50.10.2 and £5.13.8 for the deal wood’(1). Perhaps this west wall is part of the original stables.
The stables contained accommodation for the groom in an upstairs apartment on the south side. On the north side was a carpenter’s shed that has access on the north side outer wall of the stable, by a flight of stone steps. The carpenter’s shed was a busy place, using wood from the estate for many repairs and creations. The carpenter’s shed had a sawdust chute; sawdust would be dropped down the chute into a corner of one of carriage compartments ready to be used as bedding for the horses.
Opposite the carpenter’s steps was a sawmill and between them was a small railway track, which was used to take logs and coal down to the coal & wood store in the courtyard. A cart would roll along the track pass the back of the stables, hit a buffer, and the cart would tip its contents down into a chute into the store sheds below. This gave the household staff easy access to the logs and coal in the court yard to use in the mansion.
The Stable yard held a large number of staff. The feeding, grooming and mucking out was a time consuming occupation. Early morning starts of 4am were essential especially if there was a hunt that day. The groom would be tending to the horses making sure they were in tiptop condition for the day’s hard slog. The experienced horse knew what the day would hold, so they took it in their stride. Relieved the staff would have been to hear the breakfast bell ring at 7a.m. in the courtyard just below the stables, after their early start.
The cobbled floor of the stable yard had to be kept in pristine condition at all times. Any weed growing would be frowned upon and had to be removed. The young stable lads would be held responsible for the up keep of the yard keeping it clean and clear at all times. In later years Margaret Powell would point with a stick at any weed she saw growing in amongst the cobbles of the yard, and demanded that it had to be removed immediately.
David Walters the Groom in the 1930 – 40s
Staff came and went at the stables - there is a small list gathered from the Nanteos Archive at the National Library of Wales, that be found on page 18.
Numerous horses were kept in the stables. Only two name plaques remain.
Other names were – Flower, Star, Smiler, Boxer, Lofty and Pitcher (3), and that is just to name a few.
Powell horses were branded, evidence found on the wooden wall panels shows W◦E◦P and W◦T◦R◦P burnt into the wood. Initialled branding marks protected livestock from poachers (the actual branding irons have long gone from the Nanteos stables).
The saddlery had a Powell crested motif, which were made of metal the one illustrated below was probably located on the blinkers.
Below is a photograph of the carriages that were kept at the stables at Nanteos. When travelling to London for business or pleasure, the Powell’s would hire carriages just on the outskirts of the city, for their use, to give an impression of grandeur. And of course, returning them at the end of the visit.
No estate would be without their pack of hounds, they were a vital part of estate life; the Nanteos hounds were aptly named the ‘Nanteos Harriers’. In 1865 they had a pack of over 30 pairs mostly with names that began with the letter ‘P’ for Powell, including many breeding pairs. William Thomas Rowland Powell (1815–1878) idolised his pack, sketching them out in the field and proudly naming them on his drawings.
List of Nanteos Harriers in 1865 (2)
Originally the kennels were located on the front lawn, close to the turnpike road. Not much is known about the architecture of this building that now stands in ruin and has been in ruin for many years. The hounds were re-located to new kennels due to the damp marsh land on which the Kennels were built on. The dampness was causing ill health in the pack.
The ‘new’ kennels were relocated on the east side of the mansion in 1870 (though there was probably a building of some sort on this site previously) three separate oblong buildings housed the dogs. The central larger building housed the boiler that would be used to cook their feed. The three white washed buildings enclosed a cobbled courtyard, where the dogs would roam.
The Illustrated London News January 13 1872
The Powell’s of Nanteos held great esteem for their horses and their hunting hounds. Hunting and shooting was a vital part of socializing in the Welsh landscape for the gentry. Regular gatherings for the hunt were very popular and being a local event it was advertised in the local newspapers. This brought people from Aberystwyth town and the surrounding area into the countryside to Nanteos to follow the hunt. After a long day chasing the huntsmen and followers would return to Nanteos for massive supper, over a hundred people would fill the kitchen and dining room. In the servants’ hall two barrels (one of beer and the other of light ale) stood on the table and in between a large plate of turkey sandwiches. The boys from town would sneak a few glasses of beer, when no one was looking. Once everyone had had their fill they would walk back to their homes in the surrounding area stomachs full and some probably quite drunk!
Opening of the Hunting Season Cambrian News 24 October 1868
The first time of the Nanteos harriers was held at Devil’s Bridge Road, about five miles from Aberystwyth, and one mile from the mansion of Col. Powell, on Friday (yesterday). Previous to the meet a numerous company was entertained to a sumptuous banquet, which was modestly called a breakfast, at Nanteos. Col. Powell taking the head of the table. The princely hospitality of this gentleman well sustained its reputation on this occasion – the tables ‘groaning’ under the good things with which they were laden.
Amongst the company assembled were – Viscount Vaughan; Inglis Jones Esq., and Lady Elisabeth Jones, Derry Ormond; Edmund Malet Vaughan, Esq; Capt. and Mrs Phillips, Mabws; G. G. Williams, Esq, Cwm; H. E. Taylor, Esq., and Mrs Talyor, Aberllolwyn; James Davies, Esq., Mrs Davies and Misses Davies, Ffosrhydgaled; J. G. W. Bonsall, Esq., and Mrs Bonsall, Fronfraith; John Parry, Esq., and Mrs Parry, Glanpaith; H. Hughes, Esq., and Mrs Hughes, Aberystwyth; Lewis Pugh Pugh, Esq.; F. R. Roberts Esq., Penwern; G. B. O’Halloran, Esq.; Capt. Richardes, Penglais; Dr. C. Rice Williams, M.D.; Dr. James, and Mrs James, Aberystwyth; W. H. Davies., Esq., Rhiwlas; Rev. Broughton and the Misses Broughton Derbyshire, Mrs Crealock, Aberystwyth; Theodore Paul, Esq.; the Misses Davies, Antaron; Hugh Richardes, Esq., Bryneithyn; Mrs Leir, Aberystwyth &c., &c.
After breakfast the majority of the gentlemen guests started for the place of meet, and had several good runs, both the hares and dogs being in fine form. Lunch was served as soon as some of the hungry ones returned, and was gratefully partaken of.
The proceeding of the day went off with perfect harmony, and the guests enjoyed themselves, as they may make sure of ever doing who are invited to meet Col. Powell at his own table.
The shooting party was a regular gathering at Nanteos. Gentry and important local business men would gather and stay at Nanteos, enjoying the hospitality of the Powell’s. All kills were logged in the Gamekeepers ledger. One interesting entry is ‘October 25 1854 - Shot kennel Boys right eye out, while ferreting with Burnell (Nanteos Gamekeeper) on the lawn above Hendre Dingle’(4). No more information can be found of the incident. Numerous gamekeepers worked on the Nanteos Estate, Thomas Arch was the most influential gamekeeper at Nanteos, born in 1832 and came to work on the Nanteos Estate in 1854 living in the Lodge. In 1873 he was promoted and ran the Strata Florida Abbey Estate, where his family still farm today.
A day’s shooting would bring an abundance of fresh meat to Nanteos. They would be stored in the game larder; that was located in the court yard, it stood 15 feet in height. Pheasants and other animals would be stored and hung in this large wooden building. Ledgers survive of ‘Game Given Away’ game given to the guests when they left after a visit, and sometimes game was delivered from Nanteos to various addresses in Aberystwyth and further afield. When this game larder was built is uncertain but it stood in the courtyard for many years, but the 1970s it had become unsafe and was demolished.
Above is a reconstructed drawing illustrating the Game Larder its style and location.
Another food commodity was pigeon and dove; the Dove Cote is located behind the stable. It is a circular freestanding building, with hundreds of pigeonholes within. Doves or Pigeons would have lived in this circular building, a large entrance high up for the birds to fly in and out, There was one small door at the base for access to collect of egg and meat, and manure for the garden. A large ladder would have rotated around the wall to give access to the pigeonholes.
Artist impression of the Dove Cote
Interior of Dove Cote
In the shubbery is a Pets Cemetery was created by the Powell family. These animals were much loved and cherished and as a mark of respect, Horses, Hounds and other pets were buried here, the early stones were laid in the mid Victorian era, with William Thomas Rowland Powell. Twenty three memorial stones are in situ today, a few sadly have disappeared. ‘£2.0.0 was paid on the 24th July 1876 for Headstones for dogs buried in the garden’(5). The latest memorial stone that shows a date is 1930 however pets were buried here much later, including Stuart the parrot in the 1950s. Due to lack of funds on the dwindling estate many do not have a memorial stone, but were still buried with full respect.
Pets Cemetery in the 1930s
Some horses were also buried in the woods, marked by large slate slab (sadly the markers have disappeared). In the woodland that immediately surrounds Nanteos where they are buried, are well-defined bridle paths that have been used quite extensively over the years, but not used as much today.
The bridle paths snake around the woods, and near the lake there are clumps of overgrown Box Hedging (Buxus Sempervirens) which show evidence of a viewing point near the ornate lake and its surroundings. The meandering Nant Paith Stream hugging the lake, on the south and west side once complete with a waterfall. A pleasant view to the eye while out horse riding.
The ‘Dark Walk’ from the Lodge to the back of the mansion was regularly cleared and cleaned for a shilling per day with orders from Col. Powell in the 1860s. This was the back drive at Nanteos that staff and delivery vehicles would use, that would bring you to the back of the stables. Only guests and important visitors would use the front drive.
The War years (1914-1918 & 1939-1945) had an effect on the country estates, throughout the country. Life patterns changed, and large estates dwindled. The hunting scene slowly diminished at Nanteos; from the death of Edward Powell in 1930, and together with the death of their only son in the First World War, Margaret Powell was the only member of the family left at Nanteos. The Hunt at Nanteos continued with the assistance of the Gogerddan Hounds. The Boxing Day hunt and its feastings survived well into the late 1940s. With the death of Margaret Powell in 1951 (the last family member of the Powell family at Nanteos), it was an end of an era at Nanteos.
A Hunting Song
A ballad I sing of a day with the hounds;
Though storm clouds loomed darkly the weather was fine,
The meet was on Tuesday in Nant Eos grounds
The sportsmen were keen, the hounds counted nine.
And first rode the Master in garments of grey,
And with him the Whip and a very large cap;
No scarlet they wore when equipped for the fray,
For trifles like these they cared never a rap.
A learned physician had ridden that way,
(Alas! For his patients with aches and with ills!)
Folk said “Little wonder he’s hunting today,
But who’s to look after the draughts and the pills?”
But Hark! That’s a find sir! And out the fox slips,
The Sportsmen shriek wildly and gallop about;
They’re all on them shouting and cracking their whips.
The hounds look bewildered and can’t make it out.
And lo! On the brow of a neighbouring hill
A rival stands gazing - a smile on his face;
He murmurs in tones that are cutting and chill
“If flourish were with them she’d quicken the pace!
At length in the open away they all go,
For gates and for gape with excitement they rush,
And how they got home I am sure I don’t know,
Though doubtless their fox saved his life and his brush.
Oh! Nimrods of Leicestershire, radiant in pink,
Perchance we could tell you some wonderful tales,
And if you were here you would certainly think
That sport in perfection dwells only in Wales!.
(By a Lady) Cambrian News 7th December 1888
(1) National Library of Wales Nanteos A3
(2) Plas Nanteos http://nanteos.com
(3) National Library of Wales Nanteos A47
(4) National Library of Wales, Nanteos A84
(5) National Library of Wales Nanteos A52
©Janet Joel 2014
ISBN 0 9533044 0 X
Web site - http://www.nanteoshistory.co.uk
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