Baglan Name

Margam Castle - Background Notes

Writing from Rome in the Winter of 1771, Thomas Mansel Talbot expressed a declining interest in Margam and its dilapidated, rambling old mansion, stating in a later letter "I leave Margam for Penrice with very little reluctance." He demolished Margam House, the historic home of his Mansel forebears between 1786-1793 having built a villa in the classical style at Penrice. On the site, Talbot constructed Margam's magnificent Georgian Orangery, the finest example of late eighteenth century architecture in South Wales.
Almost forty years later, his son Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot formulated plans for a grandiose new mansion in a prominent position overlooking the park at the foot of the wooded Iron Age Hill fort of Mynydd Y Castell. He developed and revitalised the Margam Estate, a work continued by his daughter Emily Charlotte in a manner befitting this ancient family seat.
C. R. M. Talbot was born on the 10th May 1803 at Penrice, Gower, the only son of Thomas Mansel Talbot (1747-1813) and Lady Mary Talbot (1776-1855). His early years were spent at Penrice before being sent to a private school at Wimbourne in Dorset. T. M. Talbot, who was responsible for building the villa at Penrice and Margam's magnificent Orangery died in 1813, his vast estates being left in trust for his son.
On the 28th December 1835, he married Lady Charlotte Butler, daughter of the Earl of Glengall, at Cahir House, County Tipperary, the ceremony conducted by his close friend, the Reverend Calvert Jones. There were four children from the marriage, Theodore, Emily Charlotte, Bertha Isobella (who married John Fletcher of Saltoun) and Olivia. Lady Charlotte died in 1846 whilst at malta. Two years later, Talbot was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Glamorgan.
Keenly interested in the new art of photography, he encouraged his relatives William Henry Fox Talbot and John Dillwyn Llewellyn in their experiments. Fox Talbot produced some early views of the south west facade of Margam Castle. After perfecting his techniques, Fox Talbot revealed his findings to the public in 1839.
The main entrance was on the north, with terraces to the south and west, broad flights of steps and a gravelled walkway leading to the 'pleasure grounds'. The interior decoration rivalled that of the impressive exterior, the main family rooms including a library, drawing, dining, morning and business or muniment rooms, many decorated with carved woodwork, panelling, gilded plasterwork, stained glass windows and marble fireplaces, the whole dominated by the central staircase tower. A number of bedrooms were decorated in the fashionable styles of the period - these were the Chinese, Tapestry, Yellow and Green bedrooms. Furnishings were fine tapestries, antiques and works of art purchased at auctions at home and abroad.
The domestic offices comprised a vast kitchen, scullery, pantries, stillroom, housekeeper's room, steward's room, housemaids' sitting room, storerooms, butler's pantry, plate safe and extensive cellars. Adjoining the house, around a paved courtyard, were the brewery, laundry and bakehouse, while the castle yard contained the gunroom, harness room, coach houses and stables. Land agents, gamekeepers, woodmen, butler, housekeeper and other household servants were essential to maintain the estate in good order and keep life flowing smoothly. These officials and employees frequently had to be housed, clothed and fed, in many instances giving the estate a lifetime's service.
In 1814, Christopher was sent to Harrow School, followed by a period of private tutor ship under the supervision of a Mr. Lipscomb of Fulham, London, before entering Oriel College Oxford in 1820, graduating with a First Class Honours Degree in mathematics in 1824. The same year he came of age and inherited his vast estates, the occasion being celebrated with great festivities. At Margam, the British Ensign was hoisted on Mynydd Castell, the village decorated with ribbons and garlands and three hundred and fifty tenants and guests attended a banquet presided over by the land agent, Griffith Llewellyn and the vicar, the Reverend Bruce Knight.
Later that year, accompanied by several travelling companions, a cruise of the Mediterranean and an extended tour of several European countries was undertaken and a number of art purchases were made to add to an extensive family collection housed at Penrice. Returning to Britain, Talbot focused his attention on the management and improvement of his estates, determined to combine his responsibilities with the continued pursuit of his favourite leisure pastimes, especially yachting. At Margam he bred horses for racing and hunting, kept a pack of fox hounds and was a frequent visitor to the fashionable Glamorgan races. Like his father, Talbot farmed much of the park and its surrounds. At the outset, he determined to stop indulgences which tenants and employees considered a right. The villagers were forbidden their practice of allowing pigs to root about in the Great Wood and Crook the gardener was prohibited from growing potatoes in the nursery ground.
Within a few years, Talbot formulated grandiose plans for a new mansion at Margam. An immediate problem was the shortage of funds and ready cash which Talbot attributed to those "who had held the purse strings in his minority, and their desire to get rid of ready cash by any means possible". The land agent, Griffith Llewellyn, was instructed to strictly curtail estate finances and Talbot, aboard his yacht Galatea at Corfu, offered to have his annual expenditure reduced to two thousand pounds. Consideration was given to discharging estate employees, casual work rates were reduced and even the possibility of dismissing a ploughman engaged by the family for forty years was discussed.
Financial difficulties overcome, the 1830s were to witness the realisation of the young squire's dreams of building a Tudor-Gothic mansion at the foot of the Iron Age hill fort of Mynydd y Castell. Its construction, and the creation of the pleasure grounds removed the last vestiges of the gardens created by the Mansels.
Work began on clearing the site in 1827, the road from Llangynwyd to Taibach being diverted in 1829, to avoid crossing the park. The house was completed between 1830-1839, with work continuing on the terraces, outbuildings and lodges into the 1840s. Much material came from the estate: stone from Pyle quarry, timber from the estate woodlands, and bricks from a kiln specially built at Margam. Talbot chose as his architect, Thomas Hopper, (1776-1856) best known for his work at Penrhyn Castle in North Wales, at Carlton House in London for the Prince Regent, (later George IV) and at Windsor Castle. Its young owner greatly influenced the eventual design, the exterior showing numerous heraldic shields and carved faces, relating to the history of Margam and the Mansel-Talbot families.
When visiting Margam during its construction, Talbot resided at Margam Cottage, an unpretentious dwelling on the perimeter of the park In 1835 he married Lady Charlotte Butler (1809-1846), daughter of the first Earl of Glengall, at Cahir House, County Tipperary, the service being conducted by his close friend and associate, the Rev. Calvert Jones. There were four children from the marriage, Theodore, Emily Charlotte, Bertha Isabella (who married John Fletcher of Saltoun) and Olivia. Lady Charlotte died in 1846 whilst at Malta. Two years later Talbot was appointed Lard Lieutenant of Glamorgan.
By the spring of 1836, fires were first lit in the 'Great House'. The 'coccle', a central heating system based on hot air, was in operation and pipes laid to convey water. Margam now replaced Penrice as Talbots' principal residence.
Work continued on the house and outbuildings for a further eight years. With Francis Bray carving old oak for the entrance hall, furniture and picture frames, and Daniel Jackson, a mason from Cumberland, cleaning, polishing and working marble, Talbot's house, with its mock battlements, turrets, pinnacles and majestic central octagonal tower, was complete, at a cost in excess of fifty thousand pounds.
By the early l840s most of Margam village had been demolished, including the Comer House Inn, with the inhabitants being rehoused at Groes wound the unusual octagonal Beulah Chapel. Four of the old almshouses were to remain, later serving as a bothy for the gardeners, and fishpond was constructed by excavating and damming the marshy lower reaches of Cwm Philip, its waters ultimately intended to supply the fountains added to the terrace of the Orangery in 1851-53.
During this period, Talbot turned his attention to politics becoming liberal M.P. for Glamorgan in 1830, claiming the seat vacated by his step-father Sir Christopher Cole, which he was to retain for 59 years. The following year he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, its members including such distinguished figures as Humphrey Davy, Michael Faraday and his cousin William Henry Fox Talbot.
One of the first to recognise the benefits of improved transportation and its potential for industrial growth, he was responsible for introducing and supporting a Bill of 1834, for the improvement of the old harbour of Aberavon. A later Bill of 1836, allowed further expansion and the change of name to Port Talbot in his honour. The development of Swansea Docks was actively encouraged and it was his daughter, Emily Charlotte who performed the opening ceremony of the new South Dock in 1859. In 1838 he purchased the Copper Works at Taibach and later sold it to Messrs Vivian and Sons.
Talbot was a pioneer in the introduction of railways to South Wales, and he was chairman and major shareholder in the South Wales Railway. When, in 1849, the proposed line was halted for lack of funds, he provided the whole of the capital needed to complete the project (estimated at £500,000), and actively encouraged friends and associates to invest in the venture. In June 1850 the line was complete from the outskirts of Swansea to Hagloe, twelve miles from
Gloucester, and on the morning of June 18th Talbot, his fellow directors, distinguished guests and chief engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel set forth from Chepstow on the seventy-five mile journey to the western terminus at Swansea. A great influx of visitors, estimated at 20,000, thronged the streets of Swansea, and spectators covered the local hills and every vantage point to witness the historic event. The train arrived shortly after one o'clock, having completed the journey in four hours, and the directors, their guests, and local dignitaries, numbering over seven hundred, were entertained to a lavish breakfast provided by the Mayor and Borough of Swansea in a marquee on the Burrows. The return journey by special train to Chepstow was completed in three hours.
When the South Wales Railway merged with the Great Western Railway in 1863, Talbot became a director and induced the board to purchase the Vale of Neath Railway. At the time of his death the value of his holding of Great Western Railway stock was estimated at one million pounds.
The Mansel-Talbots had, from an early date, involved themselves in industrial enterprises, granting numerous leases on their lands for iron and copper works and the extraction of coal, iron and limestone. Hence non-agricultural profits rose dramatically during the nineteenth century as industrial activity increased, and payments came from sleeping and surface rents, wayleaves and the royalties paid on minerals extracted by estate tenants and lessees. The land agents were expected to direct and supervise this expansion, which involved them in the negotiation of leases, the collection of rents and royalties, legal wrangles and the mountains of correspondence that ensued from such dealings.
The threat of invasion by the French in 1859, prompted the formation of a large detachment of Volunteers at Margam, which later became the 1st Glamorgan Rifle Volunteers, Talbot assuming command with the rank of Captain. Drills, manoeuvres and rifle competitions being regularly held in the park.
Yachting was Talbot's lifetime passion, owning and racing several yachts, including the Giulia, the Galatea, the Capricorn, and the luxury paddle steamer, the Lynx. In 1823 he was elected a member of the Royal Yacht Club (later the Royal Yacht Squadron), and he was its Vice Commodore from 1851 - 1861. The Squadron was based at Cowes and its regattas and races were held around the Isle of Wight and in the nearby coastal waters. The Galatea, one of the fastest yachts of its day, had once provided signal service by conveying important Government despatches to England in January 1828, the 179 ton schooner, arriving at Southampton in six days from Gibraltar at an average speed of eight knots, faster than any British man of war.
Talbot was one of the few gentlemen to participate in 'private matches', the most notable being in 1834 when the Galatea and Lord Belfast's Waterwitch took part in a race from the Nab to the Eddystone and back. The result was a victory for the Waterwitch, after two day's hard sailing in rough weather. In 1869 aboard the Lynx he attended the opening of the Suez Canal, accompanied by members of his family and several important guests including the Earl of Dudley and Henry Hussey Vivian. Whilst in Egypt, Talbot was offered a peerage by Gladstone, but declined on this and two other occasions. Hunting, riding and shooting were other favourite pastimes, large numbers of pheasant being reared at Margam and Penrice for the annual three or four day shoots.
C.R.M. Talbot died in January 1890, having served as Liberal Member of Parliament for Glamorgan for an uninterrupted fifty-nine years. He had figured prominently in the spread of railways in South Wales, and actively encouraged the development of the local docks which facilitated industrial growth in the local area. Due to the untimely death of his only son Theodore in 1876 as a result of injuries sustained whilst fox-hunting, the vast estates of Margam and Penrice together with a fortune estimated at £6 million was left to his eldest daughter Emily Charlotte. A great philanthropist and public benefactor, Miss Talbot donated large amounts of money to the church and other bodies.
Emily Charlotte Talbot, the last Talbot of Margam and Penrice, died in 1918, the Margam estate being left in trust for her great nephew, John Theodore Talbot Fletcher. His father, Captain A.M. Talbot Fletcher, was frequently resident at Margam during the 1920's and 30's.
By order of the Trustees, the contents of Margam Castle were auctioned in October 1941, realising over £29,000. Shortly afterwards, the major part of the 30,000 acre estate was sold to a syndicate of three local businessmen, the Castle, Orangery, Abbey Ruins and Parkland being acquired by David M. Evans Bevan (later created a Baronet) whose family owned the Vale of Neath Brewery, and had extensive mining interests. He chose as his residence the former land agent's house of Twyn Yr Hydd, and generously offered the Castle to a number of organisations, but due to the cost of expensive adaptations the offers were declined. There followed the gradual decay of this once proud edifice, the lead stripped from its roof by thieves and its interior falling prey to vandals and the weather.
The property of West Glamorgan County Council, the Castle, already a ruin (being unoccupied since the last war) was severely damaged by fire in August 1977. Restoration of the north wing of the castle and outbuildings is largely complete. The entrance hall and staircase hall have also been refurbished and opened to the public in the Spring of 1992.

D.J.Adams:   Glimpses of Margam Life   pub. West Glamorgan County Council
J. Vivian Hughes:   C.R.M. Talbot   pub. Author