Abercamlais contains many interesting features. Richard Haslam researched the history of the house for an article in Country Life magazine. A subsequent Historian’s Report summarises the historical and architectural merit of the house.
The drawing room was originally panelled but history does not relate when it was removed or why. Up until Mr Haslam’s research, it was believed that the ceiling came from Fonthill Splendens in Wiltshire when the contents of the house were sold off. In fact, the ceiling did not come from Fonthill but would likely have been carved by an itinerant carpenter. These craftsmen travelled from house to house in the 18th Century. They usually stayed for about 6 months and were accompanied by an apprentice – asking only for board and lodgings in return for work.
The back stairs were the only staircase of the original house. All the floor boards in the house are made of oak, including the front stairs. However, here the banisters are reputed to be made of boxwood. There was once a large organ in the stairwell which Gilbert Scott threw out of Penpont Church when he renovated it in the 19th Century. Through the late Victorian age it accompanied prayers which took place in the Dining Room every morning at 9.30am. Everyone in the house including guests and servants were expected to attend and this continued until well into the 1930’s. The organ remained in good condition, but was very rarely played on. It was eventually donated to St Mary’s church in Brecon.
The dining room was panelled in the early 18th Century and contains various family portraits. The other panelled room of the house is now the main bedroom, which was once thought to be haunted. The four-poster bed was found in pieces at the top of the house and was put together when Mrs Susan Ballance and her husband Christopher moved to the house in 1983 after the death of Nevill Garnons Williams. The tiles around the fireplace originate from a factory in Worcester which went out of business in mid-Victorian times.
The dresser on the landing contains what were the old canon stalls from the original priory church in Penpont. When Gilbert Scott was carrying out his alterations, he threw out everything that was not in keeping with his new church and Garnons was able to pick what he wanted. The lower posts were also almost certainly from the old church, but the upper posts are probably sawn from an old four-poster bed.
The dresser between the kitchen and the store room dates from 1715 (the particular decoration was only used for about 10 years, hence the accuracy in dating) and used to be free-standing. The room was altered when the back rooms were added in Victorian times and the position of the door had to be moved. The chimney is enormous and dead straight. The sink was added in 1979, before which everything had to be carried down stone steps to an enormous scullery sink. Through the door to the larder (and also on the way through the back door) there are tiles dated to the mid-19th century and made by W. Godwin of Lugwardine, Herefordshire. These were originally ecclesiastical tiles, marketed for churches but favoured by Gilbert Scott in his restorations.
There are two cellars which were once quite separate but were knocked through at the beginning of World War II when invasion and gas attacks were considered likely. The floor of the wine cellar is cobbled and the water rises between the cobbles when the water table reaches a certain level (usually during very heavy rain), hence necessitating a piped outlet to the river through the scullery cellar.
“The room we usually had for the nursery was in the other wing and looked out over the stable yard and over the road bridge, which was an interesting view with something always going on.
It also contained a fascinating thing to us children, a wooden pillar from floor to ceiling which contained the bell rope which pulled the bell above, the big bell which was rung from the scullery at 8 and 12 and 4. In the days before everyone had a watch and there was no radio the bell was the time signal for quite a long way around.”
Memoirs of Frances Mary Barbara Slater (nee garnons Williams), 1889 – 1968.
'Splendid Grade I mansion dating from 16th Century, altered extensively in early 18th Century with 19th Century additions, in extensive grounds beside the river Usk. Beautiful octagonal pigeon house, formerly a privy.' (2017)
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