19 April 2017

Plas Tan-Yr-Allt – Getting to know William Alexander Madocks

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We know that when you stay at independent properties, you are going to get more than just a bed and a (wonderful) breakfast. You’re going to get a story. The story of the owners and maybe even a story about the history of the building you’re staying in. Well, one place you’re guaranteed to get a great history lesson is Plas Tan-Yr-Allt – whose property is so famous, it’s being used as part of a book!

So we spoke to owners Howard Mattingley and Mark White about the history of their property, how they run their business and all about being part of this exciting new book!

Your property and town is so rich with history, can you tell us all about that?

Well, the estate of Tan yr allt was the first Regency villa in North Wales purchased by entrepreneur and philanthropist William Alexander Madocks in 1798. He was born in London in 1773 to wealthy middle aged parents and became MP of Boston in Lincolnshire in 1802. He was best known for reclaiming a vast amount of land from the sea by means of constructing a huge embankment known as the Cob. Once the land had been reclaimed, Madocks set to work and founded our village of Tremadog and the neighbouring town of Porthmadog. Tan yr allt was the perfect vantage point to view the construction of the Cob set high above Tremadog and with far reaching views to the works on the sea wall. Some years later trains were then able to travel initially by gravity and then steam from the nearby slate quarries at Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog. The town quickly established itself as an international port and gateway for the transportation of Welsh slate all over the world.

The Plas as we like to call it has played host to many famous residents over the years. Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley lived here from 1812 to 1813 and completed his epic poem Queen Mab. It is here that he survived a famous assassination attempt now known as Shelley’s Ghost. He was so traumatised by the event he packed his bags the next day and left for Ireland never to return! It is said that the unfortunate event inspired his second wife Mary Shelley to come up with the idea of Frankenstein. Other noted residents and visitors include Elizabeth Billington ( the opera singer of her day), E.F Benson who wrote the Mapp & Lucia novels, A.C Benson who wrote the famous hymn Land of Hope & Glory played at The Last Night of the Proms” each year. Sir Clough Williams-Ellis (architect errant and founder of the world famous Portmeirion) was also a regular visitor to the house as both his mother and aunt lived here. Clough also designed The Triumph of Neptune mural now awaiting restoration in our Dining Room.

How much pressure it is to own a property that is so historic?

There is a lot of pressure, as both Mark and I have never owned a listed property before especially one set in 40 acres!  We have worked incredibly hard to keep the house in period, with period colour schemes and appropriate décor whilst still maintaining a contemporary edge. We very quickly realised that this was no ordinary property and set to work almost immediately in bringing the history of the house alive.

How did you get into the accommodation business?

Having lived and worked in London for most of our working lives, Mark and I realised that we wanted something more out of life. I come from a Marketing and Business Development background whilst Mark used to manage Wimbledon Village Stables. It had long been our dream to escape the rat race, move to the country, and run a guest house – all we needed was to find the location and the right property! I used to live in North Wales when I was a teenager as my parents owned The Estuary Lodge in nearby Talsarnau. For Mark’s birthday one year I suggested North Wales as a holiday destination. The rest is history – Mark fell in love with Snowdonia and shortly afterwards we began searching for our B&B. We must have viewed nearly 50 properties before finally finding Plas Tan-Yr-Allt – it was the start of a new adventure and a dream come true!

What is the hardest part about running a country house?

We both try to do everything ourselves in the day-to-day running of the business. The long hours involved and the responsibility of owning such a place to keep it up to the required standard. The grass alone takes 5 hours to cut!

What is the best part about running a country house?

Living in a piece of social history in a fabulous location and sharing it with our guests.

Apart from the rich history of your building, what can guests do in the surrounding area?

Our land boundary falls within the Snowdonia National Park and we are ideally placed for all the attractions that North Wales has to offer. Porthmadog is essentially a gateway to the stunning Glaslyn Valley at the southern edge of the Vale of Ffestiniog which leads directly to Beddgelert and the main peaks of the Snowdonia National Park, including Mount Snowdon itself. It is also home to the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway – both of which pass through some incredible scenery. The world famous Italianate village of Portmeirion designed by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis is also a stone’s throw away from the house. The sandy beaches of Borth-y-Gest and the famous Black Rock Sands at Morfa Bychan are all within a 10-minute drive. Golf in the area is well provided for with courses at Harlech, Porthmadog, Pwllheli, Nefyn and Abersoch. We also have some excellent eateries nearby including our half board partner restaurant Y Sgwar in the village.

So, you’ve been busy working with author Sara Eade on a book about William Madocks, what can you tell us about that?

About 14 months ago, shortly after we opened, Sara Eade, local historian and now a good friend contacted us with a plan to write a book on William Madocks featuring Plas Tan-Yr-Allt. I have worked tirelessly with Sara since that first meeting on bringing the whole history of the house and Madocks associations alive. We spent many hours in the kitchen chewing the cud and drinking numerous cups of coffee before “William Alexander Madocks – A history of William Alexander Madocks, his family and some of the people and places he knew” was born. We are absolutely thrilled and terribly excited that we were able to feature extensively in the book as we now have an excellent source of reference for visitors and guests interested in our history.

And when can people buy the book?

The book is being launched in Porthmadog at The Royal Sportsman Hotel between 1pm and 3pm on the 20th April, 2017 where Sara is signing copies. Afterwards and having had lots of interest from the media including BBC Radio Cymru Wales – William Madocks is then coming home to The Plas for a champagne reception and further book signings!

To get your hands on ‘WILLIAM ALEXANDER MADOCKS – A social history of William Alexander Madocks, his family and some of the people and places he knew’ by award –winning author Sara Eade, you can head over to Porthmadog for your copy. Or if that’s too far away don’t worry, you can still get a copy by emailing Sara Eade for more information: saraeade@webleicester.co.uk.


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