The Castle and Outbuildings
Margam Castle, a Tudor Gothic mansion was, with it’s service
buildings and courtyards, built between 1830 and 1840 and it is
listed Grade I as a building of exceptional quality and with some
spectacular features such as the staircase.
It was not until the 1820’s that Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot
(1803 – 1890) determined to build a new house at Margam.
The Margam estate had been in his family since 1536,however
Thomas Mansel Talbot had demolished the original mansion house in
1787 to replace it with the magnificent Orangery that can be seen
in the gardens today. Proud of this ancient family lineage
Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot had always been attracted to
romantic Margam. He wished to rebuild a suitable country residence
which would compliment Margam’s illustrious history.
The site was deliberately chosen for its historic associations
and picturesque position at the foot of a wooded historic hill,
Mynydd-y-Castell, itself the site of Margam’s earliest habitation,
with the ruins of the Cistercian Abbey and the eighteenth century
Orangery visible to the West. The prospect of the house, rising
above the Orangery and monastic remains to the west is unique in
Whilst the recognised and accredited architect is Thomas Hopper
(1776 – 1856), it is rather interesting to find that another
distinguished architect was closely involved with the project and
almost certainly influenced the finished house with work on the
interior and exterior, the stables, terraces and lodges, the
Shrewsbury architect Edward Haycock (1790 – 1870). Thus we have two
distinguished 19th Century architects involved with Margam.
However there is a third person who was to greatly influence the
architectural style and finished design and this was C.R.M.Talbot
who was greatly influenced by the architecture of two family homes
borrowing elements from Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, ancestral home
of the Talbots and residence of his cousin W.H.Fox Talbot ; and the
idea of the octagonal tower from Melbury House in Dorset, the seat
of his mother’s family, the Fox-Strangeways, Earls of
Margam was really designed by three men Hopper, Haycock and
Talbot and influenced by two earlier houses Laycock and Melbury
whilst presenting an unique creation in sympathy with its sylvan
surroundings, evocative of a rich and illustrious past – which is
exactly what C.R.M.Talbot had in mind.
The irregular plan and pinnacled, chimneyed and castellated
skyline of the house give it a Romantic appearance. The house was
built around a complex of three courtyards, one in the centre of
the main block and two former service courts to the east forming an
oblong site with four elevations, three of which included the most
decorated parts of the main house. There are two main storeys, with
a gabled third storey. The surfaces of the building are ornamented
with carvings and sculpted heraldic panels, the great number of
shields and coat of arms of the branches of the Mansel family show
the owner’s pride in his family history, which are seen in the
A dramatic octagonal tower with attached stair turret ( the
stair turret is not the original height, decorative parapet
stonework has appeared to have been removed) is situated in the
centre of the building, it rises two storeys above the main house
and at the top is a viewing room.
The house is aligned east-west, with the main entrance front on
the north. The drive approaches from the south east, dividing just
before the house The southern branch leads to the stable court on
the east end of the house and the main drive runs through a short
cutting between grass banks and to the forecourt with central grass
circle in front of the main entrance.
This entrance is a two-storey gabled porch, with a four-centred
arched door and a Gothic traceried window over it. The long,
irregular south front, with protruding bays, oriel windows and
another arched door, overlooks the wide terrace which also extends
along the west front. Inside there is a spectacular stone staircase
rising up the first two storeys of the tower
Most of the building work was completed by 1836 when the
interior decoration began, the gothic style continued in the
entrance and staircase halls. Whilst the exterior may have been
impressive, it gave little indication of the elaborate finishes
within. It had a spacious library, a drawing room, dining room,
study and muniment room
The staircase hall was flagged and fitted with a fleu-de-lys and
riband carpet in pink on a rich brown. Later a set of fitted gothic
stalls were installed around the edge of the staircase hall each
carved with a back panel set with monograms of C.R.M. Talbot, above
were carved lifelike figures of the animals seen on the park.
The library, drawing and dining rooms were
sumptuously decorated with carved woodwork and panelling, stained
glass windows, gilded plasterwork and handsome marble fireplaces.
Bedroom suites were treated in various ways, including the then
fashionable Chinese style, another was decorated with tapestries
and some contained fireplaces of the popular, local, Mumbles marble. Gold leaf, carved marble, fine
furniture, French rococo panelling, crystal chandeliers, Chinese
lacquer screens, porcelain vases, paintings by Rubens, Canaletto,
all completed the opulent furnishing of the rooms. C.R.M.Talbot was
an avid collector. He brought many sculptures, paintings and
antiques back from Italy. Margam was soon filled with fine
furniture, paintings and object d’art.
To the east of the main block are the Grade II* service
buildings clustered around a cobbled and flagged service court,
with a screen wall on the north side topped with stepped
crenellations. The entrance to the courtyard is through a massive,
higher archway topped with a heraldic panel at the west end of the
north side. Kitchens and domestic offices, including laundry,
bakehouse and brewery, are ranged around all but the south side
which is bounded by a wall with a door in it leading through to a
smaller yard of stores and larders. To the east is the boiler
house, laundry-maids sitting room and gun room, to the south of
which is a long, single-storey Gothic building with arched doorways
in the end walls and small three-light windows with shallow
buttresses between them.
Further to the east continuing the main axis of the house is the
stable court, an L-shaped area with an entrance on the north side
and a bounding wall on the south.
The mansion is mostly built of a local sandstone, Pyle ashlar,
which has mellowed beautifully over the years. Inside, use was made
of a harder stone for the staircase hall whilst bricks were used
extensively for the internal walls, the cellars and other parts of
Oak and pine were used for rafters and flooring, with an
ingenious use of cast iron railway lines to support the stone
landings of the main staircase. Elsewhere cast iron was used for
the drainage system, for grilles and ventilation covers. The
guttering and water pipes were of lead, with the Talbot crest
embellishing each hopper above the downpipes. The complicated roof
was of lead and Cornish slate and was constructed at so many levels
and angles that it was always necessary for a small army of men to
regularly sweep out the gutters and gullies whilst the onset of
snow saw estate workmen sweeping the roofs clean. The great number
of elaborate chimney stacks, all in variations of the Tudor style
were especially made in Bedfordshire and brought to Margam.
Building the Castle
In a letter 7th December 1928 Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot’s
aunt wrote to her son W H Fox Talbot; she talks of his plans for
the house, Kit was C.R.M. Talbot’s pet name…
"Kit has remained here a fortnight and went up to the town with
Mr Fielding… Kit seems to like this place extremely and is
determined to build a tower to his new house, a large hall and
above all things secret staircases.!"
The young squire was determined that his new house would be the
envy of the country and suited to his lineage, rank and
Sadly, no finished elevations drawings or plans exist for Margam
with the exception of three small rough sketches. It is known that
Hopper did present Talbot with detailed drawings and plans and
probably Haycock would have completed some drawings too. Many of
these architectural drawings were later framed and hung in the
corridors at the Castle until their disappearance in 1941.
Picture 2 scanned Sectional drawing of the tower and staircase
hall by Thomas Hopper
Letters and extracts from the estate accounts for 1830 to 1840
help illustrate the progress of the building works. During June
1830, entries record quarrying stone, digging foundations and
drains and by December 1831 the main house was roofed in and the
design of the tower was finalised. Work progressed steadily and the
year 1834 saw great advances towards the completion of the house
with work on the domestic offices and outbuildings competing with
the works on the interior of the main house.
By 1836 most of the work on the main house was complete though
work continued on the domestic offices and outbuildings. 1837 saw
continued activity with plasterers and carpenters still at work and
the foundations were dug for additional stables to the east of the
house and in 1839, records show payment of £48 for 6,000 slates
used on some of the courtyard building and a letter from Kit
Talbot’s mother, Lady Mary Cole, describes the works to the terrace
and the steps down to the gardens. During 1840 the works were
completed and Talbot turned to the building of the estate’s
Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot’s new mansion house was designed
by Thomas Hopper, he was then the County Surveyor of Essex,
patronised by the Prince Regent and a fashionable architect. The
style chosen was Tudor Gothic and he excelled himself in the
design. Encouraged by Talbot he let his imagination run riot.
Resulting in a sea of towers, turrets, pinnacles, cupolas,
battlements and gables. Margam was as romantic as any gothic
enthusiast could wish it to be.
However, much of the design of the interior and that of the
stables and terraces was by Edward Haycock, the County Surveyor of
Shrewsbury, who had been a pupil of Sir Jeffry Wyatt, the architect
of Windsor Castle..
The Baglan Hall agent Griffith Llewellyn and his brother Thomas
were responsible for the general oversight of the building project
whilst the Margam bailiff, David Richards became the effective
Clerk of Works. Running totals of the expenses incurred were
meticulously kept in the estate accounts by the agent. Between 1830
and 1832 accounts record payments of almost £8,000 for wages,
materials, freight and haulage charge; of this some £4,286.1s.7d
was paid out for the year 1831 alone.
There was a flurry of activity on the estate as ships arrived at
the harbours of Taibach and Aberavon. These ships brought limestone
from Aberthaw, lead from Gloucester, slate from Cornwall and glass
from Liverpool. Stone was hauled from Pyle and bricks supplied from
a new kiln at Margam.
Many of the workmen and craftsmen employed were themselves the
sons of the men who had worked on the building of the Orangery for
Thomas Mansel Talbot. There was always a sense of continuity with
employees and their families on the Margam estate which lasted into
the 20th century. Some entries in the accounts for 1831 give an
insight into the names of the craftsmen and artisans employed such
as William Gubbins at the quarry in Pyle, Richard Jones the
stonemason, Francis Lewis and James Pritchard made bricks and
Benjamin Howell supplied horse hair for plaster.
The new house must have been a wonderful sight to its proud
owner as completion of the work came near. The cost had been well
over £50,000, the equivalent of several million pounds today, but
this still does not take into account the vast resources that the
estate contributed to the project.
The occupants, visitors
and the later years
In 1835,Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot had married Lady
Charlotte Butler, the daughter of the first Earl of Glengall, There
were four children from his marriage - Theodore, Emily Charlotte,
Bertha Isabella (who marries John Fletcher of Saltoun) and
The house flourished, in its heyday it was visited by the
gentry. The Prince and Princess of Wales, later to become Edward
VII and Queen Alexandra came for lunch on 17th October 1881 and
planted a tree in the gardens to commemorate their visit.
One frequent visitor to Margam was Talbot’s cousin, Henry Fox
Talbot of Lacock. A pioneer photographer, he succeeded in taking
one of the earliest photographic views which clearly shows the
corner of the southwest façade.
Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot died in
1890, his only son Theodore Mansel Talbot had died in 1876 and his
daughter Miss Emily Charlotte Talbot inherited her father’s Margam
and Penrice estates. She made various changed to the house, new
bathrooms and plumbing was installed, the heating improved and in
1891 - electricity was installed. The billiard room was added,
being built over the small inner courtyard. Jacobean in style it
became the popular haunt of gentlemen guests invited to her large
house parties in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A large
skylight of plain coloured glass lit the room. The fireplace had an
elaborately carved mantle bearing the date 1892 and the initials
ECT, Emily Charlotte Talbot. Miss Talbot maintained a large retinue
of servants in the house and on her estate including an army of
Following the death of Miss Talbot in 1918, her nephew Captain
Andrew Mansel Talbot Fletcher (1880-1951) inherited the Margam
Estate. He and his family frequently stayed here during the summer
holidays. He often opened the grounds to the public hosting fetes
He altered the castle little, although did convert the old
stable block into a squash court and garage in 1930.
Following the outbreak of war in 1939 the Government
requisitioned the Orangery and part of the Castle. The trustees of
the Margam estate decided to sell the greater part of the property,
and Captain Fletcher and his family returned to their Scottish
estate at Saltoun.
The four-day auction organised by Christies of London took place
between 27th and 30th October 1941.The sale was to attract dealers
from all over the country as well as many local people anxious to
have a last opportunity to view the treasures and maybe purchase an
inexpensive memento. Monday was the sale of the 18th and 19th
century collection of silver, Tuesday that of the many fine books
which raised more than the silver.
Wednesday saw the highlight of the sale with the disposal of
Talbot’s fine collection of paintings, sculpture and ancient
marbles. They included work by Canaletto, the National Gallery
represented by Sir Kenneth Clark secured the dell’Abbate of "The
Story of Aristaeus", Gentileschi’s "Repose on the Flight to Egypt"
was sold to the Duke of Kent, and the Rembrant to a Dutch buyer
whilst the National Museum of Wales acquired seven watercolours of
Welsh scenes by Ibbetson.
Of the sculpture and marbles, some were acquired by the Victoria
and Albert Museum, the Swedish National Museum in Stockholm and
Lord Trent. One item was left unsold, a life-size statue of an
obscure Roman Emoporer called Lucius Verus, this is now housed in
the Orangery where it can be seen today. The final day saw the sale
of the furniture, tapestries and household effects.
The contents of the Castle were soon dispersed leaving an empty
and forlorn mansion.
During the war years both British and American troops were
housed at Margam Castle. In 1942 the estate was sold to Sir David
Evans-Bevan, the proprietor of the Vale of Neath Brewery. He never
actually lived in the building and it gradually fell prey to
vandals and thieves, and into decline becoming an empty shell.
The acquisition of the estate in 1973 by the Glamorgan County
Council began an encouraging new chapter in the history of the
Castle which was interrupted in 1977.The vast amount of work found
necessary at the estate and the need for urgent work to safeguard
the Georgian Orangery meant that the Castle was virtually last on
the list of priorities. The stables and squash court were
renovated, an Interpretative Centre opened in June 1977. Some
clearance work at the Castle had been commenced when a disastrous
fire gutted the interior of the Castle on August 4th, 1977.
Gradually a programme of restoration and improvement work was
The North Wing was re-roofed in 1982, using many of the original
slates and stabilisation and consolidation of walls, chimneys and
turrets affected by the fire was undertaken. The stonework of the
central gable above the west bays had collapsed during the 1977
fire and this was rebuilt to incorporate a new stone shield
depicting the West Glamorgan County Council Coat of Arms.
Despite increasing budget and financial strictures the most
urgent structural repair works slowly progressed. Internal
renovation was concentrated on the north wing and entrance hall,
and in 1983 electricity was reintroduced into the mansion for the
second time in it’s history. In 1987 the ambitious internal
restoration of the elaborate plasterwork and fan vaulting of the
entrance hall and the great staircase ceiling beneath the tower was
undertaken. The original gothic style wall panelling had been
severely damaged and only a small section could be saved., but from
this plaster copies were made and are in place, painted to resemble
wood. At the same time the Tower Room with its superb views over
the Park and surrounding countryside was also restored.
1995 brought, with works to the South and West Wings, the
completion of the final phase of the re-roofing and structural
repairs, the Mansion was at last safe and watertight. On the 1st
March 1996 a service was held by the Bishop of Llandaff to
commemorate the restoration works to date, and a plaque unveiled on
the half- landing of the great staircase.
Following local government re-organisation in April 1996, the
West Glamorgan County Council ceased to exist and The Castle,
together with Margam Park became the responsibility of the newly
created Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council which has
continued the restoration programme.
The North wing has now been converted for use as a residential
centre for education purposes and accommodates a Field Study Centre
housing dormitories and bedrooms, together with classrooms and
laboratories, for use by school parties and adult courses from
Wales and further afield. The outbuildings around the east
courtyards house the park administration offices and the Visitor
During the summer months, the main staircase area and some of
the ground floor rooms may be viewed by the public