During the Middle Ages, the area around Aberglasney was the centre for bloody battles, including a particularly violent offensive in 1257. Nearby fields still carry the memories with names such as Cae Tranc (field of vengeance) and Cae’r Ochain (groaning field).
Until the fifteenth century we depend on tradition for our knowledge of the people who owned Aberglasney. From that point onwards the property was sold to a different family roughly at the start of each new century and a strange seesaw pattern of wealth alternating with misfortune emerging.
The documents are missing, but Bishop Rudd is generally thought to have acquired the Aberglasney estate sometime around 1600. The house stayed in the family until 1710 when accumulated debts forced Sir Rice, the Bishop’s grandson, to sell the estate to Robert Dyer. His grandson Robert Archer Dyer inherited in 1752 but already Aberglasney was once again draining the family coffers and finally Aberglasney was put up for sale in 1798.
In 1803 Thomas Phillips who died childless in 1824 bought Aberglasney on his retirement. His heirs benefited from his fortune, and his amiable ghost is said to have appeared to a number of gardeners and household staff. His sister’s son John Walters, who added a portico to the Queen Anne façade, then took over the estate.
In 1872 heiress Marianne Pryse married a young soldier, Charles Mayhew. Aberglasney was let out during most of their married life, which they spent in Derbyshire, but they moved here on his retirement in 1902 and set about reforming the place and its inhabitants. When the inscrutable Mrs. Mayhew died aged 90 in 1939 the property devolved to Eric Evans who took up residence with his young bride after the war. But Eric Evans died in 1950 aged only 30, and his young sons’ trustees decided that the property was not viable economically and should be sold.
Like most big houses, Aberglasney was commandeered for troop occupation during World War 2.
At the sale of 1955 the estate was split up. Several tenant farmers acquired the land they had formerly rented; David Charles, a Carmarthen lawyer, bought the house and farm. It remained unoccupied, and decay that began with damp in Mrs. Mayhew’s time accelerated. A further sale took place in 1977, this time fragmenting still further ownership of the house, gardens and farm complex. Vandalism, theft and the elements combined to escalate the collapse of the estate. The dismantling of the portico was the last straw. When it was offered for sale by Christie’s the law stepped in: its removal from a listed building constituted an offence. There was a prosecution; the publicity raised the profile of Aberglasney and its fortunes were reversed with its sale to the Aberglasney Restoration Trust in 1995.
First broadcast: 4th November 2003