Thursday, 28 February 2013

Wenveo's Secret Garden

Nestled between Barry and Wenvoe is what remains of a once stately looking eighteenth century house. This was Wenvoe ‘castle’, a commodious house designed by Robert Adam, although the actual design was executed by Thomas Roberts for Peter Birt in 1776-77. This house was unusual for the late eighteenth century as its architecture veered more towards the Gothic/Medieval revival of the Victorian period, a good 50 years before this became fashionable. Wenvoe Castle was built at a time when classically inspired Greco-Roman architecture was the norm and was considered the apotheosis of taste and refinement, so this house with its medieval pretentions was unusual for the eighteenth century. The Georgian house at Wenvoe replaced an earlier sixteenth century house which was once owned by one Edmund Thomas; he acquired the house from the Earl of Pembroke. The house part burned down in 1910 and the rest was subsequently demolished in the 1930s.

(Wenvoe Castle - late Victorian period)

Like all great houses of this period, Wenvoe had an extensive landscaped gardens. Gardens were considered an important aspect to the house, therefore it was usual for houses of this status to have magnificent gardens and Wenvoe was no exception. It is a fact that the third baronet, Sir Edward Thomas bankrupted himself to create the landscaped gardens at Wenvoe around 1733-1767. The remnants of this magnificent landscape are still visible if one looks carefully, but the most interesting element to this artificial landscape is the serpentine canal and folly hidden away from public gaze in nearby Bears Wood, albeit in a very poor state of neglect.

(A part of the landscaped garden hidden in Bear Wood just outside Barry)

These follies were very fashionable in landscaped gardens during the eighteenth century and correspond to the growing antiquarian interest in Britain’s mysterious and ancient past. It was a time when people were beginning to take an interest in the lumps and bumps in Britain’s ancient landscape and even at the less distant past of the medieval period. 

It has been thought that this serpentine canal, folly and landscape were the product of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, but it seems more likely that this was laid out in the fashionable style of Brown with sweeping views and various grottos and follies. Brown was though involved with the landscaping of nearby Cardiff Castle in 1776.

(Remains of the serpentine canal)

The folly and remnants of the landscape garden are on private grounds and not open for the public to view. The landowners’ permission was obtained before our visit.


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  2. Hello, I was wondering if there is any information about the current landowner of bears woods. My boyfriend and I are both very keen to keep the woods and surrounding areas as is, and are dreading that the landowner might sell this ancient land for profit (which will most likely happen). We have less and less natural places, with real history left anymore, I find it so disheartening that the land has changed so much in the last 300 years. That magnificent canal that is now barely even a stream, filled up with 300 years worth of natural debris. There is hardly anywhere left now, that has true standing history, even the once beautifully architectural castle is now a relatively modern looking Manor House, that is only available for golf club members. The surrounding woodlands are a testament to what once was. Showing signs of rare mushrooms and ferns that have been all but irradicated from areas, messed with by man. We used enjoy walking around this woods and would regularly come out with bags of rubbish, we'd picked up from other careless visitors, until we found out it was private. Although this is private woodlands, locals still often walk here, of which only a handful seem to care about nature. We are desperate to look after this beautiful place, and are documenting all the rare fungi we find, should this information ever be needed, if it comes to a point where the landowner wants to sell of this amazing land to the highest bidder. The nearby Pencoedtre woods was going to be almost completely built over by housing developers. Untill a few bright sparks took it up on themselves to save it. This was done by proving the existence of rare fungi, ferns and orchids in the woods. These discoveries helped stop the housing developers from chopping down the whole area, and pencoedtre woods is now a more protected place of natural scientific interest. My boyfriend and I would both love the opportunity to contact the owner of the land personally, and enlighten him/her on all the wonderful natural organisms here that desperately need protecting from further development.
    I dont know if I will get a reply, but I have my fingers crossed, as this is the only place where I've read that someone has got in contact with the landowner of Bears wood. Thank you for reading, I hope I get a reply, as this is rather important to me, to preserve our natural history.