We bought the House in April 2022. It had not been lived in for over 15 years and had fallen into a sorry state of repair. The gardens had been neglected for many years. Our vision is to restore the House to its former glory, as a magnificent family home. We hope to start the restoration in late summer 2023 and to complete work in summer 2024. This article explores the rich history of the House.

Cadw (a Welsh word meaning ‘to keep’ or ‘to protect’) is the Welsh Government’s historic environment service and it describes the House as a “country house of multiple periods said to date back to 1540.” 

The estate was once over 2400 acres and the House was “famed for the beauty of its Grounds and Ornamental Plantations laid out on lands sloping gently to the sea”.

Owen Williams (1764-1832) was the son of Thomas Williams (Twm Chwarae Teg) (1737-1802) and the father of Thomas Peers Williams.

In October 1825 when the Menai Bridge was finally fixed across the Menai Straits: “O. Williams, of [Menai Hall], Esq. in his cutter, and a party of gentlemen and ladies passed through the arch, at the moment of completion and fired a salute.

After landing, Williams and his party “were first to cross the bridge’ accompanied by Mr Sola, a well-known musician, who sang God Save the King on the middle of the bridge’ and later joined Williams and his party where he sang an air specially composed for the occasion.”

The house has enjoyed royal visits over the years. The first recorded is in October 1828, when: “His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex proceeded from Kinmel Park, on a visit to Penrhyn Castle, thence to the Menai Bridge, Craig y Don, and Bangor, whence he retraced his route to Kinmel, and from there to Eaton Hall, the seat of Earl Grosvenor”.

The fifty-five-year-old Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, was the sixth son of King George III and therefore uncle to the future Queen Victoria.

Owen Williams died in 1832 and a newspaper report of 26 September 1835 referred to Thomas Peers Williams MP as the owner of the House.

As the Cadw listing notes that the “earliest surviving evidence is an C18 red brick chimney stack visible in the attic”, the current property could have been a new build, or extension of an older property dating back to 1540, commissioned either by Thomas Williams (Twm Chwarae Teg) or his son Owen Williams. 

Although a newspaper report of 1875 stated that Thomas Peers Williams “was passionately addicted to yachting, for the convenience of prosecuting which pleasure the House had been specially erected”, we know that it was in his father’s hands as early as 1818. 

Furthermore, as Cadw dates the fireplace to the 18th century when the House must have been in the ownership of Thomas Williams (Twm Chwarae Teg), it is most likely that he commissioned the major alterations which were continued by his son Owen and grandson Thomas Peers Williams, who carried out the early to Mid C19 rebuilding’ referred to by Cadw.
It seems that Thomas Williams (Twm Chwarae Teg) did indeed have a taste for housebuilding, commissioning the grand Temple House at Bisham, Berkshire. A newspaper report claimed that it burned down around 1892 and was re-built at a cost of £15,000 (over £1m today). For reasons unknown, it was demolished in 1922.

The Williams family were extremely wealthy. They also became very well connected with a pinnacle reached in 1882 when Thomas Peers Williams’ youngest daughter, Evelyn Katharine Gwenfra, married Henry Wellesley who became 3rd Duke of Wellington on the death of his uncle in 1884.

Among congratulatory telegrams was one from the Prince of Wales who counted Evelyn’s brothers, Owen and Hwfa, close friends.

The family wealth was generated by Thomas Williams (Twm Chwarae Teg), a talented lawyer from Llanidan, Anglesey who, by 1785, had become chief agent of the copper mines of Mynydd Parys. He became known as “The Copper King”.

Huge success for the mines followed and Williams’ wealth grew. By 1800 “he admitted that half the resources of the industry were in his hands, with a financial background close upon a million pounds.

Unedifyingly and regrettably, profits were also generated via the link between the copper industry and the slave trade. Various “exotic articles” such as “manillas or bangles and the neptunes, curious salt evaporation pans” were among the items exported as part of the outward cargoes of ships engaged in the slave trade. 

In 1788 Thomas Williams (Twm Chwarae Teg), and his partners declared that “it was this trade in particular which had induced them to embark a great sum of money in the copper industry.” In 1790 he was elected MP for Great Marlow which he held until his death in 1802.

After the death of Thomas Williams (Twm Chwarae Teg) in 1802, the estate passed to his son Owen Williams and, after his death in 1832, to his son Thomas Peers Williams. Although the House was not his main residence, Thomas Peers Williams clearly loved it and spent quite a bit of time there. 

He was a member of the Anglesey Hunt and enjoyed sailing his yacht on the Menai Straits. He kept a family omnibus, the equivalent of today’s people carrier, which accommodated eight inside and six outside, to take family and friends on trips around the local area.

Thomas Peers Williams died at his London residence on 7 September 1875 aged 80 “after undergoing a painful surgical operation.” At his death the House passed to his eldest son, Owen Lewis Cope Williams, a Colonel in the Royal Horse Guards. Sadly, a mere two months later Owen’s mother Emily followed her husband to the grave, dying on 24 November 1875.

Evidence suggests that, unlike his father, Owen did not spend a great deal of time at the House. Indeed, within weeks of his father’s death Owen was among those who accompanied the Prince of Wales on a seven-month tour of India, not returning until May 1875. One newspaper described his role as “Equerry to the Prince”.

In the 1881 census, only a skeleton staff could be found at the House consisting of housekeeper, cook, dairymaid, housemaid and stable boy. 

By July 1883 a Colonel M’Corquodale had leased the House but left at some point in 1884 when the lease expired. Apparently, in October 1884 objections were raised locally at Owen’s name being included in the list of voters and being described as of the House because “the voter’s residence was Temple House, Great Marlow. The House had been leased to Colonel M’Corquodale, and General Williams had not resided there for some years.

In Owen’s defence it was stated that “the lease of Colonel M’Corquodale has expired; the House has been empty some months, and General Williams could go and live there if he chose. It is the family mansion.

In 1845 Mrs Williams founded a private charity school at the House for 12 female scholars who did not have to pay fees. 

It is recorded that: “The mistress thinks that they had better learn catechism in Welsh and the patroness of the school expressed her intention of supplying them with Welsh prayer books” though much of the time in the school was devoted to sewing.”

In 1877 newspapers across the country reported that the Prince of Wales was to pay a visit to the House, “the Anglesey seat of Colonel Owen Lewis Cope Williams” in the second week of January 1877.

The Prince of Wales’ friendship with Owen and with his younger brother Hwfa, makes such a visit entirely plausible. Furthermore, Owen’s “week-end parties at his beautiful riverside palace at Marlow were famous and on more than one occasion the Prince of Wales was a guest at Temple House.”

Indeed, on Owen’s death in 1904 the prince, now King Edward VII, sent a message from Balmoral which included the following “I had the sincerest friendship and regard for General Owen.’

In addition to the visit of the Prince of Wales, a Daily Post newspaper article of 2013 claimed that his mistress, Lillie Langtry, lived at the House at one time. Could this be true?

Certainly, there is enough circumstantial evidence to suggest that she visited the House on a regular basis.

It is generally accepted that Lillie Langtry had affair with the Prince of Wales, which started soon after they first met in May 1877 and ended around 1880. 

Owen Lewis Cope Williams, owner of the House from 1875-1889, and his brother Hwfa, were close friends of the Prince of Wales. They were part of the “Marlborough House set”, the Prince’s inner circle of friends which was named after his London residence where he resided with his wife, Princess Alexandra

So close was Owen to the Prince, that he was involved in the notorious “Tranby Croft affair” of 1891. Furthermore, as noted above, the Prince attended many of Owen’s weekend house parties at Temple House, so why not at Craig y Don too? 

Once Lilly Langtry became the Prince’s mistress, Owen, as one of the Prince’s inner circle, would have met her. Weekend house parties were the ideal place for the Prince and his latest amour to meet and the House was located away from prying eyes and in a most beautiful setting. Indeed, the Prince, Lilly, and her husband Edward Langtry, all enjoyed yachting and for that there was no better place than the House. 

Lilly Langtry enjoyed friendships with several individuals who had properties in North Wales, so she may indeed have visited the area frequently. One was William Gladstone, who was Prime Minister on four separate occasions during the 19th century, and whose residence was Hawarden Castle in Flintshire.

Patsy Cornwallis-West was a very close friend of Lilly’s and a neighbour in London. Patsy’s husband was Lord Lieutenant of Denbighshire and their Welsh based residence was Ruthin Castle.

Whilst of course undocumented of, it is therefore entirely possible that the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) and Lillie Langtry spent time together at the House during their affair in the period from 1877 to c.1880. 

Perhaps future guests staying at the House will sleep in those same bedrooms once shared by Lillie Langtry and the future King Edward VII?!

In 1889 Owen finally made the decision to sell the estate, ending over 100 years of Williams family ownership. It was sold by public auction at the town hall, Llangefni at 2.00pm on 27th and 28th of June 1889. The auctioneer was Messrs W Dew & Son of Bangor. 

The sale contained not only the House but the surrounding estate which extended across the road and behind the property. There were 107 lots containing farms and building plots “varying from 1 to 200 acres each in extent” and in all, 2,400 acres went under the hammer. 

The star of the show was the House itself which was set in 22 acres at the time and described as a “universally admired marine residence in a picturesque park, finely studded with wellgrown plantations and fine old timber trees [commanding] unrivalled views of the Snowdonian range of mountains, the Menai Straits, and the renowned Suspension Bridge, and [standing] in perhaps the most lovely spot in North Wales.”

Not all the family were in favour of the sale. It seems that Owen’s sister Blanche, who was married to Lord Charles Innes-Ker, youngest son of the Duke and Duchess of Roxburgh, wished to purchase the House for herself and her sisters. 

In the event the successful bidder was Dr Edward Robert Bickersteth, a Liverpool surgeon. His purchase of the House led to a sensational libel case the following year brought by the auctioneer Mr Dew against a Mr E Liardet.

Apparently, Mr Liardet had been employed by Blanche, Lady Ker, to re-purchase the property from Dr Bickersteth, but found out that there was an agreement before the sale between Dr Bickersteth and Captain Verney of nearby Rhianfa, that if Verney did not bid against Bickersteth, he could purchase part of the property adjoining Rhianfa from Bickersteth after the sale. 

He also claimed that Mr Dew was aware of this, which Mr Dew denied and brought the libel case against him. Judgement was found in Mr Dew’s favour and he was awarded £500 in damages (nearly £45,000 today).

Despite Dr Bickersteth’s dramatic entry into the community of Llandegfan, with the libel action reported in newspapers across the country, he and his family became prominent and valued members of the local area. 

Mary Rathbone wrote that after Dr Bickersteth “the famous surgeon” bought the House, he “greatly enlarged the house and gardens; he has been a benefactor to Llandegfan especially in his restoration of the old parish Church.”

Dr Bickersteth, whose father and grandfather were also in the medical profession, enjoyed an illustrious medical career being admitted to the Royal College of Surgeons on 21 March 1851, and becoming a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh in 1855. In 1856 he was elected surgeon to the Liverpool Royal Infirmary. He lectured and contributed to medical journals, most notably regarding his experience in the field of antiseptic surgery. 

Whilst he did not enjoy the aristocratic connections of the Williams family, his cousins included the Bishop of Exeter, the Dean of Lichfield and the Bishop of Ripon, whilst his uncle was Lord Langdale and Master of the Rolls.

In the 1901 census we can see that the family kept eight servants including a coachman, groom, butler, cook, kitchen maid, house maid, lady’s maid and under housemaid. 

The 1911 census reveals that the House comprised 31 rooms and, even as a widow, Annie Bickersteth still maintained a household of eight servants, including a sewing maid, lady’s maid, house maid, cook, under house maid, kitchen maid, butler and coachman. 

On 7th March 1908 Dr Bickersteth died at his Liverpool residence, 2 Rodney Street, aged 79. He was extremely wealthy, the gross value of his estate being an astronomical £342,95551 (approx. over £28 million today).

At the time of Dr Bickersteth’s death, he had five adult children, two sons and three daughters. Only one son and his youngest daughter, Clara Mabel, were unmarried and Dr Bickersteth appears to have taken great care in his will to provide a guaranteed income for Clara who was 36 years old. Clara was still living at home and continued to do so for several years after her father’s death no doubt acting as companion to her mother.

Dr Bickersteth’s will stated that his widow Annie was to select whichever of the two properties (2 Rodney Street or The House) she would like to live in, although it seems that she used both properties. It was in this year that Clara was awarded the Royal Red Cross in recognition of her war services. 

In 1922 Annie died. Two sales catalogues prepared in 1922 and 1923 suggest that trustees of the Bickersteth estate wished to sell the House immediately, but it was not until January 1924 that notifications appeared in the press announcing that the House was once more up for sale by “Direction of the Trustees of the Late E. R. Bickersteth. Esq.”

In 1924 the entire holding comprised was down to 100 acres “with a frontage to the Straits of nearly threequarters of a mile.” However, the House (Lot 1) was set within 15 acres. Interestingly, the sales catalogue of 1924 mentions the bridge and tunnel, remains of which can still be seen today, that were used to cross the main road behind the house to gain access to the grounds behind. The sales catalogue made clear that if Lot 1 was sold independently of Lot 2, then the tunnel was to be closed up and the bridge removed.

This must have been a very unsettling time for Clara. She saw the House as her home, but it was about to go under the hammer. The auction took place on 19 May 1924 at the British Hotel in Bangor. The purchaser of all 25 Lots was Thomas Frederick Tattersall of Benarth Hall, Conwy, for which he paid £14, 025 (approx. £595,328 today – a bargain!). 

However, in a deed dated 25 January 1945, supplemental to an earlier conveyance, it appears that Clara then purchased the House from Tattershall on 11 August 1924.

Clara must have been delighted to finally own the property she loved, and this became her permanent home for the rest of her life. In fact, from this point on she seems to have had a new lease of life. Described as 5ft 4 inches tall with a fair complexion, brown eyes and white hair, this active 60-year-old enjoyed travelling abroad, and during the 1930s visited San Francisco, Monte Carlo, New York, New Zealand and Rangoon, Burma.60. She owned several motor cars and between 1920 and 1934 was also registered as a Physiotherapist and Masseuse.

Unsurprisingly, Clara was involved in local parish life. She was a strong supporter of Llandegfan Parish Church and also made a number of local donations. In 1937 a coronation committee was formed to celebrate the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The committee comprised representatives of the parish including the parish council and the church etc. However Clara, along with others such as Lady Rachel Verney of Rhianfa, were members in their capacity as “prominent residents.” 

Clara died unmarried on 18 January 1939 aged 67 at the Royal Infirmary Liverpool, the hospital so closely associated with her father. However, she was brought back to the place she called home and at 2.00pm on Saturday 21 January 1939 was buried at Llandegfan Parish Church.

Barely four weeks after her death, newspapers carried advertisements that “In the Estate of Miss C. M. Bickersteth, Deceased” The House was to be sold once more. The auction was to be conducted by Mr W. Owen (whose estate agency in Bangor continues to this day, run by his grandson) and would take place at the Bulkeley Arms Hotel, Beaumaris on Saturday 4 March at 3.00 pm.

Before discussing Reginald Moseley’s ownership of the House, it is necessary to address a claim that Reginald was the brother of Sir Oswald Mosley, the 20th century fascist leader who established the British Union of Fascists in 1932. 

This claim is false. Reginald Moseley (note the different spelling of his surname to that of Sir Oswald Mosely) was not Sir Oswald Mosely’s brother and thankfully there is no link between Reginald’s family and that of Sir Oswald Mosely’s.

Reginald’s family were a very wealthy, Manchester based family whose fortune was based on industry. Reginald’s grandfather, David Moseley, established the rubber manufacturing company, David Moseley & Sons, in 1833. 

Reginald Moseley purchased the House on 4 March 1939. In the 1939 Register taken on 29 September, he can be found living at the House with his wife, Evelyn Hannah, and Evelyn’s 66-yearold sister, Josephine Frances Swainson who was described as an ‘Invalid.’ 

The Moseleys had a butler, 40-year-old Matthew Houlbrook, a cook, parlourmaid, housemaid and Ragnhild Skov-Sigrid, a 44-year-old “Medical Masseuse” who may have been employed to minister to Reginald’s sister-in-law. 

That Reginald employed a reasonably large staff is not surprising as this is what he was used to. In addition to the House, he also owned the impressive Collar House in Prestbury which in 1911 boasted 34 rooms. 

Also not surprising is that Reginald bought the House. Like Thomas Peers Williams in the 19th century, he was a keen yachtsman and the House was the ideal property for sailing. 

On 31 July 1939, perhaps when he was already in residence, the annual regatta of the Royal Dee Yacht Club was held on the straits “in a stiff westerly breeze, approaching a gale, on a choppy sea.” The Commodore was “Mr Reginald Moseley, whose boat, Deryn Gwyrdd, was racing in the Fife class.

Since Reginald’s death the House has passed through several owners, without great event, to the current day. Its thick walls safely keep the memories, secrets and spirit of its fabulously rich, flamboyant and exciting history.

We are hoping to open the calendar for Craig y Don soon, if you want to read more click here

*“Menai Hall” is the stage name that we are using whilst the house is empty and restoration works carried out. 

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