Plas Newydd wears the undisputed crown as the Anglesey estate amongst estates. Not only because of the wonderful Gothic style architecture of its country house but because of the fame earned and the fortunes amassed by those who had dwelt within.
The history of the estate may be traced back to the 15th century, and the Griffiths family. They were an enormously powerful and wealthy family of the Penrhyn Estate in Bangor. They did in fact at that time own most of the important Anglesey estates. Gwilym ap Griffith (d1431) had married Morfydd, the daughter of Goronwy ap Tudur of Penmynydd. Her esteemed Anglesey family were blood relatives of King Henry VII.
In 1553, one of their descendants, Ellen Griffith (d1573) married Sir Nicholas Bagenal, Marshal of the army in Ireland, and the owner of Irish estates. Their granddaughter Ann (d1623) married Sir Lewis Bayly – the Bishop of Bangor, tutor and chaplain to both the sons of King James I.
Their son Nicholas Bayly was Gentleman of the Chamber to King Charles II. He was also Governor of Galway and the isles of Arran. In 1730 his son Edward Bayly was created a baronet. The fortunes of the estate were immensely added to when Edward’s son – Sir Nicholas Bayly (1707-1782) married Caroline Paget (d1766) of the powerful estate of Beaudesert in Staffordshire. Her ancestor William 1st Baron Paget had been one of the chief advisors to King Henry VIII. From this point on the family shared their time between their estates in Beaudesert and Anglesey.
Henry Bayly (1744-1812), the son of Edward & Caroline, through his mother’s line, became 9th Baron Paget and 1st Earl of Uxbridge (2nd creation). During his lifetime he would own land extending to 100,000 acres, within which the mineral wealth alone was worth fortunes. Under his guidance, the appearance of the house at Plas Newydd changed dramatically and given the Gothic look that it has to this day. Henry married Jane Champagne (1746-1817).
By the time their son Henry William (1768-1854) was born the family had assumed the name of Paget. William was to become arguably the most famous of Plas Newydd’s sons, distinguishing himself at the battle of Waterloo as second in command to Wellington. Towards the end of the battle, he incurred wounds so severe as to result in the loss of his right leg, which was buried under a Weeping Willow, close to where his leg was amputated. Ironically, his brother – General Sir Edward Paget – lost an arm fighting in Spain, again whilst serving as 2nd in command to Wellington.
In recognition of his service, he was created 1st Marquess of Anglesey. In 1817 in the nearby village of Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll, a column was erected by the peoples of Anglesey and Caernarfon to mark his achievements and still stands to this day towering above the locality.
The 1st Marquess of Anglesey died in 1854, and six years later a bronze statue of him has raised aloft the column previously erected to commemorate his valour. During his lifetime he had married twice and sired 18 children.
One of his children – later to become the 2nd Marquess – was Henry Paget (1797-1869), and he was one time Lord Chamberlain to Queen Victoria.
When Henry (1821-1880) the 3rd Marquess died without issue, his half-brother – also named Henry (1835-1898) – became the 4th Marquess of Anglesey.
The 5th Marquess (1875-1905) was Henry Cyril Paget, and he lived his short life doing his best – and it seems successful – to squander the large fortune he had inherited. An eccentric man, he converted the chapel in the house to a theatre, where he ran his own theatrical company, often playing the main character himself. His casts could number in the ’60s, and they toured the UK and the continent. There are many stories of the vast amount of money that was squandered on obtaining extravagant costumes but suffice to say that one costume he had designed for one of his productions was at a cost of £40,000.
In January 1898 Henry married Lilian Florence M. Chetwynd in Chelsea, but the marriage was not to last, and they were divorced within 2 years. To put that into perspective, the bejewelled robe would now cost a cool 2 million pounds. Due to his excesses, he was later made bankrupt owing over a half a million pounds. Henry died in Monte Carlo in 1905, and his ex-wife Lilian was at his bedside.
Henry’s first cousin – Charles (1885-1947) – became the 6th Marquess. Charles married Lady Marjorie Manners (1883-1946) daughter of the Duke of Rutland. Of their 6 children, only one was a boy – Henry born in 1922, and the 7th and present Marquess of Anglesey. Following the II WW the 7th Marquess, a military historian, leased the impressive stables and part of the house to HMS Conway- a naval training school. This has now closed and is used by Cheshire County Council for short term educational courses. The Marquess gave the house and 169 acres to the National Trust in 1976 but continues to live in apartments there.
The house, which is now open to the public, houses a fine Rex Whistler exhibition. He had been a close friend of the 6th Marquess and his family and had painted his largest mural (58 feet long), which still hangs in the house. Rex Whistler was later killed during the second world war as a lieutenant in the army.
Another exhibition that may be viewed at the house is a military exhibition and records some of the battles and adventures of the 1st Marquess. It includes the blood-spattered leg of the trousers he wore at the battle of Waterloo. His medals and those of his son – General Lord George Paget, second in command at the battle of Balaclava – are on display. A collection of military uniforms and contemporary paintings makes for an interesting visit.