Abercamlais House, in the Brecon Beacons National Park sits at the confluence of the Camlais with the river Usk. You can only reach the gardens and grounds via a series of unusual bridges. Grant aid is being offered for the repair of an Elizabethan bridge which was damaged by floods in October 2018.
A Wealth of Bridges
The two bridges that span the river Usk have been traversed by the Williams family of Abercamlais for the last 400 years. The oldest was built by Thomas ap William in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the date 1582 being inscribed below one of the arches. Thomas was proud of his Norman ancestry and claimed a shared descendant with the family of Queen Anne Boleyn, from Sir Thomas of Boulogne, a knight in the train of William the Conqueror. Affectionately known to history as ‘Vicar Gwyn’, Thomas ap William was Vicar of Llanspyddid and the first local clergyman to wear a white surplice (gwyn means white). The house built by Vicar Gwyn probably had medieval origins but today Abercamlais is mostly Georgian having been given a fine new front around 1710 by another Thomas Williams.
The curving base of a Georgian dovecot spans the Camlais and now paralleled by a later road bridge. About 1830 an upgrade to the Elizabethan bridge leading directly to the walled garden took advantage of exciting new suspension technology. This early suspension bridge may have been built by Crawshay Bailey of Nantyglo, one of Wales’ greatest ironmasters and a visionary industrialist. Cadw describe the bridge as “a remarkable piece of Victorian engineering on a minimal scale”. Only in 1864 were further alterations to the house carried out by the Rev Prebendary Garnons Williams to the plans of George Gilbert Scott, who re-organised the domestic quarters downstairs.
Flooding has always been a reality at Abercamlais, occurring so frequently in the downstairs cellars that a drain has been cut to take water out of the scullery cellar directly into the river. The floods which deluged South Wales after Storm Callum in October 2018 badly damaged the structure of Vicar Gwyn’s Elizabethan bridge. Facing stones washed from the piers of the bridge have exposed the rubble structure of the bridge revealing medieval origins but seriously undermining its survival. It originally had only two arches; a third was added by Victorian engineers to accommodate the changing river bed.
Grant aid from the Historic Houses Foundation will allow emergency repairs to be undertaken to restore the stonework of the Elizabethan bridge, protecting it from further flooding and preserving vital access to Abercamlais’ gardens on the far bank of the Usk.
© Crown Copyright: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales
© Hawlfraint y Goron: Comisiwn Brenhinol Henebion Cymru