When I posted about the gardens of Tredegar House I did say I would come back to write about the interior of the mansion in Newport, South East Wales. I’m a bit reluctant now, as my pictures are a bit sparse and badly framed, but here goes anyway.
Tredegar House is considered to be one of the most significant late 17th-century houses in the British Isles, and was home to one of the greatest Welsh families, the Morgans, later Lords Tredegar.
First here are a few architectural details…
The interior of the house, now run by the National Trust, is cleverly divided. The ground floor is laid out in the style of the 17th and 19th centuries, upstairs is based on the 1930s residents of the house and below stairs are the kitchen and other servants’ areas.
The golden age began in the 17th century, when the mansion was built and the Morgans looked forward to a gilded Royalist future.
I felt a bit embarrassed about taking pictures upstairs, as the guides were in such close proximity in the small rooms. But I was intrigued by the tales of unusual characters and wild parties in the 1930s.
At this time Evan Morgan was master of Tredegar House and the whole atmosphere of the place must have been buzzing, as he was an occultist lauded by Aleister Crowley – and a friend of leading Nazis.
In 1925 his sister Gwyneth Ericka Morgan was found dead, aged 29, in the River Thames. One theory is that she overdosed in an opium den and her body was dumped.
Although Evan was gay, he married twice. But he died childless in 1949 and his titles passed to his uncle Frederick, who immediately transferred them to his son John to avoid death duties. Neither of them ever lived at Tredegar House and John sold it and moved to France. He died in 1962, last of the Morgans of Tredegar.
The only room where I was alone was the bathroom, where there was this old glass case of sea shells and the pale skeletons of sponges…
Of course many people find life below stairs intriguing, and as my ancestors were all common types of the “servant” classes, I always feel at home. There was a warm, sweet smell of Welsh cakes – or as we call them, “bakestones”, cooking in the kitchen.
And finally – the Cefn Mabli Shovelboard…
Shovelboard is a game played by pushing discs with your hand or with a long-handled shovel over a marked surface – a bit like shove ha’penny but bigger.
The Cefn Mabli Shovelboard was rediscovered in the Newport civic centre basement in 1987, hidden from view and so immovable that walls had even been built around it. It is made of a solid plank of oak 42 feet long but was damp and in disrepair when it came to light again.
Courtenay, Lord Tredegar, had bought Cefn Mabli House in 1924, mainly to access the hunting lands attached to it, but donated the house itself to the local health authorities as a tuberculosis hospital. The shovelboard was moved out to the stables at Tredegar House. I wonder how on earth they moved it? And then when Tredegar House was sold in the 1950s the board was taken to the civic centre basement.
The Cefn Mabli shovelboard was made at the time of the English Civil War and was famous even then. In 1684 Thomas Dinely recorded: “The Gallery of Kevenmably hath in it of note… an extraordinary shovelboard of 42 foot in length and of one entire plank of an oak whereof 20 foot was also cut off before.”
Somehow we always come back to trees…