The Old Houses of Nannau

“Nanney” is derived for the old Welsh name for “Streams” or “Brooks”.

The “Lords of Nannau” pre-date the usage of the surname “Nanney”. Surnames were not adopted in Wales until Tudor times when an English High Court Judge is said to have insisted on their use, as he was confused by the long series of “aps”. So, Gruffydd ap Hywel ap Dafydd ap Meurig ap Hywel Sele, just assumed the name of his house and called himself “Gruffydd Nannau.” Many Welsh families adopted nicknames, or abbreviations, “ap Hugh” to “Pugh”, “ap Rhys” to “Prys” etc.

Both Nanney and Nannau are pronounced “Nan-Eye”. The same applies to nearby town of Dolgellau, which used to be written in the English style of Dolgelly and then Dolgelley, before changing to the Welsh spelling.

The land on which the houses of Nannau were built, is nearly 750 feet above sea level, making them the highest country houses in the UK.

The First Known House (1100s - 1400)

The first known house was built around 1100 by Cadwgan ap Bleddyn, Prince of Powys. This house was probably destroyed by Owain Glyndŵr around 1400 when it was owned by Howel Sele. This house was probably located in The Deer Park:

In 1778, Thomas Pennant says that in his time the ruins of the old house could be seen in Nannau Park, “a mere compost of cinders and ashes”.

And The Cornhill Magazine entry below,

“As to Howell Sele, when the blackened ruins of his burnt castle were cleared away some years ago to build a lodge for Nannau deer park…”.

This must refer to Hywel Sele Lodge, although that was not built for four-hundred years after that house was destroyed.

The “In-Between” House? (1400-1581)

I assume there was another house built between the destruction of the house built by Cadwgan ap Bleddyn and Old Nannau which was built in 1581.

Old Nannau (1581 - c.1650)

John Speed 1610 Map - Merioneth

1610 Map of Merionethshire by John Speed.

John Speed 1610 Map - Nanna

Close-up showing “Nanna”.

Hugh Nannau Hen (1542-1623), rebuilt Nannau on a grand scale around 1581. Nothing remains of this house except for a few inscribed stones in the back wall. The house was probably destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s troops in the mid-1600s.

It was described by Robert Vaughan of Hengwrt (The Antiquary) (c.1592-1667) as “the stateliest structure in all North Wales”.

From the booklet - Cambrian Archaeological Association -
From the Sixty-Eighth Annual Meeting to be held at Dolgelley (17th to 22nd August 1914).

The ancient park of Nannau contains objects of great interest from the earliest times, and tumuli which have hitherto not been explored or dated. The story of Hywel’s fate at the hands of Owain Glyndŵr is mentioned under the head of Cymmer, and, as is stated there, the spot where the Ceubren stood is marked by a sundial, while many articles made from the oak are amongst the treasures at Nannau.

Not far from the old garden, now a paddock, in which the sundial stands, is the site of Hywel Sele’s Palace, the present Deer Park lodge standing partly on the same ground. Immediately behind the lodge is a flight of steps leading down to the chamber or passage believed to have been unearthed by Sir Robert Vaughan 100 years ago. These are the only visible signs of the palace, though a study of the ground seems to point to a wall which these steps pierced. Close by are six tumuli, rectangular, four of them being complete, one partly demolished, and one without a trench.

Two fine bronze vessels, unearthed in the Deer Park, are preserved at Nannau; also a bronze spear-head, found 41 years ago, which was discovered on the breast of a skeleton at Tyddyn Bach, the bones crumbling to dust on exposure to the air. On Moel Offrwm, towering 800 feet above the palace, are considerable remains of a walled fort.

  • The Council of the Marches in 1573 complained of an “excessive number of alehouses” in Wales. In 1605 there were 26 in Dolgellau and 6 more in Nannau. Their report mentioned, “by this felonies are increased, thieves, murderers and women of light conversation are harboured, rogues and vagabonds maintained, whoredom, filthy and detestable live much frequented, unlawful games as Tables, Dice, Cards, Bowls, Kayles, Quoits, and such like commonly exercised, Bows and Arrows left aside to the great decay of artillery and emboldening and encouragement of the foreign army.”

  • The re-building of Nannau coincided with a period when the household bards were still at their most eloquent and from their eulogies many interesting details have been preserved about the house.

    The height was remarkable, one bard even said that no carpenter had ever got as near heaven as the one who measured the roof!

    The chimneys attracted attention and the angular roofs, the long staircase, a hundred lofts, and sixty doors, the white washed clock tower with 300 steps, the oaks of the roofs covered with slates and lead, forming 12 great ridges or crests and the skilful carving of saddle pommels on the ridges, the glass showing towards Cader Idris, and parlours and the chambers, and the portals.

  • The earliest map of Merionethshire dated 1578 does not show a single road in the whole of the county.

    The next map from 1610 shows only one.

    In 1778, Thomas Pennant says that in his time the ruins of the old house could be seen in Nannau Park, “a mere compost of cinders and ashes”.

  • The Cornhill Magazine in 1884 (anonymous contributor quoting Pennants version of the legend).

    “As to Howell Sele, when the blackened ruins of his burnt castle were cleared away some years ago to build a lodge for Nannau deer park, three immense bronze cauldrons were brought to light. The have since been kept at Hengwrt and the biggest appears to be quite capable of boiling down into venison broth the whole of that doe which Howel Sele should have shot, instead of aiming at that terrible Glendower”.

The House of Hugh Nanney Hên (c.1693 - c.1794)

“Old Nannau” (built c.1693) from a sketch by Moses Griffiths (1749-1819) drawn circa 1785. Image courtesy of The National Library of Wales

The house was rebuilt to a much smaller scale in 1693/1697 by Colonel Hugh Nanney. Part of this house is incorporated into the south-west corner (see below). Note the single chimney in the drawing, this was to avoid the hearth tax.

Back Wall of Nannau Showing the Remains of the Tower.
Side Wall of Nannau Showing the Remains of the Tower.

Side and Back Walls of Nannau Showing the Remains of the Tower (thanks to the anonymous donor for the pics).

Read about the current house here.

The Carved Stones from Old Nannau (1581)

The Last Five Stones are still in situ in the rear wall of the current house.

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    Rough translation: MAY THERE ALWAYS

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    “ADDA AC EFA” is Welsh for “Adam and Eve” who are shown standing beside the Tree of Knowledge.

    © Crown copyright RCAHMW.

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    Unknown writing. Partly hidden behind an old drainpipe.

    © Crown copyright RCAHMW.

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    This is an “Englyn” (a short Welsh poem) for the House of Nannau (at the time of Hugh Nannau Hen and his wife Anne). It was written by Sion Phylip, a bard of Corsygedol.

    Welsh text:

    Rough translation:

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    Unknown Text

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    Date stone of 1581 from Old Nannau

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    Stone from Old Nannau.

    The ‘h’ and ‘g’ may refer to Hugh & Gruffydd and the ‘V’ to Vychan.

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    The Coat of Arms of Elizabeth I. God Bless The Queen.

Thanks to David Brown, and Google for their help with the translations.

Nannau Adda ac Efa Stone 1580
Llanfendigaid Stone

This stone was reputedly taken from the Pavilion Wings prior to their demolition in the 1970s and is now at Llanfendigaid at Rhoslefain, Tywyn.

The Llanfendigaid Estate has been owned by the Nanney-Wynn family and their forebears since the earliest records began in AD 1241. See their website at: