I’ve written about my annual day trips to Dyffryn Gardens a lot, but for some reason I’ve never written about the house even though I always go inside and have a look around.
Dyffryn House is a large, beautiful Victorian mansion set amid 55 acres of gardens. It was built in 1895 by the Cory family, who made their millions from the coal fields of the south Wales valleys.
At the turn of the 20th century, around a third of the world’s coal was being exported from nearby Cardiff and it’s rumoured the city’s coal exchange witnessed the world’s first £1 million deal (a cool £100-ish million in today’s money).
Needless to say, as a major player in the city’s coal trade, the Cory family was loaded – hence, the gorgeous villa surrounded by acres of land.
In 1939, the estate was leased to the local council and the house was then used variously as a police academy, a training and conference facility, and a dog-training centre. Still council-owned, the National Trust took over responsibility for running and maintaining the property in 2013.
When the National Trust stepped in, the house was in a state of disrepair without any furniture or artworks. The trust has slowly been restoring the house to its former glory, doing a fantastic job in the process.
When the house opened its doors to the public in 2013, only five rooms had been restored and since then more rooms have undergone restoration.
You can wander around many of the rooms as they’re being restored and the National Trust has handily put up signs explaining the restoration and conservation work, including any issues they’ve faced.
It’s been fascinating to go back every year to see what they’ve been doing and how much work goes into restoring these grand houses.
The first room you enter on going inside is the great hall. The grand wood-panelled room has an enormously high ceiling and was once used by the Cory family as the main drawing room.
Above the door is a large stained glass window and on the other side is a balcony where you can look down at the room from the first floor. It’s a magnificent space and gives a sense of how palatial the house must have been during its heyday.
The great hall leads off into a number of different rooms, one of which is the billiard room. It’s a fairly standard billiard room with the requisite wood-panelling and massive billiard table in the centre.
After years of reading 1920s to 1940s murder mysteries, I always feel no stately home is truly complete without a billiard room and Dyffryn House hasn’t let me down.
Close by is the blue parlour room, which is set out as a music room, and during this summer’s visit featured a number of props created by the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama as part of a performance called ‘The Desert Daydreamer’.
The props included a model of a dead bird under the piano (above) and a dead ostrich beside the chest of draws.
The room is a gorgeous space largely because of the huge windows, which let in enormous amounts of light – it was very light and airy, and must have been a great room in which to relax.
The red parlour room next door is so-called because of the red silk panels on the walls, which were discovered during the restoration work.
Some of the silk panels were repaired by conservationists, but those that were beyond repair were replaced by replicas.
I was really impressed by the restoration work as I couldn’t see a difference between the different panels and they all looked to be in great condition.
From the red parlour room, I wandered along to the second-hand bookshop where I had a good rake through the shelves to see if there were any books I wanted to buy.
Being a bookworm, I like having a bookshop on site as I’m always on the lookout for interesting books I haven’t come across before and it’s a good way to raise some extra money for the house, too.
While much of the downstairs of the house has been restored, upstairs it’s another matter and the rooms are largely unfinished and in a state of disrepair.
In a number of rooms there were exhibits about the First World War with various displays showing the support the Cory family gave to the war effort.
The displays were interesting and really brought home how the war affected everyone, regardless of wealth or status.
As someone who likes visiting castles and stately homes, I’ve enjoyed seeing the restoration of the house over the last few years and reading about the conservation work that goes into restoring a grand old house like this.
Having spent years as a child visiting Dyffryn Gardens but never being able to go inside, it’s great to now be allowed to explore the house and see it slowly restored to its full glory.
If you’re ever in the Cardiff area, it’s definitely worth a visit – especially in spring and summer when the gardens are in full bloom.
Dyffryn Gardens, St Nicholas, Vale of Glamorgan CF5 6SU
Adults £8.60, Children £4.30
That must be interesting to see a work in progress year on year. I like that the Trust is letting people visit and not keeping the place under wraps till it’s done. I’ve visited a couple of houses in the Lake District like that and will revisit next time we are there to see how they are getting on.
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It’s fantastic and I’ve learned a lot about the conservation work from my visits. I hadn’t realised how much work goes into preserving these old houses until I saw the work in progress and read about it. The lengths they go to to preserve the original features, be it the wood panelling or the wallpaper, is incredible.
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