A look back over more than 165 years
of Llanfrechfa Grange
Last Updated 21 August 2015
These pages set out the historical information we are collecting about Llanfrechfa Grange and its gardens, especially the Walled Garden. This information has been gathered from historical records and from stories told by people who have known the Grange over the years. Our aim is to understand the estates history so that it can inform the future of the Walled Garden as we progress with its restoration.
When we started researching the history of the Walled Garden in early 2015 it was clear that we could not look at the garden in isolation from Grange House and the rest of the estate. The information on this page however focuses mainly on the garden, with links to other historical data provided in additional pages hyperlinked throughout.
We began at what we thought was the beginning – 1848 – when the first iteration of the building we know as ‘Grange House’ was built. The journey so far has been fascinating and we have found a great deal of interesting material to share. However we are sure there is much more to discover, and many more questions to pose and to answer. These pages will therefore continue to evolve as we learn more about this fascinating estate and its connections, both locally and wider. The data herein, to the best our knowledge, is correct. However not all has been validated by official records and therefore is and should be open to scrutiny and correction where appropriate.
We would be grateful for help in finding more pieces of the jigsaw that will enable us to develop as complete and accurate a picture of Llanfrechfa Grange as possible. We are interested in stories, documents, maps or photographs relating to Grange House and its occupants, the grounds, Llanfrechfa Village, and of course the Walled Garden itself. You will find specific questions in red throughout these pages but please don’t be restricted to them alone – any new information will be very much welcomed.
The beginning of the story and some of the questions it poses
Grange House was built in 1848 by Charles Prothero in what is believed to be the grounds of a much older original manor or large farmhouse, long since demolished. Though a substantial dwelling Grange House was significantly extended and upgraded between 1860 and 1864 by Francis and Elizabeth Mitchell, the second owners who bought the estate in 1860.
The earliest map we currently have of Llanfrechfa Grange is from 1882, which shows the Walled Garden (highlighted green) to the north of Grange House. The layout of the garden is in quadrants, a classic design and one that partially remained until the garden fell into disuse early in the 21st century.
The Walled Garden and the land to the east, which included several hothouses, fruit bushes and an orchard, would have provided supplies for the resident families and their visitors. The gardens, and the wider parklands of this substantial estate, would have been managed by a resident gardener who would have lived in the ‘tied’ Gardeners Cottage (circled in green).
What we don’t know is whether the Walled Garden was built as part of the Prothero estate or added later by the Mitchells. Maps, or other evidence, from the 1840s, 50s and 60s would help us to confirm the date of construction. Meanwhile in 1994 Primrose Hockey, a local historian, in her notes on ‘The Rebuilding of All Saints Church Llanfrechfa AD 1874’ noted that stones from the church stables, which had been taken down, had been used to build a wall for the Walled Garden at Llanfrechfa Grange.
The garden is indeed mostly built of stone. However, as can be seen in this photograph taken in early 2015, it also appears that the walls may have been raised at some point, or at least built of stone from different sources.
So here are some unanswered questions:-
Was the original walled garden built in the 1840s, in the 1860s, or later, perhaps as late as 1874 when the church was rebuilt?
Were the original walls, or maybe the extensions, built using the stones from the church stables?
Are there any maps available from the mid 1800s?
In a pamphlet of unknown authorship found at the Grange entitled’ The History of Llanfrechfa Grange’ reference is made to stones which came from the parish church and its stables having been used to build stables at the Grange, and also the pillars of the then main gated south entrance to the estate.
The pamphlet refers to wrought iron gates while interestingly this picture, from circa 1910 of the front entrance and The Lodge, has stone pillars with what appears to be wooden gates.
- Are there any local records that can help clarify this?
- Does anyone know who the lady in the picture is?
Could the lady in the picture perhaps be Mrs Purkiss who was resident in The Lodge at the time of the gruesome murder in Park Cottage on the estate in 1921? More about this story will be published soon.
The lower end of the original south entrance to Llanfrechfa Grange is now known as Mitchell Close, a cul-de-sac with only pedestrian access to the grounds of the Grange.
While other cottages and the farm that once stood on the estate have long gone, we were delighted to find that The Lodge is still there and now in private ownership. There is a single stone pillar at its boundary that looks to be one of the original gate pillars with a second, barely visible through a thick covering of ivy, on the other side of the road.
Where are the other 2 middle pillars now?
Times of change in the early part of the 20th century…..
Francis and Elizabeth Mitchell lived at Llanfrechfa Grange until their deaths, Elizabeth in 1910 and Francis in 1913, having made the estate their home for more than 50 years. Gladys Elizabeth their eldest daughter inherited the estate and we believe she and her husband, Major-General William Frederick Cleeve, lived there with some of their children until the estate was sold in 1921 to Sir John Cecil Davies.
Within a year Sir John sold the estate to Elsie Louise Llewellyn, wife of Sir Leonard Wilkinson Llewellyn. Sadly, in June 1924 and less than two years later, Sir Leonard died at the age of 50. In September of the same year Elsie placed the estate, through a Memorandum of Deposit, with Barclays Bank Ltd and the belongings of the late Sir Leonard were put up for sale at the house. Go to the Llewellyn Family page to read more about them.
We don’t know if Elsie continues to live at the Grange after her husbands death but the estate remained in her ownership until it was sold in 1933 to the Llanfrechfa Property Company Ltd. This sale saw the estate move out of private family ownership and marked the beginning of significant change in its size and use.
Who looked after the gardens and grounds before and during this time of changing ownership….
There was once a Gardeners Cottage on the estate, provided specifically to house a head gardener. As with the Walled Garden however we don’t know when the cottage was built, with the earliest record we have being the 1882 OS map above.
The first reference we currently have to any gardeners on the estate is in a 1925 report commissioned by the ‘Board of Control for Lunacy and Mental Deficiency’ which assessed the potential of Llanfrechfa Grange for use as a mental health facility. Interestingly, while the report was favourable it would be many more years before The Grange was used for this purpose.
The Board of Control report noted the gardens ‘to be in excellent condition and well stocked, with three gardeners employed to maintain the whole in order’. So, whether or not members of the Llewellyn family lived at the Grange following Sir Leonards death, the gardens appear to have continued to be managed and maintained.
…. we have descriptions of the gardens from the 1930s to 1950 from the memories of Mr Peter Kelly, the son of the then resident gardener, John Kelly. The Kelly family lived in the Gardeners Cottage from 1927 to 1950.
Peter made contact with us following an article in the South Wales Argus and describes the estate as his childhood playground. He recalls its layout in great detail, both house and garden, and we have spend many enjoyable hours listening to his stories of an idyllic childhood and his life beyond.
Sadly the cottage is no longer there, probably demolished as part of the development of the estate as a hospital for the mentally ill during the 1950s. We don’t know who lived in the cottage before the Kelly family, or indeed perhaps after them once the Grange had become a hospital.
Who lived in the Gardeners Cottage before and after the Kellys, pre 1927 and post 1950?
These sketches show how Peter remembered the garden being set out during the 1930 and 40s.
The productive garden was much larger than the confines of the Walled Garden. There were hot houses on the outside walls heated from a boiler house and where melons, vines and salad crops were grown. Between them and the Gardener’s Cottage there was an orchard and a rhubarb patch.
Within the Walled Garden the four quadrant pattern was criss crossed by paths providing formal crop rotation beds. Peter also described an abundance of fruit trees including apples, pears, plums, apricots, peaches and greengages trained against the internal walls. There was also another greenhouse, water storage and a large horseradish patch.
Although the estate was sold in 1933 to the Llanfrechfa Property Company and the house being unoccupied, the gardens continued to be maintained by Mr Kelly the resident gardener. Produce was sold to a Mr Jimmy Spires, a Greengrocer on Caerleon Road, just before Duckpool Road. We would like to know more about this Greengrocer.
Does anyone have any memories, information or photos of the Caerleon Road Greengrocer?
Mr Kelly continued to manage the gardens and grounds through the sale of the estate in 1933 until his retirement in 1950. The particulars for the sale are quite detailed and identify the Walled Garden together with two stone and slated store sheds and a similar potting shed containing the heating apparatus for the vinery. Four glass houses are also listed:-
- one 48ft x 12ft fitted with heating apparatus with galvanised and circular stone and cement storage water tanks
- another 28ft x 12ft
- a Vinery and Fernery 22ft 6in x 35ft, and
- a Peach House in the Walled Garden
Returning to the ownership of the estate…..
The estate was sold in 1933 to the Llanfrechfa Property Company but we have as yet been unable to trace any information about this company other than an agreement reached with the Scouting Association in 1936 – more of that a bit later.
The particulars for the sale include the land that sits between the A4042 Pontypool to Newport road and the B4236 Cwmbran to Caerleon road. This land is described as being ‘ripe for building development’ and ‘would make a magnificent site for the erection of houses to suit modern requirements’. This previously undeveloped land is now the part of Llanfrechfa Village known as Llanfrechfa Lower.
Does anyone have any information on the Llanfrechfa Property Company?
How did the company manage the Grange estate?
Did they build any of the houses in Llanfrechfa Lower?
Did they sell on plots for others to build on?
The Scouting Association in Llanfrechfa 1936 to 1938…..
An agreement was reached between the Llanfrechfa Property Company and the Scouting Association in 1936 to enable Grange House to be used as a residential Domestic Training Centre for Boys. The centre, funded by the Ministry of Labour, aimed at providing domestic work skills for unemployed youths. The images below are of the boys hanging washing in the courtyard between the house and the Walled Garden and the Drawing Room of the house being used as a classroom.Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images
Did the boys work in the gardens?
Does anyone know of anyone who undertook Domestic Skills Training at the Grange?
The Kings Visit to Llanfrechfa Grange 1936…..
As part of his tour of the poorer areas of South Wales in November 1936 King Edward VIII visited the Llanfrechfa Grange Domestic Training Centre, just a few weeks before he abdicated.
Mr Peter Kelly, the gardeners son who was eight years old at the time, recalls the Kings cars arriving at the front of Grange House and the King being introduced to key personnel. Standing at the side if the drive he was delighted to be pushed forward to be introduced and to shake hands with the King!
Are there any photographs of the Kings visit to Llanfrechfa Grange?
A train called Llanfrechfa Grange…..
Following the Kings visit a Griffithstown railway employee, Miss Florence M Winsor, suggested to the authorities that one of the Grange series of Locomotives being built in Swindon should be named after Llanfrechfa Grange. Her suggestion was accepted and loco number 6827 bore the name.
The Grange as a War Time Maternity Hospital…..
In 1939 Grange House became a Maternity Hospital providing care for expectant mothers evacuated from London.
We have set up a page to capture stories from people who were ‘Born at the Grange‘ either during the war years, or later when the maternity services were made available to local mothers.
Do you know anyone who was born at the Grange? Please ask them to get in touch.
Did the armed forces use the house or grounds during the War?
Were there any Land Army girls at The Grange during the War?
Did the garden supply food and flowers to the hospital?
Another change of ownership…..
In 1947 the estate, now somewhat smaller, was bought by Monmouth County Council who initially continued to use the house as a maternity hospital. Mr Kelly, the resident gardener had looked after the grounds throughout the years from 1927 until his retirement in 1950. It is however not clear what happened to the garden after his retirement as, around the same time the maternity services moved to County Hospital in Panteg and Grange House was again unoccupied from 1950 to 1953.
What happened to the garden from 1950 to 1953?
Who lived in the Gardeners Cottage and the other estate houses at this time?
In 1953 the house became a hospital for the mentally ill, initially housing up to 57 patients. Major developments followed during the late 50s early 60s when residential Villas and other buildings were erected in the grounds, taking the bed compliment to 524 across the site.
Did the Walled Garden again provide food and flowers for the patient?
Did the patients work in the garden and / or the grounds?
A new Head Gardener, or three…..
We have a gap in our knowledge about who would have been head gardener from 1950 to about 1958, when Ken Miles took on the role. Ken looked after the gardens and grounds until his retirement in 1983 and was supported by a handful of staff and casual workers in the busier times of the year. Ken sadly is no longer with us but his son John has been in touch and has provided great insight into how the garden looked during his fathers time at the Grange.
Though there was no longer a ‘resident gardener’ position Ken spent many hours at the Grange, over and above his contract. Here he can be seen pruning the roses in front of the house, ably supervised by his three dogs. Ken’s passion was growing chrysanthemums and he raised many beautiful specimens in the warmth of the Walled Garden.
John recalls spending a lot of time at the Grange as a child. Helping his father, playing in the rhododendron garden behind the house, and taking scary walks through a service tunnel that joined the boiler house to the main building! Within the Walled Garden he remembers sheds and greenhouses, and a chicken run extending almost the whole length of the south wall nearest the house. He described a large steel and wooden framed freestanding greenhouse and a much older and bigger lean too hot house against the north wall with evidence of both still there in the garden today.
The hot house looked something like the one on the left and was heated by hot water pipes run in from the boiler house. When the more modern steel and wooden framed greenhouse was built the lean too was decommissioned. Ken was disappointed that the new house had no heating and no wall protection to help keep it warm.
During Kens time at Llanfrechfa the gardens were entered into a number of ‘Wales in Bloom’ competitions in the hospital categories. John recalls his father being delighted to win a few more prizes to add to his already extensive private collection.
Now an established hospital for people with mental health problems or learning disabilities John recalls that some of patients worked in the ‘stock farm’ to the north east of the house. Situated behind what is now the laundry site this farming areas was known as the ‘Ponderosa’. Others worked with Ken in the garden and due to the amount of supervision he provided he was given a psychiatric lead allowance.
Ken was followed by John Waters and then later in the 1980s into the 1990s by Karl Earnshaw as the Head Gardeners. While these men held responsibility for maintaining all of the grounds half the Walled Garden was now laid to lawn with the other half continuing to be very productive, providing food and flowers for staff and residents.
Karl drew this diagram of the Walled Garden which shows the newer greenhouse and some of the sheds described by John Miles, providing continuity to the story of the garden. Karl also knew of a well outside the walls but was not sure where it was sited. Perhaps it was the one described by Peter Kelly from back in the 1930s and situated to the side of the current drive.
When we began the exploration of the history of the Walled Garden at Llanfrechfa Grange we had no idea who would come forward with information. There have been a few surprises and it was a real pleasure to be able to introduce Karl and Peter to each other at one of our open mornings.
Both men were deeply saddened to see the state the garden is now in, but were heartened to know that we intend to renovate it and make it a beautiful place again.
We look forward to introducing more people with special connections to the garden as its story unfolds and the project to renovate the garden progresses.
Into the 21st Century…..
The Walled Garden fell into decline at the turn of the century and is no longer on the active maintenance contract. However, as we have explored it’s past and begin to plan its future John Hefferman, the Grounds Manager for Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, has been most helpful in arranging soil sampling and an assessment of the trees that now populate parts of the garden. The soil, as would be expected, is suitable for supporting a wide range of planting and there are a number of good quality self set young trees worthy of consideration for preserving.
Laing O’Rourke, the company that will build the new hospital on the Grange site once government permission is granted, have also undertaken a structural survey of the walls. These are primarily sound with some repair work needed to make them completely safe. This will be scheduled as part of the build plans for the hospital together with the provision of some essential services and the laying of new paths.
The foundations for the renovation of the garden are therefore now well set.
Thank you for reading this far,we hope you have found the story of Llanfrechfa Grange interesting.
We will continue to research the story of Llanfrechfa Grange and the surrounding area and add to these pages over time. The information above is accurate to the best of our knowledge as at the 21st of August 2015. However, if you think something is not quite right, or have new material to add, please do get in touch.
We would be grateful for any stories, documents, photographs or maps relating to Llanfrechfa Grange. While we are of course primarily interested in the history of the Walled Garden we also want to gather information about the house and its occupants, the grounds and the surrounding area.
The Llanfrechfa Grange Walled Garden Team
21st August 2015