Erddig: A coal baron’s manor house

Built in 1682 on coal mining profits, Erddig Manor is a huge manor house with 52 rooms (including 28 bedrooms) set on extensive grounds. The Welsh name is pronounced Er-thig. It fell into disrepair in the 1970s and was donated to the National Trust who spent £500,000 on refurbishment. This sum was matched by public donations, making the full cost of renovation a million pounds. Much of this was spent on under pining the building as it had, rather ironically, subsided up to 11 feet thanks to the coal mines that funded the house’s creation.

The gardens were in complete disarray when the National Trust took over and had to be rebuilt based on old plans found in the house. They’d been overtaken by local bush to such an extent that the National Trust gardeners couldn’t see any of the original plants, apart from a few old Yew trees that they managed to save. The gardeners applied some enthusiasm to removing the bush, going as far as using gelignite to blow the birch tree stumps from the ground. One went as high as 100m in the air. Any excuse to blow stuff up?

We spent a couple of hours walking in the gardens, and playing in the kids section named the Wolf’s Den. This has been created by the House’s artist in residence who is a chainsaw sculpturer, so the whole kids garden is created from wood. It has a section where the children can use sticks to create their own items. Ours spent ages making a gigantic bivouac.

Before going into the house tour, we investigated the outbuildings, a fascinating collection of working sheds, complete with a steam generator that ran the sawmilling equipment, and several sheds filled with carriages, cars, bikes and other equipment collected over the hundreds of years that the house was occupied.

Erddig is unique for many a big house, as the archives contained extensive records on the servants, including annual photos of all the staff going back to early photography technology. The tour of the house takes you through the servants sector of the house first – the laundry, kitchens, administration office, etc, before taking you upstairs to see the difference in splendor enjoyed by the owners of the property. It is obvious, not just from the vastness of the property, that this house was built off the back of a substantial fortune. The living rooms are spacious, the music room contains a baby grand piano and a piped organ, while the décor is sumptuous. Each of the core rooms overlooks the impressive gardens.

Up the servants staircase to the next level, the National Trust have done a good job in displaying the servants quarters with two spartan bedrooms, and a shared sitting room that contains sewing machine (ones work is never done).

The separation between servant and owner isn’t as big as I’d assumed from reading many a historical romance novel, but perhaps this is unique to Erddig given the record keeping and fondness that the family appeared to have for their servants. Not a creepy ‘fondness’ like many a regency villain, but a pleasant fondness of shared space.

Dahlia flower in Erddig’s garden

Questions at bed time.

What was the butler’s sink made from?
Skin?
What? No. Hammered lead.

What job did Phillip York do before he inherited Erddig?
This one took them ages. Even with clues: AC_OR accor, acmor, acsor, acfor, etc, until we were all rolling around with laughter. Eventually they went systematically. Acnor, acure, acoor, acpor, acror, acsor, are you sure? Acvor, ac hold on. Actor. Actor!

What tree did the gardeners save?
The birch tree. Oh hang on, no they blew those up.
The yew trees.

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