Ynyshir Hall, meaning long island in Welsh, was built as a shooting lodge situated amongst the salt marshes of the Dyfi Estuary, abundant with duck and geese, salmon and trout in the river and local game on the moors. The natural amphitheatre shape of the gardens and the proximity to the Gulf Steam meant the gardens could be planted with more exotic species – many of which have grown into fine specimens. At its height, the Ynyshir estate comprised of two thousand acres and numerous lodges. Eminent owners of the Ynyshir estate include Queen Victoria, Lady Docker, William Mappin (of Mappin & Webb Jewellers) and Joan & Rob Reen who transformed Ynyshir into an internationally recognised luxury hotel in the late 20th Century.
The outbuildings may date back to as early as the 12th century when Cistercian monks have known to have settled in the area. The earliest part of the house dates to the 15th Century and as the house has grown over the centuries, there is no one single classical style. The front rooms including the drawing room, bar and restaurant make up the original rooms while the back section of the house including the original bar and kitchen and offices were added later in the 17th Century.
The earliest known owner of the Ynyshir estate is David Lloyd in the 17th Century who married Elizabeth, daughter of Griffith ap Ievan. Their son, John Lloyd, had erected the church in Eglwysfach in 1623 and married Alice, daughter of Thomas Pryse of Glanfred.
Following the death of Thomas Pryse, Alice later married Thomas Knowles of Krugmore. Their son, John Knowles became Mayor of Cardigan in 1693 and High Sheriff in 1698. The house was passed onto his daughter who married a Bowen of Upton in Pembrokeshire. They had an only daughter who in turn sold it to one of the tenants at Ynyshir, John Hughes.
John Hughes sold Ynyshir in 1780 to Matthew Davies of Cwmcynfelyn, a neighbouring estate. Following his appointment as a High Sheriff of Cardiganshire in 1790, he married Jane, daughter of Roderick Richards of Penglais and had two daughters, of which Jane Davies passed it on to her second son Reverend Lewis Charles Davies.
It was in the 1800s that Ynyshir became Crown property having being acquired by Queen Victoria. During this period, major refurbishment work was undertaken where bay windows, a high gothic staircase, doors, and panelling were added. Intricate Tudor roses were sculpted on door frames and in the bays while the wonderful tiled floor in the hallway was laid during this period. The ceiling in the drawing room was raised three feet around this time to create a more elegant room – as was the fashion in this time.
Queen Victoria is most commonly associated with the gardens at Ynyshir and during her time it was developed considerably with the planting of Rhododendrons, Giant Redwoods, Wellingtonias and Pinus. A beautiful Persian Ironwood, now a considerably large specimen, had been reportedly planted by the Queen herself.
Aberystwyth was a quite a fashionable Victorian seaside resort, and rarely did Queen Victoria visit the area for official business. She visited often enough to employ a local physician, John Williams, who delivered one of her many children in London. She also had a local hairdresser and perfumer – Mr Edward Lewton of Pier Street, Aberystwyth who was also granted a Royal Warrant.
In 1871 Ynyshir went through several hands including A.G.W Cosens, George Paddock who built the Paddock Wall that protected the railway in the Dovey Estuary from flooding and Major John Barry Taunton – High Sheriff of Cardiganshire in 1903 and eldest son of Widnes Manor in Knowle in Warwickshire.
In the early 1920s Ynyshir was sold to Oliver Cross, a Lancashire mining engineer’s second son who had fallen in love with the estate after viewing it from the many train journeys to Borth and Aberystwyth taken as a child. Following his death in 1926, his surviving wife and daughter wished to run the estate but as this was not customary at the time, they subsequently sold the estate to William Mappin in 1928.
Known for his conservation and love of horticulture, William further developed the gardens by building a large heather bed rockery and planting many of the Japanese Azaleas and exotic Rhododendrons with the help of his friend Bill Condre and his wife Penny who lived within the estate (Penny lives here to this day and has been of great assistance over the years at Ynyshir). He took great exception to fox hunters and badger baiters and vehemently opposed shooting groups. Following his passing in 1966 he had gifted 1000 acres of the Ynyshir estate to the RSPB – who have now established it as one of the UKs finest nature reserves and preserving the land he much loved.
The serving vicar of the church in Eglwysfach for several years and Welsh poet R.S. Thomas was dear friends of William Mappin and Bill Condre. During the Victorian era the incredible beauty of the area fell upon the attention of the great artist Turner. Musical inspiration came to Robert Plant and the beautiful Artist’s Valley (Cwm Einion) was the inspiration for Led Zeppelin’s single, ‘Stairway to Heaven’.
Ynyshir Hall first became a hotel in 1970 along with the remaining 14 acres that was not included in the gift to the RSPB after William Mappin’s death. The proprietor Sam Roberts, a Welsh amateur golfing champion established Ynyshir as one of the first true country house hotels in the country.
After the property changed hands several times with limited investment or additions, Joan Reen, a former geography teacher and Rob Reen, a fine art teacher purchased Ynyshir Hall in a complete change of direction from their previous careers. After nearly 30 years at the helm they had firmly established Ynyshir Hall as one of Wales’ best country house hotels with a tradition of propelling talented young chefs to Michelin stardom. After Joan’s passing at the beginning of 2016, Rob retired from Ynyshir to focus on his artwork and lives locally overlooking the beautiful Dyfi Valley.
The current owners are John and Jennifer Talbot who, as previous guests of Ynyshir Hall and close friends of the Reens only know too well what a special haven Ynyshir truly is.