Historic collections and archives of ancestral Myddelton family from over 400 years at Chirk Castle are sold to National Trust Cymru
- 17 April 2023
Collections belonging to the Myddelton family and spanning over four hundred years of their occupation at Chirk Castle in Wrexham, North Wales, have been purchased by the National Trust.
Following negotiations with the Myddelton family, approximately three hundred items of historic importance have been transferred to the National Trust where they will remain for the permanent enjoyment of the public.
Many of the items now owned by the Trust have been on loan to the charity since it acquired the castle in 1981. Over more than four decades, the Trust has been actively collecting different objects, artworks and books related to Chirk’s history as they have come up at auctions, through gifts and acceptance in lieu and through private sales. With this latest purchase, the Trust has now acquired some of the most historically significant items in the collection.
Chirk Castle, at the head of the Ceiriog valley, was completed around 1310 and was one of several fortresses along the Welsh-English border constructed to maintain the conquests of Edward I. In 1595 it was purchased by Sir Thomas Myddelton, a merchant adventurer originally from Denbighshire, who transformed it from a fortress to a family home. Through the centuries that followed, the Myddelton family has had an unbroken connection to the castle, and their histories are reflected in the wealth of collections that remain.
The last part of the collection now in Trust ownership includes numerous portraits of Myddelton family members spanning the centuries by artists such as Michael Dahl, Sir Godfrey Kneller and Sir Peter Lely; unique early 18th century landscapes by John Wootton and Peter Tillemans depicting Chirk and commissioned for the castle; and furniture by the fashionable 18th century cabinetmakers and upholsterers Ince & Mayhew, along with two spectacular pier glass mirrors.
Unique survivals include a 17th century servants’ hall table made from one continuous piece of oak, over 5 metres (17 feet) long at which up to 40 staff would gather to take their meals.
A large collection of estate documents, dating as early as 1250, gives glimpses into the story of the castle, its inhabitants and community over the centuries. During its history, Chirk Castle has existed both in England and in Wales as the borders were contested and changed. Royal papers from seven different monarchs, beginning with Elizabeth I, and a document showing the first known depiction of Chirk Castle in 1563, are among dozens of manuscripts that have transferred to the Trust.
Of particular importance is a range of material relating to the English Civil War including notes, letters and a poster seeking and naming ‘traytors’ including Sir Thomas Myddelton the second, who supported Parliament at the start of the War but then transferred allegiance to Charles II for the restoration of the monarchy.
Another rare 17th century survival is a black leather hat, purchased ‘for the Baronet’ Thomas Myddelton (grandson of Thomas the second), and probably one of four new hats noted in the castle’s accounts in 1668.
Lhosa Daly, Director for Wales, National Trust Cymru said: “Chirk Castle is an iconic place in Welsh history, and we are thrilled to have been able to secure this last and most significant part of the collection on loan to us from the Myddelton family with items spanning hundreds of years.
“These objects speak of political, commercial and social history among generations of the family, but also of other families and individuals connected to the castle. Their artistic, musical and literary interests are clear to see along with how they commissioned the biggest names in architecture and decoration to design and update the castle. This purchase agreement cements the Myddelton family’s legacy as we continue to tell these stories.
“Although many of the collection items we have purchased are already on display at the castle, our ownership now means we can fully research the objects and archives, and undertake conservation and technical analysis, all of which will allow us to offer new ways to experience them in their historic settings. We will be able to learn more about their context, importance and value in Welsh, national and international history, and will be able to share these stories both online and with visitors who come to explore the castle in person.”
Mr Guy Myddelton said: “Chirk Castle has been owned and managed by the National Trust since 1981 and is no longer appropriate as a private family residence. I am pleased that we have been able to reach an agreement with the National Trust that secures the Myddelton family legacy at Chirk, as well as the remainder of the Chirk collection for future generations to view in the most appropriate setting.”
As part of the purchase agreement, the Myddelton family is vacating their remaining private spaces of the castle, as well as the East Wing which has only intermittently been available for public access. The Trust will be considering how best to use and display these spaces and will share plans in the months to come.
The purchase of high value items in the collection has been possible through the Private Treaty Sale scheme which allows private owners to sell items to national organisations without recourse to an auction process and with prices beneficial to both.
Magnificent medieval fortress of the Welsh Marches | Castell canoloesol odidog Y Mers
Living in a castle for 400 years a family gathers a diverse collection of art, furniture and curiosities. Here’s some of the treasures in Chirk’s collection.
Chirk Castle was never planned as a family home. It was one of several medieval Marcher fortresses along the Welsh-English border, built to keep the Welsh under English rule.