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Press release

New research and revelations about the 5th Marquess of Anglesey inspires a new exhibition at Plas Newydd

5th Marquess of Anglesey in costume at Plas Newydd
5th Marquess of Anglesey in costume at Plas Newydd | © National Trust

For the first time, the history of the 5th Marquess of Anglesey is shared throughout the house at Plas Newydd through an emotive exhibition. ‘All that was left’ tells the story of Henry Cyril Paget and the Great Anglesey Sales which saw all he had owned, sold to pay his debts.

Henry Cyril Paget (1875-1905) succeeded the title of the 5th Marquess of Anglesey and inherited Plas Newydd in 1898 along with about £110,000 a year, which is the equivalent of about £18-£20 million today [1]. He renamed it ‘Anglesey Castle’ and spared no expense in making it his own.

He surrounded himself with luxurious clothing, costumes, and jewellery; he staged performances and fancy-dress balls in his own theatre for local people and he indulged in new technologies including motor cars and photography. However, the world the 5th Marquess created was unsustainable.

Due to his mismanagement of money, the Marquess was eventually declared insolvent, such that everything he owned had to be sold to pay off his debts. His excessive buying meant there was a lot to sell, including everything in the house and surrounding buildings. Plas Newydd was no longer a home but a shop floor.

A National Trust spokesperon at Plas Newydd House and Gardens said;

“The Great Anglesey Castle Sales lasted from July 1904 to November 1904. Everything the 5th Marquess owned was sold, from his most expensive jewels to the mop heads and buckets. Between 17,000 and 18,000 lots were up for sale and the house was stripped.”

“People travelled to Anglesey from across the country; these were said to be one of the biggest sales in Great Britain. They were well attended by local people also who came to support the 5th Marquess who, despite the outcome of his spending, was still held in a lot of affection in the area.”

The biggest attraction was the sale of the Marquess’ clothes, where hundreds of pyjamas, dressing gowns, waistcoats, socks, multi-coloured suits, swimming costumes, ping-pong uniforms, purple underpants and bejewelled walking sticks were sold.

Everything was sold - from the Marquess’ custom-built Pullman Morrs, one of five cars on offer, to pots and pans from the kitchen, pills and potions from his bedroom. Even his beloved toy dogs went, alongside the housekeeper’s parrot that reputedly swore in three languages.

His debts amounted to around £570,000, or £45 million in today’s money, however the sales only paid back six shillings to every pound he owed, leaving around £159,600 of debts, that’s around £12 million in today’s money.

Professor Viv Gardner, an expert on the life of the 5th Marquess has worked closely with the conservation charity to share her research of the Marquess. Her work inspired the new exhibition which reveals untold stories about his life, and how his lavish lifestyle and love of entertainment became his downfall. Viv said;

“There is a story that was repeated in his own time and continues to be told that it was the 5th Marquess who built a theatre into the chapel at Plas Newydd. This is not entirely true; what he did in 1901 was to turn the old-fashioned stage into something that was modern. He created an auditorium with 150 seats in it and introduced electricity.”

“He created a space where he could perform whatever he wanted to. He created this place where he could be himself.”

“He opened up the theatre to neighbours, tradesmen, servants, university students and visitors for free, and as often as he could, he danced. Most famously in his Butterfly Dance, where he became known as the Dancing Marquess, where multi-coloured lights projected onto his white silk costumes.”

5th Marquess of Anglesey with a group of actors on stage at Plas Newydd
5th Marquess of Anglesey with a group of actors on stage at Plas Newydd | © National Trust

According to Viv, the pantomimes gave the Marquess the chance to wear as many changes of costume as he had scenes, and to indulge his passion for jewellery. His costumes in ‘Red Riding Hood’, were rumoured to have cost at least £500, nearly £40,000 in today’s money.

However, less talked about was his connection to the local community, and how he took part in local events – kicking off at football matches, presenting prizes, even running a stall selling pictures of himself at Bangor Friars’ School Bazaar. He even appeared at the 1902 Bangor National Eisteddfod in specially-made bardic robes, and was awarded an honorary bardic degree.

The local working people loved him, but he was not well received amongst the upper classes. He was credited with bringing income to the local community with his spending, and that of his large entourage. People loved that he treasured inexpensive gifts as much as his diamonds. He loved a walking stick bought in Bangor for a shilling as much as one costing hundreds of pounds.

Outside Wales, the national papers were only interested in the sensational stories. They mocked the aristocrat who played Romeo to his housekeeper’s Juliet, above all they relished the story of his downfall, and what the ‘Great Anglesey Castle Sales’ revealed about his extraordinarily extravagant lifestyle.

Viv Gardner added;

“The tragedy wasn’t only the Marquess’s, the servants lost their homes as well as their jobs. The Marquess also owed money to many local businesses, including Morris Wartski, a jeweller on Bangor High Street; he was owed £26,651. However, loyalty and affection for the Marquess continued, and even Mr Wartski bought the Marquess’s coronation robes in the sales to return to him.”

The new exhibition, ‘All that was left’ explores the impact of this extraordinary event on Plas Newydd and on the local community, and to consider what we value.

National Trust spokesperon continued;

“At the end of 2019 we began a large-scale project to upgrade the pipes and wires throughout the house at Plas Newydd. However as a result of the pandemic, we had to put this work on hold. Whilst we wait to resume the work, we’ve been exploring other themes at throughout the mansion house.”

“In preparation for the building project we stored away some of the collections and removed some of the furniture, however some of the paintings remain on display. This provided us with a blank canvas to explore a part of Plas Newydd’s history that we haven’t shared in detail before. The Great Anglesey Sales were fitting as it allowed us to imagine what Plas Newydd would have been like in 1904 when everything was sold off, and the house was empty.”

Child looking at creative installation at Plas Newydd, Anglesey
'All that was left' exhibition in the music room at Plas Newydd | © National Trust Images/Annapurna Mellor

Drawing on photographs and archives including the Sales catalogues, Alison Neighbour, an artist and scenographer, has created ghostly echoes of the 5th Marquess’ lost objects.

Visitors can expect to see creative installations, which include paper and wire models of the 5th Marquess’ size 6 printed leather heels, copies of the Anglesey Sales catalogues and 82 hanging ‘silk’ dressing gowns in the Music Room.

‘All that was left’ is open until 5 November 2023.

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