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Chirk Castle’s history secured for everyone, for ever

The Saloon at Chirk Castle including two settees and oval-backed chairs by Ince & Mayhew
The Saloon at Chirk Castle including two settees and oval-backed chairs by Ince & Mayhew | © National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

We have purchased collections belonging to the Myddelton family and spanning over four hundred years of their time at Chirk Castle. Around three hundred historically important items have been transferred to our care, where they will remain forever, for everyone’s enjoyment.

Many of the items had been on loan to us since the castle came into our care in 1981. Over more than four decades, we've 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, we’ve now acquired some of the most historically significant items in the collection.

An unbroken family connection

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.

Treasures and unique survivals

The treasures bought in this recent agreement include portraits of Myddelton family members spanning the centuries by prominent artists like Michael Dahl, Sir Godfrey Kneller and Sir Peter Lely. There are also unique early 18th century landscape depictions of Chirk by John Wootton and Peter Tillemans which were specially commissioned for the castle.

Oil painting of Sir Thomas II Myddelton (1586-1666), English School, circa 1670.
Oil painting of Sir Thomas II Myddelton (1586-1666), English School, circa 1670. | © National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

The agreement also includes furniture by the fashionable 18th century cabinetmakers and upholsterers Ince & Mayhew, along with two spectacular pier glass mirrors. In Chirk’s 1795 inventory, the pier glasses and tables were estimated to be worth a quarter of the value of the entire castle’s contents.

Unique survivals include a 17th century servants’ hall table, made from one continuous piece of oak, over 5 metres (17 feet) long. This is where up to 40 staff would gather to take their meals. There’s also a 17th century black leather hat, purchased ‘for the Baronet’ Thomas Myddelton (grandson of Thomas the second). This is probably one of the four new hats noted in the castle’s accounts in 1668.

Karen George, collections manager at Chirk Castle with a rare 17th century leather hat
Karen George, collections manager at Chirk Castle with a rare 17th century leather hat | © National Trust Images / Paul Highnam

Rare glimpses into the castle’s story

A large collection of estate documents, dating as early as 1250, has also transferred to our care. These precious archive documents give rare glimpses into the story of the castle over the centuries.

Among the dozens of manuscripts are royal papers from seven different monarchs, beginning with Elizabeth I, as well as a document showing the first known depiction of Chirk Castle in 1563.

There’s also a range of papers relating to the English Civil War, including notes, letters and a poster naming Sir Thomas Myddelton the second a ‘traytor’. Sir Thomas supported Parliament at the start of the War but then transferred allegiance to Charles II for the restoration of the monarchy.

Proclamation issued by Parliament, Wednesday August 10, 1659, seeking ‘traytors’ including Sir Thomas Myddelton the second
Proclamation issued by Parliament, Wednesday August 10, 1659, seeking ‘traytors’ including Sir Thomas Myddelton the second | © National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

Karen George, House and Collections Manager, Chirk Castle said: “These objects speak of political, commercial and social history among generations of the Myddelton 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.”

A new phase for Chirk Castle

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 been intermittently available for public access. We will be considering how best to use and display these spaces and will share plans in the coming months.

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.”

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.

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