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Our work with artists at Penrhyn Castle

Visitor walking past hundred of clocks in the Harrison’s Garden installation by Luke Jerram, in the tower at Penrhyn Castle, Wales
Harrison’s Garden art installation at Penrhyn Castle | © National Trust Images/John Millar

In 2015, Penrhyn Castle's Artists in Residence project began. A collaborative project between the Arts Council of Wales and the National Trust, it ran for three years and led to other collaborative work and creative installations with artists such as Manon Steffan Ros, Luke Jerram. And Merched Chwarel. Learn more about these projects and what they achieved in recent years within the castle.

Artists in Residence at Penrhyn

Following the success of the initial phase of the Artists in Residence project at Penrhyn Castle, the team at received over 70 applications from across the globe to be part of the second phase, from which three artists were chosen. The brief was to tell some of the previously untold histories of the castle through their art, to delve into Penrhyn’s past, the difficult history that surrounds the Castle and reframe them for a 21st-century audience.

2016 Artists in Residence


Lisa Heledd Jones

Lisa’s previous work examined personal narratives using digital media and storytelling. Lisa spent time in and around Bethesda, Bangor and the castle itself, listening very carefully to what those places and their people, those who live there now, and have lived there in the past, and what they wanted to share. She created an installation which was on display at two locations; inside the castle and in a café in the town of Bethesda, where many families remain angry for the way in which Lord Penrhyn treated their ancestors who worked at Penrhyn’s slate quarry.  

Inflatable quarry displayed in the the Grand Hall as part of the State or Slate Exhibition at Penrhyn Castle
Inflatable quarry displayed in the Grand Hall as part of the State or Slate Exhibition | © Iolo Penri

Walker & Bromwich at Penrhyn Castle

Zoe Walker and Neil Bromwich are a collaborative artistic practice, who had access to Penrhyn Castle from late 2016, researching, creating and preparing for an exhibition that was unveiled at the castle in July 2017. Their residency formed the third and final year of the collaborative project.

Large-scale work

Zoe and Neil are known internationally for their sculptural works, participatory events and exhibitions that invite audiences to imagine better worlds. They create work that leads audiences to examine their relationship to the environment they inhabit and reflect on larger global situations.

The aim of the final year of the project was to pull all the elements together, which culminated in a large-scale sculptural work based on the quarry landscape and sited within the castle. The event featured a live performative launch event with Penrhyn Male Voice Choir, workshops, discussions and community interactions. Their work had a connection to the manual labour that the castle was built on, and the Great Strike, which historically held a future legacy for workers’ rights.

12 stories by Manon Steffan Ros

In 2018, Penrhyn Castle launched a collection of new fictional pieces '12 Stories' by the author Manon Steffan Ros. These fictional creations were Manon’s own response to the difficult history of the castle and its origins steeped in the Jamaican slave trade and the slate quarry industry of North Wales.

Growing up in the community

Growing up locally and attending secondary school in Bethesda itself, Manon experienced first-hand the deep-rooted feelings of hatred towards the castle that once was home to the Pennant family. Manon felt her own relationship to the castle to be torn, feeling an intense draw whilst also feeling a sense of guilt at the obvious opulence and difficult historical ties to the sugar plantations in Jamaica and the lives of the quarrymen of Bethesda at the turn of the 20th century.

Stepping away from the written word

Manon, a successful published author, presented some of the 12 stories through other mediums, including both visual and musical interpretations. A book was created to accompany the installation, which featured a model of the Keep made from sugar and embroidered quotes from passages discovered in letters from Lord Penrhyn to his plantation foremen in Jamaica.

Clocks in Harrison’s Garden art installation at Penrhyn Castle, Wales
Clocks in Harrison’s Garden art installation, Penrhyn Castle | © National Trust Images/John Millar

Luke Jerram’s Harrison’s Garden

Harrison's Garden by renowned artist Luke Jerram was a touring installation inspired by the clock maker John Harrison who struggled for decades to make navigation at sea safer. He accomplished this by creating the most accurate clock the world had ever seen.

Today, clocks are in almost all homes, and although we now rely on new technology, they still play an important part of our daily lives.

For the installation at Penrhyn Castle, the clocks were placed in the derelict third floor of the Keep and grouped to form patterns and shapes along the surfaces, all set to different times so that visitors heard a musical delight of ticking, clicking and chiming throughout the day.

How the garden grew

Harrison's Garden travelled around the country visiting other National Trust properties including Nostell Priory, Castle Drogo and Gunby Hall and collecting more and more timepieces along the way. Before its arrival at Penrhyn Castle, people from the local community donated some of their own timepieces to the installation. With these donations, there was an estimated 5,000 ticking clocks on show at Penrhyn Castle. The installation was later auctioned to raise money for a statue of John Harrison to be erected in his hometown of Barton upon Humber.

Merched Chwarel

During winter of 2019, the Stables’ workshop was taken over by a group of female artists who form Merched Chwarel.

Marged Pendrell, Jŵls Williams, Lisa Hudson and Lindsey Colbourne along with their Curator, Jill Piercy form a group of local artists whose work is inspired by the role of women in the industrial slate mining communities of North Wales.

Using both traditional and experimental slate working techniques they explored the unexpected qualities of slate itself by using domestic, textile and sociological processes to investigate women’s response to the landscape and legacy of quarrying. Their work provided a link to the community engagement programme of both Storiel in Bangor and the World Heritage Site Bid.

Visitors in the Walled Garden at Penrhyn Castle, North Wales


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