Series discovering some of Wales's finest houses. Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen visits Plas Talhenbont on the Lleyn Peninsula, currently owned by an Essex-born family.
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If you turn your back on the town, take the village track,
follow the unmade road, you'll find something absolutely extraordinary.
The hidden houses of Wales.
In this series, I'll be turning back the clock.
I'll be stepping over the threshold of some incredible places,
seeking out scandal-packed histories.
Bricks and mortar are never going to be the same again.
In this episode, we'll be visiting a house whose previous owner fought in the civil war.
Well, he was actually wounded during the skirmish outside Caernarfon,
taken prisoner and he died about two days later.
Where sci-fi superheroes battle with the Sealed Knot.
My Cromwellians seem to be beating your stormtrooper!
Go on, stormy! Get 'em!
And where past residents may still be hanging around.
I heard a very definite loud voice, very loud.
-It was a loud, shrill sort of...
I'm looking for a hidden house now that has so much to say for itself.
Although to be honest, I think it's nothing like as chatty as its owner.
Talhenbont is a 17th century house nestling in 75 acres of woodland,
with views of one of North Wales' most picturesque coastlines, the Llyn peninsula.
It's now the family home of Gillian and Roger Goode.
Bowling along the drive, there's something quite imposing
about all of this woodland and about this drive
which would make me feel that as you swung round the corner...
There would be something rather..
I don't know, rather stern about this house.
Although, there's an enormous amount of effort been made
to make it feel cosy and homey.
Yeah, I think it's rather nice to take a foreboding manor house
and make it homey with chintz curtains.
Greetings. I'm being savaged by an ancestral beast.
-How nice to meet you!
-How do you do?
-Welcome to the hall.
-My son, Paul, my husband, Roger, and Cassandra.
-Comes to life after midnight.
-Bit wooden, isn't she?!
This is the tale of an Essex family
who fell in love with the good life.
Gill Goode was a glamorous Knightsbridge salon hairdresser,
and husband Roger, a city accountant.
But in 1969, they and their three children
swapped '60s suburbia for Talhenbont,
a run-down estate in North Wales.
Bought for the surprisingly small sum of £80,000,
the Goodes had a vision to convert its five outbuildings
into luxury holiday cottages,
and then use the income to renovate Talhenbont itself.
Over 30 years later, and it's been transformed.
That's mostly down to the irrepressible Gillian.
This is extremely grand, isn't it?
-I love your warm welcome.
-This is the court room.
Sheriff of the county used to reside here,
and he used to hold court for the vagabonds and rogues.
Now what about the dead animal thing?
-Ah. They were presents.
-When did you hunt those?
No, they were presents for Roger's birthday and they've all got names.
-I'm sure they have.
-That's Roland the ram.
-Roland the ram.
-And Dennis the deer. This is Roger's mother on the wall.
-Looking very posh.
I think that is absolutely sensational.
Anyone else would have taken their glasses off
-but obviously not...
-I've got the glasses, the jewellery and the dress all upstairs.
At Christmas time she has a moustache on and a bow.
It's very, very grand here.
Roger, Roger! Roger!
Are you giving him sympathy or something?
I'm just thinking, there you are in this great big manor house,
miles away from people with this firebrand!
-You don't take anything seriously.
-No, life is a laugh.
You do and I think that is what's so brilliant about this place.
You're not going to be put down by all of this sort of scary history.
You're going to make this place your own.
-Absolutely, have done for 32 years.
-Good for you.
The house came with 75 acres of woodland.
But unbeknown to them, it also came with
a lifetime of backbreaking restoration.
So what were you faced with when you first saw this room?
-Because it looks immaculate now, but was it this crisp?
The panelling was all mouldy, half of it was on the floor.
The window sills, they were all rotten.
So I brought two very elderly carpenters in
and they worked for three months in this room
-and they totally did a wonderful job.
-Did you enjoy doing this
as much as you enjoyed doing some of the other rooms?
I enjoyed every single room to its utmost.
-So you like having a different look?
-I love interior design.
-I'm getting that.
-I love it.
I love every room to say something different when you walk in it.
-What did you want this room to say?
I'm full of character. Should have said that about myself!
I'm old, I'm full of character, I'm warm and friendly
but I have a tremendous grandeur about me. And that's what the fabric should say.
-It is sounding more like you.
The house, the furnishings, the grounds -
they're all a total reflection of Gillian's effusive character.
But now, on the verge of a big birthday, she feels it's time to move on
and so Talhenbont is up for sale.
The estate won't be passed down to her children,
as the Goodes want to use the proceeds of the sale to fund their retirement.
Youngest son, Paul, gave up a career in recruitment in London to return home
in the hope of keeping Talhenbont in the family.
You came with your parents from Essex.
You came to North Wales when you were three,
and you've completely immersed yourself, haven't you?
-You've become totally naturalised. You speak Welsh.
-Do you see yourself as being Welsh?
I'm a Welsh boy through and through.
Having lived here since I was three years old,
I went to school in the local village, in Llanystymdwy.
Welsh is my first language, so I consider myself completely Welsh.
You would love to take on what your parents started,
bring it further into the 21st century.
Make it commercial, make it viable.
That inherently is why I came back from London,
was to set something up and eventually take over the estate.
Mum and Dad wanting to decide to move back to Essex
was a bit of a drawback.
Um...it was upsetting, but you know, we've learnt to move from that.
It just seems so strange to me that she's wanting to move away,
you know, to what?
To something small, to something quiet, to something suburban,
-these don't seem like words to describe her.
She's a big personality. The house seems full, every room seems full.
Her spirit is around the whole house, it doesn't seem empty.
Gill's decision to turn her back on the house she rescued is an odd one.
There isn't an inch of Talhenbont
that hasn't absorbed her life-giving DNA.
It's difficult to know what to do with a house like this...
'She and husband, Roger, have tried to right some of the wrongs
'committed to Talhenbont by previous owners.'
This is interesting, all this panelling.
yes, this was added by one of the previous owners,
but just this wall here.
We've subsequently added all those down there, and at the far end.
So you had to do quite a lot of rationalising what was already here.
People had modernised it over the years,
-but it wasn't very well thought-out.
We've tried to turn it back to the original.
Look at this! This feels very Gillian in here.
It was our daughter's bedroom from the age of nine to about 19.
-Yeah. But who chose the wallpaper?
-My wife did!
-Who lives here?
-We live here.
-You live here.
-We live here, yes!
In this room in particular, I feel as if I've walked into
much more of a Hollywood-style boudoir.
That's mainly for Gillian I think, the credit for the decorations.
-Do you leave those decisions to her?
-We do it together,
but usually she chooses what we're going to have!
Brilliant. So where do you hang out? Where's your inner sanctum?
Is it the greenhouse?
Look at that on the stairs!
Make sure Roger gets all the words right? She's never far away, is she?
Look, she's scampering away! Quick! Catch her!
That's nice. You're never alone in a house like this, are you?
-That's right, that's right!
But they make a wonderful team,
and like all wonderful teams, only one person's in charge.
-Wow, look at this.
-This is the lounge.
This is very, very grand, isn't it?
-Look at this fireplace!
-When we moved here,
the fireplace was totally blocked up
and there was just a tiny little fire in the middle here.
So Roger and I got sledge hammers and we knocked it all out.
But if you look over with a torch over the rim inside,
you'll see it goes back in depth as much again.
It was absolutely massive.
You see, fascinating though all that is,
I'm still reeling at the vision of you with a sledge hammer.
What on earth did you wear? Clutch bag at least?
No, white stiletto heels. Don't forget, I'm an Essex girl.
-You're giving all Essex girls such a good name.
-Can I point out my bit of Latin on there?
-Non nobis nati.
-We were not born for ourselves.
-And is that your coat of arms?
But I could have my own somewhere. I could make it up myself.
What's through here? C'mon, continue the tour.
-The dining room.
-But I tell you what...
If we go anywhere near the dungeon, come and get me
-if I'm not out in five minutes. All right?
-Come on, darling, with me.
Talhenbont was built in 1607 by William Vaughn
for his new wife, Anne.
William must have been pretty proud of his new home,
because he put his name above the door.
A few years later, after his untimely death,
his wife and young son face a very tumultuous time in Welsh history.
It's the 1640s and in most of Great Britain, there's a civil war.
In Wales, everyone's kind of biding their time a little bit more.
Trying to see what the outcome will be.
Trying to work out exactly which course to hang their hat on.
After the sad demise of her first husband, Anne remarries.
And her new beau William Lloyd would take Talhenbont
right to the centre of Oliver Cromwell's civil war,
by declaring his support for parliament.
He becomes an incredibly energetic part
of the icily efficient Cromwellian New Model Army.
And yes, you'd be correct in thinking that the soldier on the right is a woman.
No, women didn't fight in Cromwell's army,
she's the soldier on the left's wife, OK?
It was William Lloyd's connection to the war
that's led to a local legend about Talhenbont.
Local folklore is so funny, because this is the story of Cromwell's horses,
that you get so often.
That Cromwell somehow keeps his horses in a house and it gets wrecked.
Did he actually do that?
I don't think that is actually the case.
It's a case of two stories becoming mixed up.
Because the owner of the house, William Lloyd, did support parliament.
And then in 1648, when there was a skirmish just outside Caernarfon,
he was in charge of 20 horses
which were actually garrisoned at Caernarfon Castle.
But I think that the two stories have intermixed
and they think the horses were actually here.
And what eventually happened to William Lloyd?
He was actually captured,
he was wounded during the skirmish outside Caernarfon.
Wounded about eight times apparently and taken prisoner.
And because his wounds were left untended, he died two days later.
Violent death seems to stalk the owners of Talhenbont.
There is also the tale of the mistress and her lover.
But I'll stop there,
because I know someone who can tell that one so much better than I can.
-So this is the...?
-The butler's quarters.
Now, this is the story. The squire, he goes off to Chester,
gets to the gates, forgets his sword.
Comes rushing back to the house here.
All the maids are twitting and laughing and he said "Where's my wife?"
"Don't know, sir, don't know."
And in such a temper he flew up the stairs here to the butler's quarters,
because he had an idea.
And underneath the eves there lay the butler with his wife.
He gets his sword out and rams the butler through the guts,
and he lays dying halfway down the stairs.
And my lady lays dying on the floor here.
And the maids that have worked throughout the house told me 30 years ago
when they were made to scrub the floorboards,
the blood stains came back the next day.
So actually, the blood stains could be anywhere.
This red spot probably doesn't count does it?
It's a bit of fluff!
Look how broad that board is there.
Oh, these boards are 1600.
It is extraordinary to know that these have survived a civil war.
We can't be sure if this gruesome butler story is true or not,
but going back to what we do know.
William Lloyd's death in the civil war
meant that the ownership of the house reverted to Anne's son from her first marriage,
and so the Vaughns remained in charge of Talhenbont for the next hundred years.
By 1800, the Vaughns had built Talhenbont
into one biggest estates in North Wales,
eventually covering over 1600 acres.
Luckily for Gill, it's a little bit smaller now.
So how much garden have you got?
We've got here about 75 acres. So, six acres of formal garden.
And 70 acres of woodland.
Nothing prepares me for that.
That is extraordinary.
And you've done all of this?
Yes, with the help of some labourers.
So what was here?
It was just thick woodland.
And when we first came here,
I stood down by the river and looked up at the place and thought,
"Ooh, terraces and steps down the middle."
-Why did you want to move to the country, though?
But Roger had always looked in, I think it was
The Telegraph on a Thursday, large places for sale.
And he had the opportunity to leave his firm,
and he said "Come on, let's do something different."
So I said, "Fine, OK, let's go."
So we did. With three young children, we came here and started digging.
You know what, though, if you move, there'll be one thing
-that'll never ever forgive you for moving.
You know, you have created this. This is planet Gillian.
And it's a very, very lovely place to be.
I don't want to see you in Essex. I want to see you here forever.
This is so you.
Could you do a bit of gardening for me, please?
Because it's getting a bit too much now.
Actually, I don't do digging,
but I do know of a couple of Cromwellian soldiers and a Stormtrooper
who could probably be put to better use.
Now, you're going to have to bear with me on this one.
Sorry, but I'm afraid my Cromwellians seem to be beating your Stormtrooper.
Go on, Stormy, get 'em!
Oliver Cromwell 1, Darth Vader 0.
This is what Paul Goode,
the self-appointed would-be successor to the Talhenbont estate,
has done to prove his business credentials.
He's created a paintballing centre
with a sci-fi spin - good business these days, apparently -
on land adjoining the Talhenbont estate.
Having got to know and love your mother's taste in garden design,
I can see where all this comes from.
But instead of gnomes, you've got Stormtroopers and paintballing.
Having been brought up on Talhenbont since the age of 3,
having 100 acres of woodland to play around with as a kid
gives you a lot of inspiration further on in life,
and I think that's where a lot of my inspiration came from.
Speaking absolutely frankly and very, very baldly,
the sale of the house isn't going very well, is it?
-It isn't, really.
-How long has it been on the market?
-Five, six years.
If the house was situated in one of the home counties,
it would have been snapped up very quickly.
So we have to appreciate the geography of where we're at.
Does she really, really want to move, do you think?
I think she really does.
At her, age she does want some form of retirement.
Talhenbont is now on the market.
Offers in excess of two million are welcome, by the way.
But buyers with the energy to take on a project like this are hard to find.
You're moving on.
But you are having a bit of trouble selling the house, aren't you?
-We are indeed.
-There is an option to bring your children in on this one.
What's holding you back about saying, "I tell you what, guys,
let's form a new dynasty. You know, you take it over from us"?
Well, I would like the money. That is so important.
I would have loved to have been in a position to say,
"Here you are, kids. Take it over, run it and I'll keep an eye on it once a year."
But basically we have to retire on what we've created.
It's not the first time that Talhenbont has been on the market.
When the Vaughn male line came to an end,
the estate ended up in the very incapable hands of the Mostyns,
who bankrupted the place.
In 1884, the estate was parcelled up and put under the hammer.
The house minus its vast lands
caught the eye of its next-door neighbour,
a man with the rather splendid name of Owen Jones Ellis-Nanney.
Ellis-Nanney Senior was by all accounts an amiable fella,
well-liked by everybody.
And at the ripe and rather randy old age of 53,
he decided he needed an heir.
So he got himself a 23-year-old child bride,
the daughter and heiress of a local banker,
and it was actually her money that allowed him to buy Talhenbont.
So Ellis-Nanney Senior became squire, and his new wife did indeed produce an heir -
Hugh Ellis-Nanney who, after inheriting Talhenbont,
would take his place in British history
as the man who lost to Lloyd George,
the only Welshman to ever become Prime Minister.
You'd anticipate him as the sitting squire to then be the local MP.
That's the way it's happened for generations.
But actually he comes second to Lloyd George. How did that happen?
Well, it was 1890,
and a kind of groundswell of Welsh national feeling
was beginning to speed up.
When it came time for the election, he didn't want to stand.
-But they couldn't find anybody else to do it.
-So he's doing this through duty.
Privately he'd much rather not. He was very pleased that he lost?
Yeah, I'm sure he was.
Lloyd George wins that election by...circumstances, to a certain extent.
I mean, he is getting a lot of votes there,
but the fact that he actually wins is a very close-run thing?
It was close-run, but the fact that it happened at all
was a miracle of the times.
The fact that he was even standing was a miracle of times. Yeah.
But as Lloyd George's fortunes blossomed,
And by the time Gillian and Roger got their hands on it,
the house was a shadow of its former self.
Talhenbont's empire-building squires would have been furious.
And Gillian thinks that some of those former residents may still be hanging around!
She's had various encounters in the house,
and believes the spirits like a bit of string music.
She's got a photograph that was taken whilst a friend played guitar in the Tudor bedroom upstairs
that appears to show a spirit orb or two.
Luckily for us, our Lloyd George expert, Twm Morys,
is also an accomplished plucker,
so we've asked him to stick around to entertain the spirits.
-You've seen one ghost.
-And it was a ghost of a lady...
-In housekeeper's uniform.
In a housekeeper's uniform.
I walked in the door at 11 o'clock one night
and I thought, am I seeing things?
No, I'm not seeing things.
I tell you, I wasn't spooked when I saw her,
but the hair stood up on the back of my head.
Come on, let's go. I think leave your orbs down here.
I'll leave the orbs down here and we'll go.
As well as Twm and his harp,
I've also asked a North Wales ghost-busting group to come along
and see whether there's anyone there.
First reactions? Anything compelling?
-I have picked up a name. Deborah.
-Anything else? Have you felt anything?
I heard a very definite loud voice, very loud.
-It was a loud, shrill sort of...
Yeah, like a moan.
Could it be sort of Welsh?
-Have you felt anything in this room?
I think this is a very sort of cosy room.
I'm just seduced by the curtains,
so I'm operating on a very superficial level here.
Now, what about orbage?
The light is certainly perfect for orbs.
It's good orb-light.
Semi-darkness. We've got the infra-red camera.
Is there a band called the Orb?
Locally, there's quite a big deal about the fact that,
in the 20th century, people haven't stayed here for very long.
Apart from Milady Gillian, who's been here over 30 years.
She seems to be being encouraged to stay, rather than repelled.
I think they like you, and I feel as well that,
because you're outward and bubbly and a very confident person,
they love...they know that they can come around you.
They like that as well.
I recognise that they're here.
And if I feel that somebody is in the room,
it is generally on this side I feel it.
So if there is somebody around and I know they want to talk to me,
I'll talk to them.
But yes, I go around cursing and swearing all over the place,
so I'm afraid they're used to an Essex girl here.
Well, there we are.
Even the spirits can't get a word in edgeways!
Contact with any of Talhenbont's former residents failed to materialise.
Whether spiritual or historical,
Talhenbont's past has been a pleasure to enjoy.
But it's its future that remains shrouded in mystery.
You want to move back to Essex.
You don't. You want to stay here,
and you...you see yourself as actually, you know,
wanting continue to occupy this space, don't you?
I do, yeah. The passion is there to take it on.
I think when something runs through your veins as much as
Talhenbont does within the whole family,
you know, a concerted effort will be made to...
-See what you can do?
-To see what we can do.
The bottom line is the next couple of years will be crucial,
because there is a bit of a Sword of Damocles hanging over the place.
No-one really knows what it will be, if it will be,
-this time next year.
-Correct, absolutely correct.
-Who knows what's round the corner?
-I've got a tip for you.
-One word - heiress.
-Go on, go and find one.
-Oh, yeah. Marry money!
-Of course! That's the answer.
Marry gold. And I don't mean washing-up gloves.
Absolutely, you're absolutely right. Wonderful idea.
Go on, sir. Heiress. They're out there. Find one.
Yes, go for it. Go for it. Brilliant.
I'm really beginning to think that actually Gillian protests too much.
I don't think she ever wants to leave this place at all,
and I don't think that Talhenbont Hall,
and indeed its astral plane inhabitants, want to see her go.
Because I think this place has really enjoyed
being the background to her larger-than-life lifestyle,
and I actually do believe that these old stones have loved
the veneer of 20th century glamour that Gillian's given them.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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The final part of the series where Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen visits some of the finest houses in Wales, stepping back in time to uncover their hidden secrets. Today he's at Plas Talhenbont - a 17th century mansion on the Lleyn Peninsula. It's a house currently owned by an Essex-born family who went in search of the good life in Wales, only to spend a lifetime renovating their dream property.