Talhenbont Hall Hidden Houses of Wales


Talhenbont Hall

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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Transcript


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If you turn your back on the town, take the village track,

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follow the unmade road, you'll find something absolutely extraordinary.

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The hidden houses of Wales.

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In this series, I'll be turning back the clock.

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I'll be stepping over the threshold of some incredible places,

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seeking out scandal-packed histories.

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Bricks and mortar are never going to be the same again.

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In this episode, we'll be visiting a house whose previous owner fought in the civil war.

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Well, he was actually wounded during the skirmish outside Caernarfon,

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taken prisoner and he died about two days later.

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Where sci-fi superheroes battle with the Sealed Knot.

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My Cromwellians seem to be beating your stormtrooper!

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Go on, stormy! Get 'em!

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And where past residents may still be hanging around.

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I heard a very definite loud voice, very loud.

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-It was a loud, shrill sort of...

-"Urrgh!"

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I'm looking for a hidden house now that has so much to say for itself.

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Although to be honest, I think it's nothing like as chatty as its owner.

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Talhenbont is a 17th century house nestling in 75 acres of woodland,

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with views of one of North Wales' most picturesque coastlines, the Llyn peninsula.

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It's now the family home of Gillian and Roger Goode.

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Bowling along the drive, there's something quite imposing

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about all of this woodland and about this drive

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which would make me feel that as you swung round the corner...

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Yes, look.

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There would be something rather..

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I don't know, rather stern about this house.

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Although, there's an enormous amount of effort been made

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to make it feel cosy and homey.

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Yeah, I think it's rather nice to take a foreboding manor house

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and make it homey with chintz curtains.

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Greetings. I'm being savaged by an ancestral beast.

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-How nice to meet you!

-How do you do?

-Welcome to the hall.

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-My son, Paul, my husband, Roger, and Cassandra.

-Hello, Cassandra.

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-Comes to life after midnight.

-Bit wooden, isn't she?!

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This is the tale of an Essex family

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who fell in love with the good life.

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Gill Goode was a glamorous Knightsbridge salon hairdresser,

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and husband Roger, a city accountant.

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But in 1969, they and their three children

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swapped '60s suburbia for Talhenbont,

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a run-down estate in North Wales.

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Bought for the surprisingly small sum of £80,000,

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the Goodes had a vision to convert its five outbuildings

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into luxury holiday cottages,

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and then use the income to renovate Talhenbont itself.

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Over 30 years later, and it's been transformed.

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That's mostly down to the irrepressible Gillian.

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This is extremely grand, isn't it?

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-I love your warm welcome.

-This is the court room.

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Sheriff of the county used to reside here,

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and he used to hold court for the vagabonds and rogues.

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Now what about the dead animal thing?

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-Ah. They were presents.

-When did you hunt those?

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No, they were presents for Roger's birthday and they've all got names.

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-Yes.

-I'm sure they have.

-That's Roland the ram.

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-Roland the ram.

-And Dennis the deer. This is Roger's mother on the wall.

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-Oh, right!

-Looking very posh.

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I think that is absolutely sensational.

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Anyone else would have taken their glasses off

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-but obviously not...

-I've got the glasses, the jewellery and the dress all upstairs.

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At Christmas time she has a moustache on and a bow.

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It's very, very grand here.

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Roger, Roger! Roger!

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Are you giving him sympathy or something?

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I'm just thinking, there you are in this great big manor house,

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miles away from people with this firebrand!

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-I know.

-You don't take anything seriously.

-No, life is a laugh.

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You do and I think that is what's so brilliant about this place.

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You're not going to be put down by all of this sort of scary history.

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You're going to make this place your own.

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-Absolutely, have done for 32 years.

-Good for you.

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The house came with 75 acres of woodland.

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But unbeknown to them, it also came with

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a lifetime of backbreaking restoration.

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So what were you faced with when you first saw this room?

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-Because it looks immaculate now, but was it this crisp?

-Oh, no.

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The panelling was all mouldy, half of it was on the floor.

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The window sills, they were all rotten.

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So I brought two very elderly carpenters in

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and they worked for three months in this room

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-and they totally did a wonderful job.

-Did you enjoy doing this

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as much as you enjoyed doing some of the other rooms?

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I enjoyed every single room to its utmost.

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-So you like having a different look?

-I love interior design.

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-I'm getting that.

-I love it.

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I love every room to say something different when you walk in it.

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-What did you want this room to say?

-I'm old,

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I'm full of character. Should have said that about myself!

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I'm old, I'm full of character, I'm warm and friendly

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but I have a tremendous grandeur about me. And that's what the fabric should say.

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-It is sounding more like you.

-Thank you!

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The house, the furnishings, the grounds -

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they're all a total reflection of Gillian's effusive character.

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But now, on the verge of a big birthday, she feels it's time to move on

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and so Talhenbont is up for sale.

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The estate won't be passed down to her children,

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as the Goodes want to use the proceeds of the sale to fund their retirement.

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Youngest son, Paul, gave up a career in recruitment in London to return home

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in the hope of keeping Talhenbont in the family.

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You came with your parents from Essex.

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You came to North Wales when you were three,

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and you've completely immersed yourself, haven't you?

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-Yeah.

-You've become totally naturalised. You speak Welsh.

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-Yup.

-Do you see yourself as being Welsh?

-Totally Welsh.

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I'm a Welsh boy through and through.

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Having lived here since I was three years old,

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I went to school in the local village, in Llanystymdwy.

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Welsh is my first language, so I consider myself completely Welsh.

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You would love to take on what your parents started,

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bring it further into the 21st century.

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Make it commercial, make it viable.

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That inherently is why I came back from London,

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was to set something up and eventually take over the estate.

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Mum and Dad wanting to decide to move back to Essex

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was a bit of a drawback.

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Um...it was upsetting, but you know, we've learnt to move from that.

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It just seems so strange to me that she's wanting to move away,

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you know, to what?

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To something small, to something quiet, to something suburban,

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-these don't seem like words to describe her.

-No.

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She's a big personality. The house seems full, every room seems full.

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Her spirit is around the whole house, it doesn't seem empty.

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Gill's decision to turn her back on the house she rescued is an odd one.

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There isn't an inch of Talhenbont

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that hasn't absorbed her life-giving DNA.

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It's difficult to know what to do with a house like this...

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'She and husband, Roger, have tried to right some of the wrongs

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'committed to Talhenbont by previous owners.'

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This is interesting, all this panelling.

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yes, this was added by one of the previous owners,

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but just this wall here.

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We've subsequently added all those down there, and at the far end.

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So you had to do quite a lot of rationalising what was already here.

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People had modernised it over the years,

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-but it wasn't very well thought-out.

-Yes.

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We've tried to turn it back to the original.

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Look at this! This feels very Gillian in here.

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It was our daughter's bedroom from the age of nine to about 19.

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-Yeah. But who chose the wallpaper?

-My wife did!

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-Who lives here?

-We live here.

-You live here.

-We live here, yes!

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In this room in particular, I feel as if I've walked into

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much more of a Hollywood-style boudoir.

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That's mainly for Gillian I think, the credit for the decorations.

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-Do you leave those decisions to her?

-We do it together,

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but usually she chooses what we're going to have!

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Brilliant. So where do you hang out? Where's your inner sanctum?

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Is it the greenhouse?

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Look at that on the stairs!

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Make sure Roger gets all the words right? She's never far away, is she?

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Look, she's scampering away! Quick! Catch her!

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That's nice. You're never alone in a house like this, are you?

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-That's right, that's right!

-'Poor Roger.'

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But they make a wonderful team,

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and like all wonderful teams, only one person's in charge.

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-Wow, look at this.

-This is the lounge.

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This is very, very grand, isn't it?

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-Look at this fireplace!

-When we moved here,

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the fireplace was totally blocked up

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and there was just a tiny little fire in the middle here.

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So Roger and I got sledge hammers and we knocked it all out.

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But if you look over with a torch over the rim inside,

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you'll see it goes back in depth as much again.

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It was absolutely massive.

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You see, fascinating though all that is,

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I'm still reeling at the vision of you with a sledge hammer.

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What on earth did you wear? Clutch bag at least?

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No, white stiletto heels. Don't forget, I'm an Essex girl.

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-You're giving all Essex girls such a good name.

-I know!

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-Can I point out my bit of Latin on there?

-Go on.

-Non nobis nati.

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-Which means?

-We were not born for ourselves.

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-And is that your coat of arms?

-No.

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But I could have my own somewhere. I could make it up myself.

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What's through here? C'mon, continue the tour.

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-The dining room.

-But I tell you what...

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If we go anywhere near the dungeon, come and get me

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-if I'm not out in five minutes. All right?

-Come on, darling, with me.

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Talhenbont was built in 1607 by William Vaughn

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for his new wife, Anne.

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William must have been pretty proud of his new home,

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because he put his name above the door.

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A few years later, after his untimely death,

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his wife and young son face a very tumultuous time in Welsh history.

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It's the 1640s and in most of Great Britain, there's a civil war.

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In Wales, everyone's kind of biding their time a little bit more.

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Trying to see what the outcome will be.

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Trying to work out exactly which course to hang their hat on.

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After the sad demise of her first husband, Anne remarries.

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And her new beau William Lloyd would take Talhenbont

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right to the centre of Oliver Cromwell's civil war,

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by declaring his support for parliament.

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He becomes an incredibly energetic part

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of the icily efficient Cromwellian New Model Army.

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And yes, you'd be correct in thinking that the soldier on the right is a woman.

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No, women didn't fight in Cromwell's army,

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she's the soldier on the left's wife, OK?

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It was William Lloyd's connection to the war

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that's led to a local legend about Talhenbont.

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Local folklore is so funny, because this is the story of Cromwell's horses,

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that you get so often.

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That Cromwell somehow keeps his horses in a house and it gets wrecked.

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Did he actually do that?

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I don't think that is actually the case.

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It's a case of two stories becoming mixed up.

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Because the owner of the house, William Lloyd, did support parliament.

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And then in 1648, when there was a skirmish just outside Caernarfon,

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he was in charge of 20 horses

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which were actually garrisoned at Caernarfon Castle.

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But I think that the two stories have intermixed

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and they think the horses were actually here.

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And what eventually happened to William Lloyd?

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He was actually captured,

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he was wounded during the skirmish outside Caernarfon.

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Wounded about eight times apparently and taken prisoner.

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And because his wounds were left untended, he died two days later.

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Violent death seems to stalk the owners of Talhenbont.

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There is also the tale of the mistress and her lover.

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But I'll stop there,

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because I know someone who can tell that one so much better than I can.

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-So this is the...?

-The butler's quarters.

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Now, this is the story. The squire, he goes off to Chester,

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gets to the gates, forgets his sword.

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Comes rushing back to the house here.

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All the maids are twitting and laughing and he said "Where's my wife?"

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"Don't know, sir, don't know."

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And in such a temper he flew up the stairs here to the butler's quarters,

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because he had an idea.

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And underneath the eves there lay the butler with his wife.

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He gets his sword out and rams the butler through the guts,

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and he lays dying halfway down the stairs.

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And my lady lays dying on the floor here.

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And the maids that have worked throughout the house told me 30 years ago

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when they were made to scrub the floorboards,

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the blood stains came back the next day.

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So actually, the blood stains could be anywhere.

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This red spot probably doesn't count does it?

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It's a bit of fluff!

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Look how broad that board is there.

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Oh, these boards are 1600.

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It is extraordinary to know that these have survived a civil war.

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We can't be sure if this gruesome butler story is true or not,

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but going back to what we do know.

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William Lloyd's death in the civil war

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meant that the ownership of the house reverted to Anne's son from her first marriage,

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and so the Vaughns remained in charge of Talhenbont for the next hundred years.

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By 1800, the Vaughns had built Talhenbont

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into one biggest estates in North Wales,

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eventually covering over 1600 acres.

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Luckily for Gill, it's a little bit smaller now.

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So how much garden have you got?

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We've got here about 75 acres. So, six acres of formal garden.

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And 70 acres of woodland.

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Nothing prepares me for that.

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That is extraordinary.

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Stunning.

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And you've done all of this?

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Yes, with the help of some labourers.

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Yeah.

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So what was here?

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It was just thick woodland.

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And when we first came here,

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I stood down by the river and looked up at the place and thought,

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"Ooh, terraces and steps down the middle."

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-Why did you want to move to the country, though?

-Roger did.

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But Roger had always looked in, I think it was

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The Telegraph on a Thursday, large places for sale.

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And he had the opportunity to leave his firm,

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and he said "Come on, let's do something different."

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So I said, "Fine, OK, let's go."

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So we did. With three young children, we came here and started digging.

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You know what, though, if you move, there'll be one thing

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-that'll never ever forgive you for moving.

-What?

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-That house.

-Well.

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You know, you have created this. This is planet Gillian.

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And it's a very, very lovely place to be.

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I don't want to see you in Essex. I want to see you here forever.

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This is so you.

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Could you do a bit of gardening for me, please?

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Because it's getting a bit too much now.

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Actually, I don't do digging,

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but I do know of a couple of Cromwellian soldiers and a Stormtrooper

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who could probably be put to better use.

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Now, you're going to have to bear with me on this one.

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Sorry, but I'm afraid my Cromwellians seem to be beating your Stormtrooper.

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Go on, Stormy, get 'em!

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Oliver Cromwell 1, Darth Vader 0.

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This is what Paul Goode,

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the self-appointed would-be successor to the Talhenbont estate,

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has done to prove his business credentials.

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He's created a paintballing centre

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with a sci-fi spin - good business these days, apparently -

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on land adjoining the Talhenbont estate.

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Having got to know and love your mother's taste in garden design,

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I can see where all this comes from.

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But instead of gnomes, you've got Stormtroopers and paintballing.

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Having been brought up on Talhenbont since the age of 3,

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having 100 acres of woodland to play around with as a kid

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gives you a lot of inspiration further on in life,

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and I think that's where a lot of my inspiration came from.

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Speaking absolutely frankly and very, very baldly,

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the sale of the house isn't going very well, is it?

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-It isn't, really.

-How long has it been on the market?

-Five, six years.

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If the house was situated in one of the home counties,

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it would have been snapped up very quickly.

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So we have to appreciate the geography of where we're at.

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Does she really, really want to move, do you think?

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I think she really does.

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At her, age she does want some form of retirement.

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Talhenbont is now on the market.

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Offers in excess of two million are welcome, by the way.

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But buyers with the energy to take on a project like this are hard to find.

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You're moving on.

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But you are having a bit of trouble selling the house, aren't you?

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-We are indeed.

-There is an option to bring your children in on this one.

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What's holding you back about saying, "I tell you what, guys,

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let's form a new dynasty. You know, you take it over from us"?

0:20:400:20:45

Well, I would like the money. That is so important.

0:20:450:20:50

I would have loved to have been in a position to say,

0:20:500:20:53

"Here you are, kids. Take it over, run it and I'll keep an eye on it once a year."

0:20:530:20:57

But basically we have to retire on what we've created.

0:20:570:21:01

It's not the first time that Talhenbont has been on the market.

0:21:040:21:07

When the Vaughn male line came to an end,

0:21:090:21:12

the estate ended up in the very incapable hands of the Mostyns,

0:21:120:21:16

who bankrupted the place.

0:21:160:21:18

In 1884, the estate was parcelled up and put under the hammer.

0:21:210:21:26

The house minus its vast lands

0:21:260:21:28

caught the eye of its next-door neighbour,

0:21:280:21:31

a man with the rather splendid name of Owen Jones Ellis-Nanney.

0:21:310:21:35

Ellis-Nanney Senior was by all accounts an amiable fella,

0:21:370:21:41

well-liked by everybody.

0:21:410:21:42

And at the ripe and rather randy old age of 53,

0:21:420:21:46

he decided he needed an heir.

0:21:460:21:48

So he got himself a 23-year-old child bride,

0:21:480:21:51

the daughter and heiress of a local banker,

0:21:510:21:54

and it was actually her money that allowed him to buy Talhenbont.

0:21:540:22:00

So Ellis-Nanney Senior became squire, and his new wife did indeed produce an heir -

0:22:000:22:06

Hugh Ellis-Nanney who, after inheriting Talhenbont,

0:22:060:22:10

would take his place in British history

0:22:100:22:12

as the man who lost to Lloyd George,

0:22:120:22:15

the only Welshman to ever become Prime Minister.

0:22:150:22:19

You'd anticipate him as the sitting squire to then be the local MP.

0:22:190:22:24

That's the way it's happened for generations.

0:22:240:22:27

But actually he comes second to Lloyd George. How did that happen?

0:22:270:22:31

Well, it was 1890,

0:22:330:22:35

and a kind of groundswell of Welsh national feeling

0:22:350:22:39

was beginning to speed up.

0:22:390:22:42

When it came time for the election, he didn't want to stand.

0:22:420:22:45

-But they couldn't find anybody else to do it.

-So he's doing this through duty.

0:22:450:22:49

Privately he'd much rather not. He was very pleased that he lost?

0:22:490:22:53

Yeah, I'm sure he was.

0:22:530:22:54

Lloyd George wins that election by...circumstances, to a certain extent.

0:22:540:23:00

I mean, he is getting a lot of votes there,

0:23:000:23:03

but the fact that he actually wins is a very close-run thing?

0:23:030:23:07

It was close-run, but the fact that it happened at all

0:23:070:23:10

was a miracle of the times.

0:23:100:23:11

The fact that he was even standing was a miracle of times. Yeah.

0:23:110:23:14

But as Lloyd George's fortunes blossomed,

0:23:160:23:22

Talhenbont's declined.

0:23:220:23:24

And by the time Gillian and Roger got their hands on it,

0:23:260:23:29

the house was a shadow of its former self.

0:23:290:23:32

Talhenbont's empire-building squires would have been furious.

0:23:320:23:38

And Gillian thinks that some of those former residents may still be hanging around!

0:23:400:23:45

She's had various encounters in the house,

0:23:450:23:48

and believes the spirits like a bit of string music.

0:23:480:23:51

She's got a photograph that was taken whilst a friend played guitar in the Tudor bedroom upstairs

0:23:510:23:56

that appears to show a spirit orb or two.

0:23:560:23:58

Luckily for us, our Lloyd George expert, Twm Morys,

0:23:580:24:01

is also an accomplished plucker,

0:24:010:24:03

so we've asked him to stick around to entertain the spirits.

0:24:030:24:08

-You've seen one ghost.

-Yes, definitely.

0:24:080:24:10

-And it was a ghost of a lady...

-In housekeeper's uniform.

0:24:100:24:13

In a housekeeper's uniform.

0:24:130:24:15

I walked in the door at 11 o'clock one night

0:24:150:24:18

and I thought, am I seeing things?

0:24:180:24:20

No, I'm not seeing things.

0:24:200:24:23

I tell you, I wasn't spooked when I saw her,

0:24:230:24:25

but the hair stood up on the back of my head.

0:24:250:24:29

Come on, let's go. I think leave your orbs down here.

0:24:290:24:32

I'll leave the orbs down here and we'll go.

0:24:320:24:35

As well as Twm and his harp,

0:24:350:24:37

I've also asked a North Wales ghost-busting group to come along

0:24:370:24:41

and see whether there's anyone there.

0:24:410:24:44

HARP PLAYS

0:24:450:24:47

First reactions? Anything compelling?

0:24:540:24:57

-I have picked up a name. Deborah.

-Anything else? Have you felt anything?

0:24:570:25:02

I heard a very definite loud voice, very loud.

0:25:020:25:04

-It was a loud, shrill sort of...

-HE GROANS

0:25:040:25:07

Yeah, like a moan.

0:25:070:25:09

Could it be sort of Welsh?

0:25:090:25:12

-Have you felt anything in this room?

-No.

-OK!

0:25:170:25:21

I think this is a very sort of cosy room.

0:25:230:25:25

I'm just seduced by the curtains,

0:25:250:25:27

so I'm operating on a very superficial level here.

0:25:270:25:31

Now, what about orbage?

0:25:310:25:32

The light is certainly perfect for orbs.

0:25:320:25:35

It's good orb-light.

0:25:350:25:36

Semi-darkness. We've got the infra-red camera.

0:25:360:25:38

Is there a band called the Orb?

0:25:380:25:40

Locally, there's quite a big deal about the fact that,

0:25:400:25:44

in the 20th century, people haven't stayed here for very long.

0:25:440:25:49

Apart from Milady Gillian, who's been here over 30 years.

0:25:490:25:52

She seems to be being encouraged to stay, rather than repelled.

0:25:520:25:57

I think they like you, and I feel as well that,

0:25:570:25:59

because you're outward and bubbly and a very confident person,

0:25:590:26:05

they love...they know that they can come around you.

0:26:050:26:08

They like that as well.

0:26:080:26:10

I recognise that they're here.

0:26:100:26:11

And if I feel that somebody is in the room,

0:26:110:26:14

it is generally on this side I feel it.

0:26:140:26:16

So if there is somebody around and I know they want to talk to me,

0:26:160:26:19

I'll talk to them.

0:26:190:26:21

But yes, I go around cursing and swearing all over the place,

0:26:210:26:24

so I'm afraid they're used to an Essex girl here.

0:26:240:26:27

Well, there we are.

0:26:270:26:28

Even the spirits can't get a word in edgeways!

0:26:280:26:31

Contact with any of Talhenbont's former residents failed to materialise.

0:26:310:26:37

Whether spiritual or historical,

0:26:370:26:41

Talhenbont's past has been a pleasure to enjoy.

0:26:410:26:44

But it's its future that remains shrouded in mystery.

0:26:460:26:51

You want to move back to Essex.

0:26:510:26:54

You don't. You want to stay here,

0:26:540:26:57

and you...you see yourself as actually, you know,

0:26:570:27:01

wanting continue to occupy this space, don't you?

0:27:010:27:04

I do, yeah. The passion is there to take it on.

0:27:040:27:08

I think when something runs through your veins as much as

0:27:080:27:11

Talhenbont does within the whole family,

0:27:110:27:13

you know, a concerted effort will be made to...

0:27:130:27:18

-See what you can do?

-To see what we can do.

0:27:180:27:20

The bottom line is the next couple of years will be crucial,

0:27:200:27:23

because there is a bit of a Sword of Damocles hanging over the place.

0:27:230:27:27

No-one really knows what it will be, if it will be,

0:27:270:27:31

-this time next year.

-Correct, absolutely correct.

0:27:310:27:34

-Who knows what's round the corner?

-I've got a tip for you.

0:27:340:27:37

-One word - heiress.

-Heiress?

0:27:370:27:39

-Go on, go and find one.

-Right.

-Oh, yeah. Marry money!

0:27:390:27:44

-Marry money.

-Of course! That's the answer.

0:27:440:27:47

Marry gold. And I don't mean washing-up gloves.

0:27:470:27:50

Absolutely, you're absolutely right. Wonderful idea.

0:27:500:27:53

Go on, sir. Heiress. They're out there. Find one.

0:27:530:27:56

Yes, go for it. Go for it. Brilliant.

0:27:560:27:58

I'm really beginning to think that actually Gillian protests too much.

0:28:100:28:15

I don't think she ever wants to leave this place at all,

0:28:150:28:19

and I don't think that Talhenbont Hall,

0:28:190:28:21

and indeed its astral plane inhabitants, want to see her go.

0:28:210:28:25

Because I think this place has really enjoyed

0:28:250:28:27

being the background to her larger-than-life lifestyle,

0:28:270:28:31

and I actually do believe that these old stones have loved

0:28:310:28:37

the veneer of 20th century glamour that Gillian's given them.

0:28:370:28:41

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:28:460:28:48

E-mail [email protected]

0:28:480:28:51

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.


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