Thursday, August 17, 2006

Ruperra On The Brink

Ruperra Castle, for many years home to the heir of the Tredegar Estates, is threatened by property development and continuing neglect.

Wandering through beautiful countryside it suddenly emerges through the trees. The massive frame (and, sadly, frame is the right word these days) of Ruperra Castle still looms over the landscape. It is such a desperately sad sight to see. Some see ruins as romantic. In Ruperra's case I think they are more tragic than anything else. Since that dreadful fire during the Second World War the castle has deteriorated. One tower collapsed in the 1980s, and, unless something is done quickly, others are sure to follow.

Change and the modern world seem ready to obliterate the magical setting of Ruperra Park. The current owner, Mr Barakat, has a planning application being considered for the building of houses directly around the castle. The castle itself could one day become luxury apartments. The inside quite alien to the outside, like historical taxidermy. Some will see this as inevitable. It has happened at countless places around the United Kingdom. Is there a reason to stop it? Is it even possible to stop the seemingly relentless charge of urbanisation? Money seems to talk louder than the faint cry of protest from beseiged history.

And yet, the closer you get to Ruperra Castle the more you realise that the past has not yet been totally destroyed. The lost tower can be rebuilt, the interior walls are surprisingly strong, the cellars are in a remarkably good state of preservation, and the grounds maintain the promise of matchless beauty. You can almost imagine young Godfrey Morgan in front of the castle being informed by a breathless postboy of the Chartist uprising in Newport in 1839. Trying to impress a watching girl the postboy was rather melodramatic and spoke of doom, and how he had barely escaped with his life. The little eight year old Godfrey's reply of "bother your chartists, come and help me catch this rabbit!" still echoes around the place.

Memories still live at Ruperra. Memories of King Charles I using the castle as refuge during the Civil War; of John Morgan the Merchant plotting grandiose plans within its walls; of General Thomas Morgan seething, perhaps in the Banqueting Hall, at the actions of Lady Rachel Morgan, to rob him of his Tredegar inheritance; of celebrations at Colonel Frederic Morgan's countless election triumphs; of Lord Tredegar's shooting parties; of Mrs Mundy riding imperiously out of the stables; of weddings, of births, of deaths; of countless servants living and working in the castle; of estate workers; of beautiful gardens and proud gardeners. But what are they worth when the property developer comes calling? What cares he for history?

There is a better way. I know Ruperra Castle can be restored. It would be a huge job, but I know it can be done. This is the last chance, however. The Planning Department need to be made aware that the public do not wish houses to be built on the site. I urge you to write as soon as possible to them and make your feelings known. Only through an outpouring of public feeling can the castle be saved.

Write to:

The Chief Planning Officer
Caerphilly County Borough Council
NP12 2YW

The following quotations have been taken from the new Ruperra Castle Blog

"Most castles are well cared for, but not this one....which is sliding further into dereliction. Ruperra is a test of the Welsh system of protecting of the country's greatest buildings. If Ruperra is lost or degraded then that test will have been fluffed."
Ancient Monuments Society

"Ruperra was one of the great Renaissance houses of South Wales. It's destruction by fire in 1941 was a national tragedy, the neglect of the house and park that surrounds it is a national disgrace."
Dr. Giles Worsley - Perspectives on Architecture

"Anything that Cadw can do to protect the site would be of inestimable value. One does think of Ruperra‘s sister building, Lulworth Castle which has been so lovingly and skilfully restored by English Heritage."
Mark Girouard - architectural historian

"It is the most significant building at risk of its period in the whole of the UK and its continued neglect is an indictment of the effectiveness of the system for protecting buildings of outstanding architectural and historic interest."
Professor Malcolm Airs: Author of 'the Tudor and Jacobean House'

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