Miskin Manor Hotel has a long and fascinating history dating back to the 10th Century when Wales was divided into Cwmwds (sections), one of these Cwmwds was Miskin. It is believed that the place name evolved from ‘Maes Cun’ – meaning Lovely plain.
Around 1100, Nest, a daughter of the Prince of Glamorgan lived at Miskin with her husband and occupied the Lordship and Manor of that name. Later, for six generations the house was occupied by the ‘Bassets’ who sold it to David Williams in 1857.
As a well-known Welsh bard with the Bardic title of Alaw Goch, David Williams was a philanthropist to whom the National Eisteddfod owes a great deal. Miskin Manor was rebuilt and extended under his ownership in 1864, and the work was continued by his son, Judge Gwilym Williams, whose wife, strangely enough, was a descendant of Nest. Judge Gwylim’s statue stands outside the law courts in Cardiff.
The Manor then passed on to Sir Rhys Williams, whose wife, Juliet, was the daughter of the novelist Elinor Glyn. Under the ownership of Sir Rhys, the Manor saw a great deal of society life, and even had the honour of entertaining the Prince of Wales (later to become Edward vIII) on one of his trips to Wales in the 1920’s. On Sir Rhys’ death, the Manor was passed on to Sir Brandon Rhys Williams.
The Manor has suffered two major fires during this century, both of which have threatened its future. The first, in 1922, destroyed all but the external walls. The photographs on the ground floor of Miskin Manor illustrate the extent of the damage. The second fire occurred in 1952, and shortly after the house was transformed from being a convalescent home into post-war flats.
The house remained divided into flats until 1985, when the Manor was sold, converted and extended into the Country House Hotel it is today.
David Williams was born in 1809 in the parish of Ystradowen. About two miles north of Cowbridge. In 1821 the Williams family moved to Aberdare and David found work as a sawyer. Two or three years later he turned to coal mining where he started as a haulier, earning nine shillings a week. After some time he branched out on his own, using a skill he bad developed for detecting rich deposits of coal.
In 1842 he sunk a pit on land at Ynyscynon, Aberdare, in partnership with Lewis Lewis of Ceih Coed. The pit was opened in 1843 and the venture proved a success, earning Williams the title of David Williams, Abercynon. He then opened another pit at Aberanian by obtaining a lease from Crawshay Bailey, the ironmaster and M.P., who took a great interest in his efforts and became his friend. This pit was generally known as Williams Pit.
Following this venture, he sank the Deep Duffiyn Pit at Mountain Ash. Although this was a success, the actual sinking of it was costly and he is said to have often remarked that it would send him to the workhouse. However, by persevering he managed to win coal of excellent quality and in a short time the pit was turning out a hundred and fifty tons a day. There were, however, difficulties with the ventilation which he was unable to solve and when, in 1850, he was offered £42,000 for it by John Nixon, who had just sunk the nearby Werfa colliery, he readily accepted.
With this money, Williams sank another pit at Cwrndare in 1853. This, too, was a success and he eventually sold it at a good profit. It was indeed by opening up pits and then reselling them that he achieved considerable wealth which he then Invested In land. At first he bought up some farms near Meidrlm and Kidwelly in Carmarthenshire. Subsequently acting on the advice of Crawshay Bailey, he bought the Monachty estate in the parish of Llanwonno, and then the farms known as Brithweunydd Uchaf, Brithweunydd Isaf and Ynysgrug in the Rhondda Valley. It was on land belonging to Brithweunydd that Trealaw was eventually built.
The acquisition of wealth, however, in no way caused Williams to lose touch with the working classes. He was able to build up a fortune without encroaching upon the rights of others and without being unkind to any of the people he employed. His close contacts with all classes of Welsh society were undoubtedly fostered by his keen appreciation of Welsh literature, and he was fond of composing verse. He often presided and adjudicated at local eisteddfodau and also made considerable efforts to infuse vitality into the national Eisteddfod. For a while he became treasurer to the council of this Institution and spent large amounts of his own money in trying to establish the meetings alternately in North and South Wales.
As well as performing good works for the Eisteddfod, he also served the community in the capacity of poor law guardian and as a member of the old Highway Board and the local Board of health. He was a prominent member of the Carmel Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Church at Aberdare.
Gwilym, the elder of his two sons, was born in 1839 at Ynyscynon and became an important judge in the county courts of Glaniorgan. He was a highly respected public figure and was known as Judge Gwilym Williams of Miskin Manor. Both he and his father were the promoters and chief supporters of the first daily newspaper in Wales, the Cambrla Daily Leader. Y Gwladgarwr, the Welsh language newspaper Published at Aberdare, was also established with the help of David Williams.
Gwilym inherited most of his properties and lands in Glamorganshire whilst those In Carmarthenshire, together with the Monachty estate, went to his brother Gamer. WILLIAMS, GWILYM (1839-1906), judge; b. at Ynyscynon, Aberdare, elder son of David Williams (Alaw Goch) and his wife, Ann, the sister of William Morgan (1819-1878), poet (qq.v.).
He was educated at Cowbridge grammar school, the Normal College, Swansea, and in France. He became a barrister of the Inner Temple in 1863, and in the same year, on the death of his father, he inherited the Glamorgan estate with much land and valuable mineral properties, some of the best which was just north-west of Porth in the Rhondda Fawr Valley and just opposite Dinas on the other side of the river. In this area Daniel Thomas had opened up the successful Birthweunydd Level. Gwilym Williams took a great part in further development of this area, and called the resulting township which grew up in the mid-1860’s ‘Trealaw’ (‘Alaws Town’) in homage of his father.
In 1872 after an appeal in the House of Commons for bilingual judges, he was appointed by the Home Secretary as stipendiary magistrate for Pontypridd and the Rhondda (1872), then a difficult area to administer, with its rapidly-growing population. It was said of him at this time that he was ‘a terror to malefactors.’ He continued in office until 1884 when he was appointed a judge of the county courts, mid-Wales circuit, to be soon afterwards (1885) promoted to the responsible position of judge of the county courts of Glamorgan in 1885, a post which he held until his death (25 March 1906). He was also chairman of the Glamorgan quarter sessions from 3 July 1894 until his death.
Gwilym Williams’s estate was inherited by his forty one year old son Rhys Williams (1865-1955). Rhys was a typical third-generation member of an entrepreneurial family. The smooth transition from a working miner to an aristocratic landed gentleman had taken place from grandfather to grandson. Rhys was educated at Eton and Oriel College Oxford. Like his father he became a barrister of the inner Temple in 1890. Like his father, Rhys Williams lived in Miskin Manor, and became chairman of the Glamorgan Quarter Session.
Their style however was quite different. Where his father remained a Welsh speaking Welshman, Rhys like so many of the new Welsh aristocracy took to English manners. He entertained lavishly and was host to the Royal Family on their visit to wales (being host on several occasions to the Prince of Wales) He was knighted in 1913.
In the First World War, he fought in the Welsh Guards, becoming a Lieutenant-Colonel in 1917. After the war he became the Coalition Liberal MP for Banbury 1918-22. Lloyd George had created him a baronet in 1918. By now he had added his Christian name to his surname and was calling himself ‘Sir Rhys Williams’. With the fall of Lloyd George in 1922 and the resultant election after the coalition was dissolved, he lost his seat. In the same year he became Recorder of Cardiff.
Both his sons were educated at Eton. Sadly his elder son Glyn David Rhys Williams was killed in action in 1943. His son Sir Brandon Rhys Williams, who like his father and brother, had served in the Welsh Guards, succeeded to the title. He was conservative MP for Kensington 1968- 1988.
Miskin Manor is a family-owned Grade II listed, AA four star hotel, set in 25 acres of award winning grounds and incredibly manicured gardens, surrounded by glorious Welsh countryside, situated on the outskirts of Cardiff.
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