The Castle Hotel occupies consecrated land on the site of the famous 12th Century Cistercian Abbey at Conwy, which enjoyed many privileges and immunities.
Dedicated by Prince Llewellyn ap Iorweth, the founder, to the Holy Virgin and All Saints, the fraternity of the Abbey “had the right of choosing their own Abbots; all wrecks upon their land belonged to them; they were free from all tolls” and they administered justice amongst themselves.
The Abbey continued to flourish unmolested until the reign of Henry the Third when it was plundered and some of the buildings were burnt. The walls that divide the hotel car park from the church are believed to be the remains of the Abbey.
Much of the original church remains today – St Mary’s and All Saints Church is situated just behind the hotel. The graveyard is the burial place of many of the Princes of Gwynedd, including Gruffydd ap Cynan: Llewelyn ap Maelgwyn; Llewelyn the Great (Llywelyn Fawr); and his sons Dafydd and Gruffydd.
After King Edward 1’s conquest of Wales in 1283, Edward chose to build a castle and its fortified town on the site and forced removal of the Abbey to Maenan in the Conwy valley. Llywelyn the Great’s body, buried in 1240 AD was removed to Maenan and then, on the dissolution of the monasteries, to Llanrwst Church, where the coffin can still be seen. St Mary’s became the Parish church for the new English town of Conway.
When improvements were being made to the Castle Hotel in 1832 a tombstone with a plain carved cross was found in the yard, containing only a skull. In 1870 a stone front was discovered at the back of the house just below the hotel and some skeletons have been accidentally exhumed in the yard over the years – believed to be victims of the plague which reached Conwy three weeks after it broke out in London.
Conwy was on the main London to Holyhead stage coach route so it’s presumed that the plague was brought into the town by a traveller. It’s believed that many bodies from the plague were buried within the walls on Berry St (the spelling has changed as the language has evolved).
Adjoining the Castle Hotel was the Kings Head, the other side of the archway into the hotel’s rear car park, and dates back to the 15th century and is now part of the present hotel. This is the oldest part of the hotel and houses a craft shop and L’s coffee shop on the ground floor and several bedrooms, including the spectacular Caer Rhun Suite on the upper floors. The little yard behind the old King’s Head was a Cock Pit (now L’s Coffee Shop courtyard garden!) where it is written that locals used to watch both cocks fight and gypsies settle their arguments.
Another significant occasion in the history of the hotel was on 17th May 1884. A public dinner was given by the gentry of Conwy to Mr Robert Stephenson to celebrate the successful erection of the Tubular Railway Bridge. This dinner was held in a temporary pavilion at the back of the hotel. The tent was 70ft long and 24ft wide and at each end of the pavilion were the gigantic initials R.S. in a blaze of variegated lamps and the whole pavilion was festooned with flowers and evergreen. The interior was lined with crimson and white drapes and formed a splendid setting for the celebration. One hundred and thirty tickets were sold at one guinea each, the guests included Robert Stephenson’s brother George.
Robert Stephenson spoke about the bridge and one speaker marvelled at the speed of the railway, “We are now whirled along at speeds exceeding the fastest horse.”
William Wordsworth stayed here and when visiting St Mary’s graveyard, he spotted one tomb containing seven brothers and sisters, which is marked “We are Seven”, which inspired him to write his famous poem of the same name.
Other famous visitors to the hotel have included Samuel Johnson and Charlotte Bronte, who spent her honeymoon here. Also the Queen of Romania, whilst convalescing in Llandudno in 1890, was entertained to lunch here – see the photographs in the bar of the locals waiting for her arrival outside the hotel.
The hotel was owned by Mrs Dutton-Foreshaw, during that time and remained in her family ownership until 1931. It was also in her ownership that Mr John Dawson-Watson, Royal Art Academy Member, lived in the hotel and much of his work can be seen in the hotel. He apparently had a certain ‘affection’ for Mrs D-F and is fabled to have ‘paid’ for his lodgings with his artwork! Extremely unlikely as JDW was an extremely successful artist at the time, owning a large house within the town walls.
In 1931, the London hotel company called Trust House, (eventually to become Trust House Forte Hotels; THF) bought the property. THF owned the hotel until 1994, when another London based company, Regal Hotels took over. They in turn sold to Peter Lavin and family and friend Graham Tinsley, the current owners, in 2000.