on a gentle slope, in wooded grounds, overlooking the ominously named Hells
Mouth Bay is the small manor house of Plas yn Rhiw.
This house was continuously occupied for a thousand years and for most of
that time it was in the ownership of a family that eventually took the surname
Lewis. The house, which stands on
the foundations of a fortified building dating back to 900AD, was originally a
farmhouse, and a house of some importance, indeed it is mentioned in the court
records of the 16th and 17th centuries.
Over the years the house was gradually enlarged until by 1800 is assumed
the structure it has today.
Travel to and from the house by road was extremely difficult, such roads that did exist were mere drovers tracks and travellers ran the risk of being set upon by footpads or highwaymen. Travellers from outside Wales had an additional problem of conversing with the locals, the use of the Welsh language was total and only a small proportion of them were English speakers. Whilst travel by land was difficult, travel by sea was commonplace and convenient. The house is sited above and small fishing harbour, Porth Rhiw, and sea going vessels used this little port to take wool away to other and bigger centres of trade, and to bring in goods ordered by the locals who could afford such luxuries. The captains and crew would, no doubt, be well pleased to arrive in this port safely, as one of the occupations of the local people was to act as wreckers, luring merchant ships into the deceptively shallow water of Hells Mouth Bay, there to be grounded and wrecked, the cargos looted and the crew drowned. This little, well-hidden port was also ideal for the landing of contraband and was a stepping off point for men and goods in transit between the southwest of England and Ireland. There can be little doubt that the family who owned Plas yn Rhiw in those far off days also controlled the smuggling that was such a great source of income. It is only natural to suppose that the goods so obtained were in some part destined to become the property of the family, increasing their wealth and filling their pantries. Many cases of brandy and wine must have been landed to be sold on or consumed locally, and it was fashionable amongst the ‘gentry’ to drink themselves into a stupor night after night. Who is to say that members of this family of Plas yn Rhiw did not act differently than their contempories?
In 1892, some years after the property had passed out of the possession of the Lewis family, a Lady Strickland of Sizeburgh Castle Cumbria rented the house for a holiday, she alternated between Cumbria, Wales and Italy dependent on the season and regular stayed at Plas yn Rhiw. She had a houseguest, a Lady Vane who was a friend and a fellow card player, also staying at the house, in their own quarters were the servants of the two ladies. The servants’ bedrooms were at the back of the house and were accessed by a different staircase than that used by the paying guests.
It was after midnight, on this particular summers night, when the two
ladies, who been playing cards in the parlour on the ground floor decided to
retire to their respective beds. The
servants had long been dismissed and had been in bed for some hours.
The two ladies climbed the wooden staircase that leads to the first floor
and to the bedroom and used by Lady Vane, a bedroom now known as the yellow
bedroom. Lady Strickland was to
sleep as usual in a main bedroom on the upper floor.
The two ladies
paused at the doorway of the yellow bedroom in order to light one candle from
another, the light of the two candles being the only illumination in the whole
house, although moonlight was filtering through the
curtains of the bedroom window. From
where the two ladies were standing to the staircase is a distance of 3 metres,
and in the yellow, soft light of the candle flame they could see the flickering
shadows of the staircase. Suddenly,
and without any warning they heard the sound of a man coughing and gasping, the
sound seemed to come from the foot of the stairs near the kitchen. Then they heard the sound of slow heavy footsteps coming up
the stairs towards them accompanied by the same dreadful coughing.
Terrified but unable to flee, the two ladies watched and listened, the
sounds came closed until the ghost, for that is what it was, stood on the same
landing as them. Except for the
shadows they could not see anything, but could hear quite clearly.
After a short pause, the footsteps continued up the stairs to the upper
floor, then it was silent.
Lady Vane, totally distraught, begged her friend to stay the night in the
yellow bedroom and not venture up the stairs after the ghost, but Lady
Strickland was made of sterner stuff, “Do not fear, I have a bottle of holy
water in my bedroom, no ghost will approach me there.”
And with that she climbed the stairs, went into her own bedroom and was
not disturbed. Where she spent a
restful night is not recorded, but her fortitude has to be admired, Victorian
ladies could be a match for any ghost.
The following morning Lady Vane proffered her excuses and left the house,
but Lady Strickland, intrigued by the night’s experiences, and eager to learn
more about the visitation, asked around the area, seeking information.
She received the answer to her questions almost immediately, the ghost
was well known, and was the spirit of the house, a man who had lived life to the
full, and in the prime of life had dropped dead due to an excess of alcohol.
He had died approximately 100 years earlier not even in death he could
not give up drinking and had been heard, but never seen, wandering the house
searching for something intoxicating to drink,
Lady Strickland did not come across him again, although she did write
down her account of this visitation at the time, and nothing more was heard
about this ghost until the last owners of the house mentioned casually that the
house was haunted, but no-one thought anything further of it.
Do not think that the ghost of the drunken squire has not been heard for
over a hundred years and is merely a tale from the romantic past, for he has
since made his presence felt again. During
one morning in June 1993, the senior Steward employed at Plas yn Rhiw, when
arriving for work at 11.30am, had met the Administrator in the garden of the
house, he was informed that the house was empty and locked, and he was handed
the key to a side door of the house. As
was his normal practice, when he entered the house he walked up the stairs with
the intention of depositing his topcoat in the staff room on the first floor.
As he started at the bottom the stairs he distinctly heard the sound of
some one coming down the stairs from the top floor.
He knew the house was supposed to empty, and fearing that a burglar was
on the premises, quietly ascended the stairs, all the time hearing the sound of
heavy slow footsteps on the staircase leading from the upper floor to the first
floor. As he reached the middle landing, the sound of footsteps
ceased. The Steward searched the
premises thoroughly without finding a trace of any other person in the house.
At this time burglar alarms were switched on and would have registered
the presence of any human being entering the upper rooms. The
Steward had worked in the house for many years and had never before experienced
anything similar, and prior to this incident, was completely dismissive of any
suggestions that they house may be haunted.
I knew this man very well and fully believe that he believed he heard
something on those stairs that particular morning.
One of the more intriguing things about Plas yn Rhiw is that it a number
of ghosts, the second not being a rumbustious happy go lucky old sot, but the
archetypal Victorian maiden, the victim of young love, a girl who gave up her
comfortable life in a well established influential family for a precarious
marriage to a tinker. Positive
information about her is difficult to find, but it believed that her name was
Annie Elizabeth Williams, that she was the daughter of the then owner of the
house, and that she was born around the 1840’s.
At this time the road of Llyn, although not good, were at least passable
and were travelled on, using horse drone carriages or by foot. It was period of great change in the land, steam power was
being exploited and factories were being opened, demanding huge numbers of
workers to run the various machines. Common
household goods were being produced quickly and cheaply and a market for these
goods existed in areas that had never had the opportunity to purchase such items
before. Following the purveyors of
these good were the tinkers. Travelling
alone, on foot, they wandered the countryside making a living of sorts by
repairing household goods, doing casual work on farms and eking out their
existence by poaching pheasant and rabbits and by stealing anything that they
could. That they lived dangerously
was no overstatement, the Victorians were great legislators, their Larceny Act
of 1861 made a simple theft punishable by 14 years hard labour, and the Poaching
Acts drafted by land owning members of Parliament ensured that anyone found in
possession of a poached animal, fish or bird faced a similar long term of
imprisonment. Gamekeepers carried
guns, and were prepared to use them knowing full well that if they shot at, and
killed a poacher, they would not be prosecuted. The landowners were also the local magistrates and would
ensure that their land remained free of poaching.
Such a tinker, his identity unknown, roamed Llyn, finding his way by
accident or design to the big house Plas yn Rhiw.
It was here that he first met Annie Williams. She was a young impressionable girl, remember she would not
travelled more than a dozen miles away from her home in all her life, and here
she was, confronted by a handsome worldly-wise man who had travelled the
country, had seen everything, and could tell her the wonders of life beyond the
mountains. Her father obviously did
not approve of the tinker and sent him away, but time after time the tinker
returned to the estate and secretly met the girl Annie Williams.
They decided to elope, she would never get permission to marry him, her
father would never agree to such a thing, although it was the classic Victorian
solution often secretly approved of by penurious fathers who did not, or could
not, afford the expense of a wedding.
One night, when the house was in darkness, and everyone was long asleep,
Annie packed her few possessions, silently left the house, and met the tinker at
a pre-arranged spot. They then
walked the ten miles to Pwllheli and to the railway station where they boarded a
train and left the area. Her
absence at the breakfast table had not gone unnoticed and when a rapid search of
her bedroom revealed that she and her possessions had gone, the family suspected
quite rightly that she had left with the tinker.
Her father, in great rage, ran out of the house, saddled one of his
horses and galloped furiously towards Pwllheli.
He assumed that his daughter would leave the area as soon as possible and
the railway was the obvious way. He
nearly caught, as he neared the railway station, his horse lathering up, and
blowing, he saw in the distance, the smoke billowing from the high brass funnel
of the engine as it pulled the early morning train out of the station and headed
towards Bangor. He had no chance of
catching it, and no way of stopping it, even with his influence, he could not
over rule the powerful regulations of the newly formed North Wales Railway.
Eventually Annie and the tinker arrived at Bangor, changed trains and
travelled on to Holyhead there to catch the packet boat for Ireland. It is not known how the tinker paid the fares, it is possible
that Annie pawned or sold some of her meagre possessions to finance the journey.
Whether they travelled to Ireland is also unknown, but at some time the
tinker abandoned Annie to her fate, leaving her destitute.
How she survived, found food and lodging is questionable, but eventually
she must have made her way in life even though she did not return to her home.
Within the last few years, a lady called at Plas yn Rhiw and announced
that she believed that she was a descendent of Annie Williams and that Annie had
lived a full and happy life.
Residents of the house have said that at times they have heard the spirit
of Annie crying pitifully, the sounds emanating from the bedroom that was hers
in life. A ghost of a young woman
dressed in white has been seen in the house, this was at the time believed to be
Annie. The only tangible evidence
that she did in fact exist, is the name ‘Annie’ and ‘A E Williams’
etched by a diamond ring on a window pane of the bedroom once used by her so
many years ago. This room is not
yet open to the public, but perhaps it may be some day.
A third ghost is known at this old house, this time there is very little
information concerning the period of when it made its appearance, but it
certainly was in the days of sailing ships, and from the tale, I would presume
that this ghost made her presence felt around the middle or late 17th
Apparently, during one of the frequent storms that occur around Llyn
especially in the winter months, a small sailing vessel was cast aground in
Hells Mouth Bay below Plas yn Rhiw. The
captain and his crew of two were unharmed although the ship was wrecked.
The captain left his crew to stand guard over the ship and its cargo, and
made his way to the manor house for assistance.
He was well aware of what could happen to stranded sailors on this wild
and isolated coast. His fears well
justified, on returning to his ship, he found that the cargo had been looted,
and worst, both his erstwhile companions had been foully murdered.
The local magistrate who was also the owner of Plas yn Rhiw made
Rhiw.com would like to thank Patrick Allely for these scary stories.
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