By

Patrick Allely 

Situated 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 plas_yn_rhiw.jpg (75087 bytes)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 century.

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 immediate inquiries to trace the perpetrators of this terrible crime, and caused all the local people to lean over the bodies, the cadavers were scrutinised carefully for any reaction, not a very scientific way of detecting crime, but this method apparently worked, for as one man leant over the still white corpses, the naked cadavers began to bleed from there hideous wounds. This man was immediately taken into custody and subsequently admitted, after some form of interrogation, that he was responsible for the murders. The captain was ordered to stay in locality and attend the trial of the murderer and lodged at Plas yn Rhiw.  One night whilst in bed, he was roused from his slumbers to see a figure of a woman dressed in white beckoning him to follow her.  He did as he was bid, quite understandably, and she led him to a room which had a large cupboard built into a window seat.  Apparently she pointed at the cupboard and gestured for him to open it, she then promptly disappeared from sight.  The captain, no doubt highly confused, obeyed her instruction, lifted the cupboard lid, therein to find, to his horror, the body of a young woman who had been missing for 50 years.  It is not record what happened after this gruesome discovery, but the cupboard in the window seat is believed to be that which is in the yellow bedroom of the house, and according to various local people I have spoken to, the light of a candle can be seen in this bedroom window by those passing by the front of the house.

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Rhiw.com would like to thank Patrick Allely for these scary stories.

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