TBSI Has “Fairy Tale” Experience, Helps Restore Castle in Wales – Press Release 4/12/2004

DATE 04/12/2004 3:03 PM

This is part of an occasional series by the Sanpete Country Travel and Utah Heritage Highway 89 Alliance on the people and places along U.S. Highway 89.

TBSI Has “Fairy Tale” Experience, Helps Restore Castle in Wales

It has all the makings of a fairy tale: a couple buys what they think is a chicken farm and 17th- Century manor house complete with a tower in the Wales countryside. But once they move in, they start to uncover clues about the house’s history. They discover that their farm house is really a palace, the last home of a brave prince and his baby daughter.The prince’s wife died in childbirth, so the little girl is his only family and heir. The story takes an even sadder turn when the prince is killed by a bitter king when the child is less than a year old. The little girl is forced to spend her life in seclusion in a convent, never knowing she was the first and last true born princess of Wales.

What makes the tale so compelling is that it is true, and it has also become the real-life adventures of Kathryn and Brian Pritchard Gibson, of Wales. Now, Snow College’s Traditional Building Skills Institute (TBSI) is part of the story.

The first chapter involving TBSI began this spring when director Russ Mendenhall and 10 others associated with the institute spent three days working on the “castle.” Mendenhall heard about the house through John Lambert, owner of Abstract Historic Masonry in Salt Lake City, who found out about it on the Internet. Eventually, Mendenhall and Lambert contacted the couple and the group was on their way to Wales.

Mendenhall says he didn’t know anything about Pritchard Gibson’s before meeting them at their farm in Wales, and the couple didn t know anything about him or TBSI. “Our only contact had been through the Internet, so we didn t know what to expect when we got there,” he says.

“It turned out to be one of the most delightful experiences any of us had ever had…right away, we could tell we were working on a building that is 600 years old at least.”

The group focussed on a 12 foot- by-12-foot section of the home, removing old cement and mortar and restoring it back to the historical lyme putty-type mortar and doing other repairs. It was the oldest structure we have ever worked on, Mendenhall says.

TBSI, which aims to further the art of traditional building skills and educate people on how to use such skills in preserving historic buildings and in new construction, holds hands-on workshops throughout the year in Utah. But its students often travel to work on restoration projects like the one in Wales.

The entire group stayed with a host family in the town of Rhyl at a former bed & breakfast. They also travelled a bit around Wales and England. “It was wonderful. Kathryn, who is a historian, was able to tell us all about the area and about the house, so we got to see and do so much more than you would as a typical tourist,” Mendenhall said.

After the Pritchard Gibson’s moved into the farm house in 1992, they started discovering secret rooms and hidden stairways. Kathryn Pritchard Gibson started researching the house and found letters and documents in archives throughout Wales that provided clues about the home.

Locals had long called the home “Llewelyn’s Tower” but no one knew why. Turned out that Llewelyn the Last, the last prince of Wales, had lived in there with his baby daughter, Gwenllian. The prince was killed in a skirmish that was the result of a long-time feud involving King Edward I of England (the title Prince of Wales eventually went to Edward’ son, Edward II). King Edward ordered the baby princess abducted and she was sent to a convent.

Seeing and working on the home was like living history, Mendenhall says. “Kathryn took us up to the house’s tower, and you could see all the way across the land and to the sea,” he says. “It must have been a very strategic spot for watching out for the enemy, you would be able to see them coming quite a ways away by ship and be prepared for battle.” Next to the home there are several other smaller stone structures, including a building that use to be a chapel. “Rumour is that Llewelyn could be buried under the floor,” he says.

Mendenhall will be taking another TBSI group back next spring. “We had an incredible time and there is still a lot of work to be done.”

For more information, contact Mendenhall at (435) 283-7575.

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For more information Contact:Monte Bona
Sanpete County Travel and Heritage Council
(435) 462-2502
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