Plas Mawr was built in the town of Conwy between 1576 and 1585 by Robert Wynn. Robert came from a prosperous local family and entered the service of first Sir Walter Stonor and then Sir Philip Hoby, both administrators and senior officials to King Henry VIII. Robert fought and was injured at the Siege of Boulogne in 1544, took part in military campaigns in Scotland and traveled extensively across Europe. He invested in land across North Wales and married his first wife, Dorothy Griffith, a member of the local gentry, in 1570.Once married, Robert needed a suitable house and chose to settle in Conwy, a prosperous town that was known in the 16th century for its genteel society. In 1570, Robert paid Hugh Mershe £200 for an existing "mansion house" in Conwy, positioned in the middle of a burgage plot on what is now Crown Lane. More land to the north of this was purchased from a Richard Peake in 1576 for £40, and work then began on the north wing of Plas Mawr, which was completed by the following year. Mershe's former house was pulled down to allow the preparation of the foundations of the rest of the building, including the digging of fresh drains. Robert lived in the completed north wing until 1580, when the central and south ranges were built, finishing the main part of Plas Mawr.
Robert went on to rent further land around the north of Plas Mawr. The land at the south end of the burgage, however, facing onto the High Street, belonged to a Robert Laythwood, who had a house there. Wynne purchased this in 1585, probably for the relatively high price of £40, and demolished it to enable the final phase of development, using the space to build a gatehouse that formed the new entrance to Plas Mawr. Further small pieces of land were bought on the north-west side of the house and converted into an ornamental garden, bringing the total cost of the land to around £300. The result was the grandest Elizabethan town house in Wales at the time. These three phases of house construction, 1576–77, 1580 and 1585, were probably overseen by several different senior craftsmen, possibly working to an original plan determined by a surveyor or mason working at the English royal court. Judging by the details of the roof design, a single master carpenter may have been used for all three parts of the build; he probably worked elsewhere across the region during these years, including on 15 other houses and two churches. Both of the first two phases of work were probably conducted by the same team of plasterers, possibly from London, and they used as much as 100,000-kilogram (220,000 lb) of lime plaster on the rendering. Timber and slates were brought down the Conwy valley for the house, with grey Silurian grit rubble quarried from the hills near the town, and finer sandstone brought from nearby Deganwy. The total cost of the building work was probably around £500.
The Mostyns' principal residence was Mostyn Hall in Flintshire and so the family rented out Plas Mawr to various tenants during the 18th and 19th centuries. In the 18th century the gatehouse was used as a courthouse and the main house as cheap housing. In the 19th century, parts of the house were converted into a school and space for other small businesses, as well as still being used for domestic accommodation: in 1881, the house had 25 residents. Minor changes were made to Plas Mawr in the process, such as the installation of partition walls to subdivide the larger rooms, but it remained largely intact. The Mostyns offered the house for sale in 1870, as part of a package of land including Bodysgallen Hall, but there were no offers. By the 1880s, the Royal Cambrian Academy of Art became concerned about the condition of Plas Mawr, and in 1887 Lord Mostyn agreed to lease the building to the Academy for use as their headquarters. The architects Arthur and Herbert Baker were commissioned to survey the building, conduct repairs and remove some of the post-17th century alterations, and J. R. Furness then carried out conservation work on much of the plasterwork. The Victoria Gallery was built onto the north-west side of the house to hold artistic exhibitions, and a weather vane was added to the top of the building to celebrate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.
Architecturally, Plas Mawr is almost unchanged from the 16th century, making it a very rare survival from this period. The architectural style is a product of the broader Renaissance influences prevalent across Europe at the time. Robert Wynn spent time in Germany, and the style of Plas Mawr makes use of North German Gothic themes, particularly in its use of symmetry, the pedimented windows at the front of the house, faceted finials and crow-stepped gables. These features were already popular in England when the house was built, and indeed Plas Mawr is very similar in design to Eastbury Manor House, the two possibly being based off the same architectural plan. Some of these features had already begun to spread into Wales – crow-stepped gables, for example, were already being used in Flintshire by the 1580s – but others were ground breaking in Wales, such as the use of ovolo-moulded and dormer windows. Nonetheless, Robert Wynn was only an emerging member of the gentry, and his house was not as large or as sophisticated as contemporary grander Renaissance properties built in larger rural settings.
Some of the house's architecture also reflects the influences from contemporary buildings across North Wales, in particular Gwydir Castle, built by Robert Wynn's father John. Plas Mawr lacks a fashionable long gallery, for example, which was popular in England at the time, and was already beginning to appear in Welsh houses. Instead, it has a rear turret, or belvedere, which is raised prominently above the height of the rest of the house, overlooking the town: this was a slightly antiquated feature, but was widely used in other Wynn family properties, including Bodysgallen Hall. The design of Plas Mawr influenced other buildings in North Wales at the time, including the redecoration of Gwydir Castle, Maenan Hall further up the Conwy valley, Plas Mawr in Caernarfon and Hen Blas in Beaumaris. It also later shaped the architecture of 19th- and 20th-century buildings in Conwy itself, surviving examples of which include the town's police station and the Castlebank Hotel.
Modern visitors typically enter the house from the High Street to the south, passing through the gatehouse, across the lower courtyard into the hall of the main building. Plas Mawr's gatehouse was only the third such entrance building to be built in North Wales, despite gatehouses being an important part of English Elizabethan architecture, designed to show off the house and provide a suitably dignified entry for visitors. Few houses in towns had the physical space for a gatehouse like Plas Mawr's. Originally, the gatehouse would have contained a suite of rooms for the steward of the house, Richard Wynn. The main house forms an "H"-shape, with a north and a south wing joined in the middle, all facing onto an upper courtyard. The upper courtyard was key to the way that the main house functioned: it linked almost all the ground floor rooms in the house, as well as providing access to the cellars, and gave an impressive view of the turret towers. In the south wing was the hall and the buttery, with the red and white chambers above them. Probably when Plas Mawr was first built, and certainly by 1665, the hall would have been used to meet ordinary visitors and for servants' meals, rather than forming the main room of the house; the wooden benches and table on display are original to the property. Traditionally, the service rooms in houses had been placed at the far end of the main hall, but Plas Mawr departed from this design. The service area, including the kitchen and pantry, was instead placed in the centre of the building, between the parlour and the hall; this radical redesign was copied at nearby Hafod Lwyfog. The restored kitchen is equipped with a batterie de cuisine, with a combination of original and replica equipment.
Above these rooms was the great chamber, the main room which formed the ceremonial centre of the house. In the north wing was the brewhouse and the parlour, with two chambers above them, the latter possibly used by Dorothy Wynn as her bedroom. The private bedrooms for the family and guests were each equipped with a fireplace, an important status symbol in the period. The roof attics of the house contained a great deal of space for accommodating the household servants. The attic above the great chamber has a grand timber roof with arch-braced collar trusses, joined using an unusual system called "double pegging", which is only used in the Conwy valley during the late 16th century. It appears that the great chamber's ceiling was originally supposed to be open, looking up to the timbers with the trusses visible, but a mistake in the construction of the walls meant that one side of the chamber no longer fitted smoothly with the timbers, creating an ugly appearance; a plaster ceiling was then added to hide the error. The gardens behind the house may originally have resembled the gardens at Bodysgallen Hall, which were laid out in the Renaissance style popular across Europe. The slope of the land results in Plas Mawr's gardens forming the upper and lower terraces, and these have been replanted and restored in an attempt to show them as they might have appeared in 1665. The summerhouse is based on a version shown in a contemporary painting of Llanerch's gardens, and the flowerpots are modeled on those found in excavations at Tredegar House.
Seven rooms still possess elements of their original plasterwork, which the historian Peter Smith has described as "the most perfect and the most complete memorial to Elizabethan Wales", and their original wooden carved panels that line the walls. The plasterwork includes extensive heraldry, badges and symbols: in the upper north range alone, 22 different heraldic emblems are molded into the ceilings and walls. The gatehouse shows the royal arms, as do the great chamber and the parlour, probably because they were intended to host senior guests. The badges of numerous monarchs are included throughout the house, including those of Richard II, Richard III, Henry IV and Henry VII. The badges of other prominent nobles, such as Robert Dudley, are also featured in the house. The plasterwork in the parlour displays the arms of Robert Wynn himself, and Robert Wynn's bedchamber above the brewhouse shows the combined arms of the Wynn and Griffith families, which are generally given equal prominence throughout the house. Robert Wynn's arms are most prominent in the hall and the bedchambers, where the royal arms are smaller and less prominent. In the 16th century, Wynn's heraldry would probably have been echoed in the furnishings of the house, including the fabrics, cups and silverware. The plasterwork also incorporates a number of classical themes, but these are not as well executed as the badges and other emblems: the historian Rick Turner describes them as "rather token additions", and Smith considers this part of the decoration to be "naive".
Disabled visitor and a companion admitted free. Town centre location. There are many steps to negotiate throughout the property. Wheelchair access available to the ground floor of main house only. There are 15 benches. The nearest car park which is pay and display is Vicarage Gardens in Rose Hill St.There is limited parking on the High St for limited time.There is no dedicated disabled parking. Unisex disabled toilet with wheelchair access. There is an audio tour with an induction loop. There are Volunteer guides in the main rooms. Assistance dogs are welcome. No smoking allowed.
Location : Plas Mawr, High St, Conwy LL32 8DE
Transport : Conwy (National Rail) 3 minutes. Bus Routes : 5, 9, 14, 15, 19, 27, 75, 77, A55 and X5 stop close by.
Opening Times : Daily 09:30 to 17:00
Tickets : Adults £6.00; Seniors/Children (5 - 15) £4.20;; Disabled + Carer Free
Tel : 01492 580167