Stately Gregynog Hall, a country mansion in the village of Tregynon, dates all the way back to the 16th century, when it was owned by descendants of Welsh princes. But the estate really came into prominence when it fell into the hands of two Welsh sisters with an ambitious vision and benevolent spirit.
Gwendoline and Margaret Davies were the granddaughters of David Davies, a wealthy industrialist from Powys who made his fortune in the railway and coal business during the late 19th century. From an early age, both sisters exhibited a passion for art, beginning their private collections while travelling in Europe during the early 1900s.
When the First World War broke out, the two signed up to volunteer at a canteen on the front lines. Witnessing the horrors of war, and the horrendous toll it took on the men in the trenches, is said to have had a profound impact on the pair. They decided when they returned to Wales they would undertake a project to enrich the lives of ordinary, working people who’d suffered so greatly during the tough war years.
That project was ultimately Gregynog Hall, which the two purchased in 1920 and opened as a cultural centre of art and music for all to enjoy. The sisters displayed their vast personal collection of artwork (including paintings by Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh) on the walls of the country house, and, in 1932, founded the Gregynog Music Festival, a program of classical music performances held each summer. The event brought some of Europe’s leading classical artists to rural Wales, and was frequented by famous faces of the time, including celebrated Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw and English composer Gustav Holst. The event continues to run each June, and is regarded as Wales’ oldest classical music festival.
With the exception of a brief pause during the Second World War when it served as a Red Cross nursing home, the estate continued to function as a cultural centre for the remainder of the sisters’ lives. Following their deaths, the estate was bequeathed to the University of Wales, while most of the sisters’ immense art collection was donated to the National Museum of Wales, greatly elevating the museum’s international offering. The two sisters died unmarried. Their ashes are buried together at their birthplace in the village of Llandinam, Powys.
In 2019, Gregynog Hall was purchased from the University by the Gregynog Trust, a charitable organisation that seeks to continue to fulfil the sisters’ vision of being a space to enrich the lives of people from both near and far. The beautiful 750-acre grounds, a National Nature Reserve containing ancient oak and lichen-rich woodlands, are accessible to visitors throughout the year, while the hall itself is open during specific events.