Picture of Almshouses Museum and St Grwst’s Church, Llanrwst
Almshouses Museum and St Grwst’s Church, Llanrwst

1-12, Church St, Ancaster Square, Llanrwst, Gwynedd LL26 0LE

Tel: 01492 642550  

STANDING in the deathly quiet of the Gwydir chapel, it's hard to believe 13th century monarch Llywelyn the Great was laid to rest in the carved stone sarcophagus tingling icily beneath my fingers.

Draped in his red and yellow quartered standard of lions rampant, this lower half of his coffin is all that is left. But it still resonates with a certain sensation of power.

The king's final resting place is a mystery, the monks who buried him having kept it a secret in case the invading forces of Edward I desecrated it.

He was buried in Aberconwy Abbey on his death in 1240, where Conwy parish church now stands, but moved upriver by boat to Maenan when Edward started fortifying the abbey site and building his castle there in 1284.

When Maenan Abbey was subsequently destroyed in 1536 with the dissolution of the monasteries, the coffin was moved here to Llanrwst.

The Gwydir chapel, an annexe of the magnificent 15th century St Grwst's Church, was built in renaissance style by Sir Richard Wynne in 1633 as his own intended mausoleum.

Although showing some signs of disrepair and dis-respect for the monarch, with plastic chairs and even a ladder stowed away in full public view, the chapel has many redeeming features.

Look for various ancient memorials, the elaborately carved wooden ceiling, and the stunning effigy of Hywel Coytmor, once the owner of the Gwydir estate, who died fighting for the Black Prince in Flanders in 1388.

It's a shame some government agency such as Cadw can't step in to help with the upkeep of such an important national monument: it is nonetheless still well worth a visit.

The church itself is also a striking edifice, built on the site of St Grwst's original 6th century cell, and features a magnificently carved oak rood screen that could well have come from Maenan Abbey on its dissolution.

Look out too for the spur of the 15th century bandit Dafydd ap Siencyn, and the memorial to William Salesbury, the first to translate the New Testament into Welsh and who published a noteworthy first Welsh-English dictionary in 1547.

Next to the churchyard in Church Street stands a row of 12 almshouses, again built by the Wynnes of Gwydir, which provided shelter for the needy for 360 years until as recently as 1976.

Lying empty and unloved for 25 years, the building was re-opened in 2002 as a fascinating museum delving into Llanrwst's multi-faceted history.

The museum traces the story of the bustling town's brewing, tanning, printing, clock making and harp producing industries down the centuries.

Here you'll also find two period rooms showing the almshouses as they would've looked in 1610, when they were built by Sir John Wynne, and in 1850.

While in clement weather you can enjoy a picnic in the almshouses' courtyard, near the Sensory Herb Gardens, nonetheless it's only a short stroll to The Eagles Hotel or the Contessa Cafe in town.

The Eagles Hotel across the lane serves meals noon-2pm daily, and again from 6-8.30pm Sunday-Thursday, and 6-9pm Friday and Saturday.

Meanwhile at the Contessa Café in Ancaster Square, you can check on your e-mail as you tuck into an all day breakfast for £6.50, or a steak and onion sandwich for £4.50.

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