P R O F I L E
Neath Port Talbot
Telephone: 01639 835808
The Gnoll Estate is situated on the eastern side of Neath town centre in South West Wales.
Picture right - Gnoll House, reduced to foundations and cellars in the 1950s.Rising above Neath town centre, the grounds of this landscape park lie in their original rural setting long famed for its picturesque beauty. Gnoll Estate Country Park was once the home of a wealthy industrial family called the Mackworths. The grounds of the estate once served Gnoll House, sadly demolished in 1957. The grounds are now owned and managed by Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council. The Gnoll Estate has become a major attraction for both locals and visitors. The Ivy Tower forms a prominent estate landmark high on the hill overlooking the Neath valley, although the tower is now in a rapidly decaying state.
The landscape of the Gnoll estate consists of a combination of early industrial and ornamental features. Landscaping was carried out during the eighteenth century over several phases, including the two notable cascades, informal and formal, of which the latter has been recently renovated. A series of watercourses or leats that link the various features within the grounds providing water for the ornamentations. Mosshouse Wood on the eastern flank of the estate is now largely open space but until recently comprised conifer plantations dating from the 1950s (now removed) interspaced with areas of beech tree.
Picture left - the informal cascades in Mosshouse Wood that lead to the grotto.Other aspects of the estate design included an outstanding informal series of cascades in Mosshouse Wood. This water feature was built for Henry Mackworth around the 1720s. Climbing the wooded valley that contains the cascades, visitors arrive at the grotto and immediately above it the gazebo. The cave like grotto is a later eighteenth-century folly, adjacent to the top water fall. It comprises a dome roofed circular chamber some 18ft across. The floor has been paved and set in mortar and there were man made limestone stalagmites and cockle shells. Today there are wafer thin natural limestone stalactites where water has seeped through the mortar in the roof material. It would originally have been used as a cool place to sit and rest, and there would have been objects of interest to amuse and mystify visitors.
The cave like grotto entrance can be seen to the left below the gazebo viewing seat at the top of the cascades.The Gnoll stone (now kept in Swansea Museum) once formed part of the grotto display. The figure is a Celtic priest with his hands raised in prayer, he wears a short pleated kilt. Originally larger, it was damaged at some point, probably on its removal to Gnoll. This stone is believed to date from the eleventh century. It represents a Christian tradition brought to Wales by monks from Ireland. It is not known where the stone originally stood, it was found on a mountain near Banwen, north of Neath. During the eighteenth century, Sir Humphrey Mackworth, the local industrialist moved the stone to his home, The Gnoll, where it was included in the grotto decor. The grotto was also at one time adorned internally with shells attached to the walls and roof. These shells were brought from places all over the world, and in particular the West Indies.
Picture right - The grotto entrance enticing the visitor to explore a mysterious underground chamber.The estate landscaping incorporates several substantial lakes fed by the complex water distribution system. Below the grotto and informal cascades, a reservoir was constructed for local water supply at the end of the nineteenth century.
The grotto interior looking out towards the cascades. Unfortunately little of the original decoration survives.
The Half House is an interesting feature that overlooks the Guinea Pond, now cleared of conifers. The leat in the foreground is one of many on the estate that transfer water from source by gravity.Although the park's historic character has been diluted through the loss of the house and insensitive planting, many of its structural elements remain intact having been restored in the 1980s and subsequently.
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GREAT BRITISH GROTTO GRADING
Open set times only, Physical access difficult
Access all Year, Access on Foot, Free Entry, Grotto with extensive rock gardens, Restaurant/Food, Retail Souvenir Shop, Toilets, Tourism Information
Mountains, Park or Garden, Woodlands or Forest
THE GROTTO GRADING FEATURES PRESENT
+Cared for and maintained in good condition, +Dark and mysterious chambers and cave like spaces, +External rock structures, either real or simulated, +Internal stonework that is natural, recycled or simulated to give a subterranean decor, +Sacred spring or integral water feature, +Stunning setting and location, GRADED SIX