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  • Writer's pictureLilium

Tredegar House - Enchanting Havens

Described as the grandest and most exuberant country house in Monmouthshire and for the last 500 years, the ancestral home of the Morgan family, later Lords Tredegar, a powerful and influential family and claimed descendants of the Welsh princes.

Tredegar House is a 17th century country house mansion in Coedkernew overflowing with history. Be entranced by the glistening gilt room, the orchard garden and, oh, did I forget to mention the room dedicated to the occult?

Before we get to the 1920's black magic, I will first tell you about the house which, residents aside, is one of the most outstanding houses of the Restoration period in the whole of Britain.

Each room has something wonderful to reveal.

The brown room with intricate carvings in the oak panels of lions, griffins and serpents and on every wall hangs a portrait. Either side of the grand door leading to the gilt room sits a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I on the right and on the left Sir Henry Morgan, the infamous privateer who’s exploits against the Spaniards were so revered they earned him a knighthood from King Charles II, though now he is most notably known through a certain well-know brand of rum.

The gilt room is exquisite with the paintings directly painted on to the walnut paneling and, as one would expect from the name, liquid gold frames every panel and the extravagantly detailed fireplace, lit by soft candlelight, would not seem remotely out of place in the Palace of Versailles.

In the new parlour, a room outlined with faded burgundy velvet curtains, hangs a portrait of Violet Mundy hunting with her father outside Ruperra Castle once a summer home of the Morgan family. The estate reached 52,000 square acres and being so vast it meant that the hunt could ride from the Brecon Beacons to the capital Cardiff and not leave their land.

Supposedly described in the hunting world as “Hellcat Mundy” Violet was a passionate horsewoman who spent much of her time riding and hunting. Later on in her life she would train racehorses who would race under her colours of purple and orange. Her love of horses was so great in fact that Violet published a book of her own sketches illustrating various hunting scenes.

"Usually dressed in black she was as capable of putting a ferret down a rabbit burrow and handling a 12 bore gun as she was following the hunt with nerve and skill which would put any hunting man to shame."

- Pat Lucas, Fifty Years of Racing At Chepstow

The households love of animals was also reflected in one of the gardens. The Cedar Garden is dominated by a 250 year old Cedar of Lebanon with framed borders containing bears breeches, irises and Jacobs ladder all flanked by imposing gateways. At the heart of the garden is a stone obelisk, erected in memory of 'Sir Briggs' - the horse who carried Godfrey Morgan, the first Lord Tredegar, during the Charge of the Light Brigade. Sir Briggs lived out the rest of his days at Tredegar house until his death in 1874 upon which he was buried with full military honours.

However, it is when Godfrey's great nephew Evan Morgan became head of the family as the 2nd Viscount of Tredegar that things in the house take an.....interesting turn.

Upon climbing the grand staircase with ochre coloured walls, you come to the first floor where the historians and volunteers of the house have loving recreated what it may have been like after an outrageous party in the 1930's hosted by the lord of the manor, Evan Morgan. The bathroom has fishtanks full of nothing but shells, pristine white towels perfectly stacked in tall mahogany cabinets, an "unusual" portrait of Evan above the fire place and the finishing touch, a bathtub filled to the brim with bottles of champagne on ice.

It is very plain to see Evan's eccentricity in the Kings room as a gramophone playing songs of the era sits next to the messy four poster bed, the very same bed in which he once used to keep rabbits in. More champagne in ice buckets sit on every available surface and on the floor lives a suspiciously realistic alligator who watches your every move.

The very nice co-ordinator let me hop the red rope to take this picture, a bust of Evan Morgan. A volunteer mentioned that the alcove it was sitting in was originally put in to be used as an altar for dark magic.

Evan had a menagerie of exotic animals. A boxing kangaroo named Somerset, a honey bear, a baboon and most famously Blue Boy - the parrot taught only dirty words. There was a party trick involving Blue Boy and a pair of his trousers that upon teaching the parrot the party trick, Evan walked straight into the Cafe Royal in London and performed it in front of a packed house. One of the onlookers recorded that ‘the effect on old ladies present can be imagined’. I won't be going in to detail. I'd need more than a bathtub of champagne for that.

Evan was an attempted poet and author that dabbled in black magic, modelling himself on Shelly and dressing as a romantic poet. He dedicated one room in the house, his “Magik room” to his study of the occult and became swift friends with Aleister Crowley and was later hailed by Crowley as Adept of Adepts.

He provided inspiration for the characters Ivor Lombard in Aldous Huxleys 1921 Crome Yellow, and for Eddie Monteith in Ronald Firbanks The flower beneath the foot.

Despite his known homosexuality he married twice, first to Lois Ina Sturt, "the most beautiful debutante of her day", who was one of the bright young things, an accomplished actress and dancer, a painter who studied at the Slade School of Art and she even had her own art studio in Chelsea. She also became a successful race horse owner and breeder of Great Danes. They both agreed they could sleep with other people, Evan's choice being London rent boys and Lois engaged in mad-cap pranks and several long love affairs, generally with older, married men. She died suddenly in Budapest in 1937, after many long years of alcohol abuse and insane slimming treatments.

His second wife, Princess Olga Dolgorouky was born in St Petersburg, Russia, a member of the Russian Imperial family. She was among those saved when King George V sent the battleship HMS Marlborough to the Balkans to rescue what was left of the family of the Tsar after the Russian Revolution. Olga was photographed in Tatler magazine and was a lover of fun, high society parties and dancing. She met Evan Morgan and married him in 1939 – but the marriage was never consummated and she divorced Evan in 1943. In the years that followed Olga (who received a settlement from the Tredegar Estate after Evan’s death) lived in London and finally became a part of a small group of upper class British expatriates in Guernsey, CI, where she died in 1998, aged 83. When Tredegar House was bought by Newport Council in 1973, Olga ( who was a regular visitor to the house when it was a Catholic school and retained her title of Viscountess Tredegar) assisted the curators David Beevers and David Freeman in the restoration of the House to its former glory. They've done an exemplary job.

Along with restoring the house and adding a small bookshop to the mill, the gardens have been restored to an equal caliber. The orchard garden has an ornamental/exotic element containing hidden glasshouses, the “priest’s house” and an orchard full of apple trees. The area towards the Gardner’s Cottage was even used to house members of Evan's menagerie. The Orangery houses a variety of fruit trees, herbaceous plants and interesting artefacts but during the 1930’s was used by Evan, not only for his infamous garden parties but also as a place to keep his exotic birds.

Evan died suddenly on the 27th of April 1949. Blue Boy the parrot outlived him.

I have barely scraped the surface of the long and occasionally complicated history of Tredegar House, but no one can argue that it is all devilishly enchanting.


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