Van Mansion is a Grade II listed building situated off Van Road in Caerphilly. It is bathed by history and sits high on a hill overlooking Caerphilly, Bedwas and the surrounding areas boasting magnificent views. It is currently a private residence and not open to the public but offers a place in history for all to share and enjoy.
As part of our school topic in the Spring term we learnt about the Tudors. As Van Mansion was built and extended mainly in the Tudor period we thought about how life would be for the Lewis family.
Around 1578 and as a sign of their wealth, power and status the Lewis family had a large Dove cote or columbarium erected to the North of the mansion in the field known as Cae Colomendy. The rich believed it a great honour to breed pigeons and had to apply for a license to be able to do so. The dovecote was, at one time, the largest in the county and the roof remained in tact until 1947 when a harsh winter saw it collapse. It has since been restored and still stands as a monument and reminder of its history.
William Campden was lucky enough to stay at Van Mansion for six weeks on one occasion and was treated to a fine banquet of pigeon, mutton, pheasant and deer provided from the Van Mansion estate. The Dovecote had a 1000 nesting homes and an enclosed deer park had been built within Van Park to supply such meals.
These photographs show the Dovecote in ruins and what it would be like inside the building.
The Mystery of the Van Mansion Tunnels
There are many rumours of tunnels leading from Caerphilly Castle to Van mansion. This photograph could be one of the reasons people think that this is true. The rivers look like tunnels.
There was a tunnel however that led from Van Mansion to the River Rhymney. It was known as a Priest hole and used as an escape tunnel for the Catholic priests who were on the run from the newly formed Protestant religion. The Lewis family and many families from this area were still Catholics even though Henry VIII had changed over faiths in order to marry Anne Boleyn.
Sir Edward Lewis of Van (the grandson of the first Edward Lewis) was fond of the Eisteddfod celebrations and a patron of a well known bard called Meyrick David. Meyrick David even wrote a book about bardism and dedicated it to his master. There is a record of an Eisteddfod being held at Van Mansion in 1580. Eisteddfods were later held in Caerphilly Castle and continued the traditional celebrations of poetry, music and dance. It would be lovely to think that the Lewis family were responsible for promoting and encouraging the continuation of the Eisteddfods that happen today.
The Lewis's were also patrons of the harp and had a resident harpist, William Jones, at Van Mansion. William Jones once played before George III and was the father of the composer of the Caerphilly March.
At a gathering a bard once wrote:
Ni dawnsior goreu'n Ngymru
Yw Syr Charles o Gefnmabli
A Thomas Lewis gwych a'r Fan
A Syr John Carne o'r weni.
Us the best dancers in Wales
Sir Charles from Cefn Mably
and Thomas Lewis from the Great Van
and Sir John Carne from Ewenny
These words became well know throughout Glamorgan and were probably sang in many a gathering.
This photograph shows the Bardic chair of Morgannwg that was won by Meyrick David in the Eisteddfod hosted by the Lewis family in Van Mansion. The chair is said to have been saved from destruction when a portion of Van Mansion was pulled down in the 17th Century. It is now in the possession of the Rev John Evans, son of the famous historian Mr Evan Evans who received it from one of the Plymouth family.
Photograph showing traditional harps at Caerphilly Castle in 1880.
The cultures of Wales were celebrated during the Eisteddfod and this would have included recorder playing, harps, poetry and dancing. In the reign of Henry VIII, we discovered that he was a keen recorder player and used to enjoy making his own music.
Click on HenryVIII to hear a famous Tudor piece of music called Greensleeves.
Our class have been learning to play the recorder and Mrs Rees taught us how to play some of the Greensleeves tune.
There would have been poetry recitals from many a Bard in the Eisteddfod of Van Mansion so please listen to Madison reciting our Year 3 poem about a dog, called "Dwi'n eisiau bod yn gi"
Law and Order
No less than 16 members of The Lewis family held the important title of Sheriff of Glamorgan. Edward Lewis was Sheriff in 1548, 1555 and 1559. His son Thomas Lewis was Sheriff in 1569 and also 1587. This meant that they were responsible for royalty and looked after the King or Queens interests. Sheriffs would be the first contact for a Royal visit. It was an administrative role but also meant that they had some say in punishments and crimes which were very rife in Caerphilly and other parts of Wales.
Watch our interview with Thomas Lewis as Sheriff of Glamorgan. An accused peasant is pleading her case of why she shouldnt recieve one of the harsh punishments of the time. Will she be found Guity or Not Guilty?
Not all the Lewis family were good citizens. Thomas Lewis, the son of the second Edward Lewis was part of a rebellion and was fined £10,000 for taking part. He was lucky as many of the other people who took part were executed. To pay for it, Thomas Lewis had to sell a property in Merthyr Tydfil.
It has been recorded that some of the Glamorgan gentry including Thomas Lewis of the Van stored pirates treasures in his many houses and in 1577 Callice, a captured pirate confirmed that Thomas Lewis was indeed involved in pirate activities. Being a pirate commissioner he was able to release 12 pirates in return for payment!
The New Van Mansion
After 1730 the house passed with the marriage of Elizabeth Lewis to the third Earl of Pymouth and remained part of the Plymouth Estate until 1991. It was rented out to various tenants and was not looked after so the house became neglected. From greatness to ruins, Van Mansion has seen it all. It became a listed building due to 'remains of a Tudor walled and terraced garden attached to an important house of the period.' Building of the new Van Mansion started in the late 1900's to the building that we can see today. It now has new owners and begins its own future history.
By the late 18th Century, Van Mansion was neglected and lay in ruins. Many people such as Rob Lawrence (Mrs Hopkin's uncle) remembers going up there to play in the barns. He remembers there being lots of stone and a shell of a large house. People would take their dogs for a walk and enjoy the amazing views and children would enjoying exploring the ruins.
Click on Van Mansion to see a film made of the inside of the house. With kind permission from Cardiff Residential Estates