Hensol Castle is a castellated mansion in the Gothic style dating from the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century. It is located in the parish of Pendoylan (Welsh: Pendeulwyn) in the Vale of Glamorgan, Wales. It is a Grade 1 listed building.
This substantially extended mansion is something of an archaeological puzzle. The South range, came first. In 1735, William Talbot, Member of Parliament and later Baron Talbot of Hensol, added the east and west wings. Their gothic style is a very early example of the Gothic revival in Britain. Samuel Richardson transformed the south front in the late 18th or early 19th century. In the 1840s Rowland Fothergill employed T.H. Wyatt & David Brandon to improve the property. They extended the house to the north, remodelled the battlements and added the off-centre window bay to the south front. The interior is classical in style of various different dates.
The Hensol estate dates from at least 1419. It was owned by the Jenkins family in the seventeenth century.
The 1670 Hearth Tax return shows that the Hensol mansion of that time possessed 18 hearths. It is unclear whether David Jenkins (1582-1663), the famous judge, was born at Hensol, but he was probably brought up in Pendoylan, for he is described in the records of Gray’s Inn as “son of Jenkin Richard of the parish of Pendilion, gent.” He was described in old documents as “Counsellor at Law, and one of the judges of the Western Circuit in the reign of King Charles I”. Judge Jenkins was a man of great force of character and some eccentricity, named “Heart of Oak” and “Pillar of the Law”. Being a staunch royalist, he took an active part against the Parliamentarians, during the Civil War, condeming several to death for activities deemed treasonable. was captured at either Hereford or Oxford in 1645 and sent to the Tower of London. He refused to kneel at the bar of the House of Commons and was fined £1,000 for his contempt. He was impeached for high treason, and when an act was passed for his trial, he met it with a declaration that he would “die with the Bible under one arm and Magna Carta under the other”. After the restoration of the monarchy under King Charles II, he was liberated in 1656 and returned to his estate in Glamorgan where he subsequently died and was buried at Cowbridge. His wife, Cecil was daughter of Sir Thomas Aubrey, of Llantrithyd.
Judge Jenkins’ son, David Jenkins was described as being “of Hensol” when he was Sheriff of Glamorgan in 1685. This David Jenkins married Mary, daughter of Edward Pritchard of Llancaiach. They had a son, Richard and a daughter, Cecil who married Charles Mathew of Castell Mynach. They in turn had a daughter, Cecil.
An annual assembly of the bards was for many years held under the auspices of the Jenkins family in the adjoining parish of Ystrad Owen, until the death of Richard Jenkins who was a warm admirer of Welsh poetry and music, and a good performer on the harp.
The Jenkins male line became extinct with Richard Jenkins’ death in 1721 and the estate passed to Charles Talbot (1685-1737) though his marriage with the Jenkins heiress, Cecil, daughter of Richard Jenkins’ sister, Cecil, and Charles Mathew of Castell Mynach. The Talbot family had come into Glamorgan through the marriage of John Ivory Talbot of Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire, with Mary, daughter of Thomas Mansel, Lord Mansel of Margam, Glamorgan. John Ivory Talbot’s daughter inherited Laycock Abbey. Her son, William Davenport Talbot, was the father of William Henry Fox Talbot of photographic fame.
Charles Talbot served in Robert Walpole’s government becoming Lord Chancellor in 1733 and taking the title Baron Talbot of Hensol in 1723. Charles Talbot’s son, William was elected Member of Parliament for Glamorgan in 1734. His opponent, Bussy Mansel of Margam (later Lord Mansel) contested the result despite having initially received 823 votes against Talbot’s 678; but 247 were struck off from Mansel, and only 21 from Talbot. The sheriff, William Basset of Miskin, was accused of great partiality. Charles Talbot died in February 1736/37, William becoming the 2nd Baron Talbot. Bussy Mansel was then elected MP. William Talbot became Earl Talbot in 1761. A large tablet inside the north wall of Pendoylan Parish Church commemorates a gift of £50 from Earl Talbot, the interest of which was to be given to the poor of Pendoylan. In 1770 it was matched by a further £50 given by Philip John, and in 1871, a row of six charity houses were built which stand as Church Row to this day.
The present house was either newly built, or was an extensive remodelling of the manor of the Jenkins family, in around 1735. In 1780, William Talbot was created Baron Dynevor with a special remainder in favour of his only child, a daughter, Cecil Rice, and “the heirs male of her body”. She had married George Rice of Newtown (later called Dynevor Castle). In 1782 William Talbot died, the Earldom became extinct, and the baronry of Talbot of Hensol passed to his nephew, John Chetwynd Talbot (1749-1793). The title Baron Hensol is still held by the Earl of Shrewsbury, the premier earl in England and Ireland.
Around 1790 the estate was purchased by Samuel Richardson, who modified the south front of the house, and who in 1798 was Sherriff of Glamorgan. He was a pioneer in agriculture and made many improvements to the Hensol estate, including land drainage and introducing the threshing machine.
Samuel Richardson died in 1815, and Hensol was purchased by Benjamin Hall (1778-1817), son of Dr Benjamin Hall (1742-1825) Chancellor of the diocese of Llandaff. Benjamin Hall had married Charlotte Crawshay, second daughter of Richard Crawshay, ironmaster of Cyfarthfa, in 1801 and had been elected MP in 1806. Their first son was another Benjamin Hall (1802-1867) and he also became an MP, was made baronet in 1838 and in 1859 became Baron Lanover. He campaigned against the abuse of parliamentary election expenses and championed the right of people in Wales to have religious services in Welsh. He also engaged in bitter controversy with the bishops on the state of the anglican church in Wales and made attacks on the shameless exploitation of church revenues, complaining of unbounded nepotism. In 1855, as Sir Benjamin Hall, he introduced an Act of Parliament which led to the establishment of the Metropolitan Board of Works. He became its first Chief Commissioner of Works and was responsible for many environmental and sanitary improvements in London. He oversaw the later stages of the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament, including the installation of the 13.8-tonne hour bell, “Big Ben”, in the clock tower. He was a tall man and many attribute its name to him, but this is questionable.
Following the early death of the second Benjamin Hall in 1817, the “Iron King” of Merthyr Tydfil William Crawshay II (1788-1867), who later built Cyfarthfa Castle, leased and subsequently bought the property.
Another ironmaster, Rowland Fothergill of Abernant bought Hensol in 1838, and soon remodeled it. He was Sheriff of Glamorgan in 1850. On the death of Rowland Fothergill in 1871 the estate passed to his unmarried sister, Mary. She built and endowed a new school building for Pendoylan in his memory in 1873. On her death in 1887 Hensol passed to her sister Ann Tarleton (Fothergill) who died there in 1896, the estate passing to her granddaughter, Lady Price Fothergill, wife of Sir Rose Lambart Price. In 1927 their son Sir Francis Carodoc Rose Price sold the estate of 1,105 acres to Glamorgan County Council for the sum of £36,500 for use as a County mental hospital. Part of the estate was divided up into smallholdings.
Hensol hospital was opened in 1930 as a “colony” for 100 men with learning disabilities. New blocks were built in the grounds in 1935 to accommodate up to 460 men, women and children. Further building and expansion took place with the advent of the National Health Service in 1948. Latterly in the 20th century, the house became a conference centre and the patients were moved into the community, the hospital closing in 2003.
The castle and grounds were bought in 2003 by local businessman and supporter of sport in Wales, Gerald Leeke, chairman of the Leekes group of companies who had previously built the 145-bed Vale of Glamorgan Hotel, Golf and Spa Resort on adjacent land. Planning permission has been granted for the house to be converted into a five-star hotel and spa. Hensol Castle was used to film scenes set in 10 Downing Street for the BBC television Doctor Who episode "Aliens of London".