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Conwy - Overview

This popular medieval walled town was originally the site of the Cistercian abbey of Aberconwy founded by Llywelyn ap Iorweth in 1199. In 1284, following his conquest of Wales in the English king Edward I established Conwy Castle and its associated walled town and the abbey became the Church of St Mary, the monks moving into a new site at Maenan in the Conwy valley. Five centuries later, the German Prince Herman von Pückler-Muskau visited the church and was amused by the gravestone inscription for Nicholas Hookes who was his father’s forty-first child and had twenty-seven children himself. Under Edward I’s rule, the town was settled by English merchants and craftsmen largely from Cheshire and Lancashire.

Dating from the fifteenth century, Aberconwy House is the only surviving example of the typical merchant houses built within the city walls. In 1401, two of Owain Glyndŵr’s cousins infiltrated the town and held it under siege for four months. During the occupation, they managed to destroy the bridges and gates along the town walls.

During the Tudor period, more Welsh families settled inside the city walls. Among them were the rich merchant Robert Wynn and his family. Over the course of three construction periods between 1576 and 1585 he built his great townhouse, Plas Mawr. Although it ceased to be used as a family house by the late seventeenth century, the building remained largely intact. For a time, Plas Mawr served as sublet tenement, as a girls’ school and, by the 1880s, as the home of the Royal Academy of Art. When the adventuress and travel writer Sophie Döhner, from Hamburg, visited the exhibition rooms, she was full of praise for the quality of modern Welsh painting as well as the long history attached to the building.

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This website was developed by a team of researchers and academics across a range of institutions and funded by the AHRC.

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