Description: Mathern Palace
Date Listed: 10 June 1953
Cadw Building ID: 2007
OS Grid Coordinates: 352290, 190821
Latitude/Longitude: 51.6137, -2.6891
In the centre of Mathern village about 50m south west of the Church of St Tewdric.
The surviving portions of the medieval palace of the Bishops of Llandaff date from the late C14 or early C15 when it is said to have been built by John de la Zouch (Bishop 1408-1423) and was added to in the late C15 and early C16 by John Marshall (Bishop 1478-96). The Bishop moved out to Moynes Court (qv) in 1610, despite this Edward and Thomas Woodward are recorded as having done repairs to the Palace in the 1730s, and the building continued in ecclesiastical use until 1763 when the Bishop removed permanently to Cardiff. It was rented out during this period and declined into a farmhouse with the buildings adapted for agricultural use. Some of the buildings in the courtyard must have been demolished at this period as well. The diocese eventually sold the building in 1889. It was purchased by H Avray Tipping in 1894 and he refurbished and improved it with the help of his architect, Eric Francis of Chepstow, in the period up to about 1900. He lived in the house until 1912 when he removed to Mounton House (qv), but he continued to own it until 1922 when it and Mounton House were passed to Colonel Holden and he went to live at High Glanau in Mitcheltroy Community (qv). It was purchased in 1957 by Richard Thomas and Baldwin of the Llanwern steelworks and thus passed to British Steel on nationalisation in 1965. It continues to be owned by British Steel plc who use it as a hospitality centre for customers and executives, and it has been fully modernised and refurbished for this purpose during the early 1990s.
The interior of the palace is mostly C16 but has been so heavily overlaid firstly by the Arts and Crafts manner of Avray Tipping and Eric Francis in the 1890s, and then by corporate interior design for British Steel in the 1990s, that the original features are hard to recognise; while nearly all the bedrooms have been given en-suite facilities which often use medieval closets appropriately, but rather disguise their features, or sometimes change the proportions of the rooms.
The Dining Room has an C18 marble fireplace in the Adam style which was probably introduced by Tipping. The Parlour has a C16 roll moulded ceiling, and a Tudor type fireplace which may be Tipping. The Billiard Room has ovolo mouldings on the inner faces of the windows, probably Tipping. The kitchen has a medieval lancet in the larder. The original tower staircase retains its stone spiral. The present main staircase appears late Victorian, perhaps by Tipping. It has a late C17 type splat baluster rail. The ceiling above this appears to be supported on the range to the south, but this may mean no more than a Victorian alteration. Several of the bedroooms have C16 doorways and fireplaces. The Avray Tipping room has blue Arts and Crafts panelling. The William Burges Room is said to have been used by Burges and is furnished with appropriate reproductions. The Bishop de la Zouch Room has windows with hollow chamfers and Tipping panelling. It also has C17 chamfered ceiling beams with bar-and-runout stops. The Bishop Marshall Room has chamfered beams with a plain runout. The only part of the roof structure in the main house available for inspection was that over the main staircase, this has a queen strut of apparently C17 date. The roof of the granary can also be seen in one of the bedrooms, this is C19.
The palace is built of local rubble stone, mostly of a yellow hue, and has stone tile roofs, with some sections of pantiles. The plan was the quadrangular form, traditional in the late Middle Ages both for important houses and institutions such as schools, but what survives today is the entrance tower in the centre of the north east range, about half of the north west range which was extended again in c1900 and the north east corner block of the south east range. In addition to this are the granary, once the Bishop's chapel attached to the north west corner, and the kitchen and service wing at the north east corner and stretching to the east. It is difficult to describe as several portions of the building are much obscured by foliage. The description goes anti-clockwise from the entrance tower.
The entrance front has a tall tower which incorporates the main hall stack and has clearly been considerably heightened, perhaps by 3 or 4m, during the Tipping period of occupation (1894-1912). The tower is roughly square with a slight taper and contains the main wheel stair, it has four slit windows at different levels. It rises to a plain parapet with no roof visible. The hall stack is attached on the left and this rises slightly higher than the tower. To the right of this is the main entrance in a 3-centred arch. This was originally a carriage entrance into the courtyard, but now has a large panelled door, perhaps of the Tipping period. This is a three storey block and it has a two storeyed canted oriel above the entrance with 1 + 2 + 1 lights with 2-centred heads in rectangular frames and diamond lattice windows. The apron of the lower one has a carved cartouche which looks like half an orange and is the emblem of Bishop John Marshall; there are two small closet wndows to the right of this and two more in the return. The next set back section is one bay with 2-light windows as before on each floor and a gabled return to the right. Attached to this is another range which appears to be older in detail although the interior roof detail seems to suggest that it has been added to the already described range. This range has its gable to the front and has windows which appear to be c1400 and presumably the original build of Bishop John de la Zouch's time. First comes a tall lancet with one trefoil headed light above another. This is the window of the current main staircase which is Victorian and presumably the window is two medieval ones reset at that time. Then comes a 2-light mullion and transom window, all four lights have trefoil heads. A very small 2-light trefoil headed window is in the gable above. The return wall of this range has a 2-light c1900 window, ridge stack behind. Next comes a single storey wing with a granary over a cider cellar. This is said to be a C19 conversion of the Bishop's chapel. Door up a small flight of steps, single gabled half dormer with modern casement to right.
The first section of the rear elevation is a wing projecting to the south west. This range has two storeys and attic and appears to be early C16 and has 3 and 4-light stone mullioned windows, but it is so much obscured by Virginia creeper, particularly on the courtyard side that the details are hard to see. The range has been extended by Tipping and there are characteristic 3 and 4-light oak mullioned windows with leaded lattices which he and Eric Francis used at his other houses at Mounton House (qv) and High Glanau in Mitcheltroy Community (qv). The extension is in the form of a summer sitting-room with the main room on the upper floor with continuous oak mullioned glazing round three sides and a gabled roof with a boarded gable. The ground floor is in stone and has a door with a bracketted hood and a 3-light lattice casement. There is a tall stack on the main range. The rear elevation of the entrance tower is of two bays. The ground floor has a 2-light casement with 2-centred heads in a recessed frame and an arch as on the front elevation, but with glazed doors. The first floor has a 2-light window and a 4-light one over the door, the second floor has two 2-light windows. The roof is hipped to the right and has a centre ridge stack and a left gable one. The range to the right of this has a 4-light window on each floor and then the roof comes forward in a pantiled continuation of the same slope, but again the windows are obscured, there is a 4-light one on the ground floor. The kitchen and service wing now joins and this section has mostly oak windows of the Tipping period. The end gable of the house on the north east side has a 4-light window on either floor, the lower one with a flat head, the upper one with a 2-centred head and a combination of two 2-light windows with a king mullion. This returns to an outside stone stair over an arched doorway into the service end. This rises to a small doorway, now a window, and a Tipping 2-light window. The main range returns to the entrance tower with a 4-light window below and a single light and a 4-light one above. Finally the hall stack and once again the stair tower.
Reason for Listing
Included and highly graded as an exceptionally important and historically interesting late medieval Palace of the Bishops of Llandaff from the C15 to the C18 and as one of the homes of the important antiquarian and editor of "Country Life" H Avray Tipping from 1894-1912.
Sir Joseph Bradney, A History of Monmouthshire, Vol IV, The Hundred of Caldicot, Merton Priory Press, 1994 (reprint of original 1933 edition).
Howard Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840, Yale, 3rd ed. 1995, p 1080.
E T Davies, A History of the Parish of Mathern, Mathern P.C.C., 1990.
RCAHMW, Building Report, Aberystwyth.
Cadw/IcomosUK, Register of Landscapes, Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in Wales, Gwent, Part 1, 1994.
In the centre of Mathern village about 50m south west of the Church of St Tewdric.
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.