April 13, 2024

£500K appeal to save historic hotel which staged the first Eisteddfod

Members of Corwen Partnership who plan to turn the historic Owain Gyndwr Hotel in the town into a community enterprise, from left, Secretary Helen Counsell, Lisa Carson, Tish Aldridge, Denbighshire County Councillor Alan Hughes, Steve Bennett, Dylan Jones and Chairman David Counsell. Picture by Mandy Jones Photography.

A £500,000 appeal has been launched to save one of Wales’s most famous hotels and transform it into a community enterprise.

The Owain Glyndwr Hotel – site of the first National Eisteddfod – stands on Corwen’s London Road, the historic A5 from London to Holyhead, which has carried Roman Legions, horse-drawn mail coaches, Irish MPs and holidaymakers for almost 2,000 years.

The Corwen Partnership has been formed to raise enough money from a share issue to buy the Grade Two-listed building in the town centre and invest a further £200,000 in updating the property.

In a race against time they are issuing a plea to local people to snap up the 2,500 £200 shares and save the building by the deadline for the sale on July 1.

The hotel is one of just eight remaining coaching inns on the A5 and owner and local man Ifor Sion, who has kept the hotel going for the past 25 years and backs the plans, is offering it for a knockdown £300,000.

The Partnership has the full support of Corwen Town Council, Cadwyn Clwyd, South Denbighshire Community Partnership and many local businesses and stakeholders in its aims to deliver the property into community ownership.

Partnership Chair and local resident David Counsell leads the group which plans to launch its appeal with the share issue at five days of events on St David’s Day and he said: “The big driver for us is seeing what’s happened to similar hotels which have ended up boarded up and derelict.

“It would be an absolute disaster for the town if that happened to the OG as it is affectionately known. Corwen has suffered badly in recent years with local pubs and businesses closing.

“We hope that by buying the hotel as a community, we can reverse this trend, turn it into a popular destination again, and with the imminent return of the Llangollen and Corwen Railway, we will be able to welcome more visitors and put Corwen back on the map.”

The group plans to launch its appeal with a share issue during five days of community events at the hotel, starting on St David’s Day – Wednesday, March 1.

These will include activities and entertainment aimed at engaging with local people, businesses, sports clubs and organisations to promote the building and share ideas for its future.

Tours of the hotel will be available to appreciate its potential – with 15 en-suite bedrooms, function rooms, bars, kitchens and cellars, the organisers believe it has the makings of a thriving community hub.

The Partnership has set up the Owain Glyndwr Community Hotel Ltd as a Community Benefit Society and is to issue half a million pounds in £200 shares, with a maximum stake holding of £50,000. One vote is allocated to each shareholder, irrespective of the number of shares.

David Counsell added: “There are about 100 pubs in community ownership across the UK, many of them in smaller towns and villages than Corwen and only one of them has gone out of business during Covid so we believe there is a future for the Owain Glyndwr.

“It’s a very robust business model and not one that’s out to make a massive profit, but whatever profit it does make will go back into the community and we believe it could make over £100,000 a year.

“No one will make a profit from their shares, it’s more about making an investment in the future reinvigoration of the town alongside the railway.

“We see the future OG as more than just a pub.  We want to make it a focal point and hub for the whole community.

“The £500,000 will more than cover the asking price, and £100,000 on necessary works that need to be carried out during the first 6 to 12 months.

“Afterwards we hope to take advantage of grants and profits to improve the property taking particular account of improving access and environmental sustainability. We plan to use local businesses and volunteers as much as possible.

“The Owain Glyndwr would be one of the biggest community-owned pubs in the country – the building is basically sound and we were all surprised at what good condition it is in, but we only have until July to buy it.”

The hotel dominates the centre of the town and stands opposite the statue of Owain Glyndwr, the last native Prince of Wales, who would have known it and Corwen well.

The rear of the hotel dates back to 1329, so it is therefore likely that Owain Glyndwr, born five miles east in Glyndyfrdwy in 1354, could indeed have passed or even entered the building.

Even then it is likely that monks at the nearby parish church of Saint Mael and Saint Sulien, first mentioned in chronicles 800 years ago, would have brewed beer there.

According to local historian and Partnership member Dylan Jones, by the 18th century the building was referred to as the New Inn and the frontage dates from the early 1700s but by 1824 it was advertised as the Owen Glendower Hotel and owned by Francis Clarke.

In 1789 the inn was the site of the first public eisteddfod, the brainchild of local man Thomas Jones with the approval of the Gwyneddigion Society, a cultural group of Welsh exiles living in London.

Dylan said: “The Eisteddfod was not without controversy, with the organiser tipping off one of the competing poets, giving him the subject of the prose prior to the competition.

“The favourite, Gwallter Mechain, won, of course, much to the disgust of all other competitors, including the celebrated Twm o’r Nant, and accusations of cheating nearly lead to a dual between supporters, one of whom was Captain Cook’s surgeon, David Samwell, from Nantglyn, Twm’s sponsor.”

For more information on the Owain Glyndwr Hotel and the campaign to save it go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/597758811573323