Brynkinalt Estate is a hidden jewel in Chirk’s crown. Its caring and compassionate custodians, Iain and Kate Hill-Trevor, offer the Double.LL Team an insight into the world of preserving and enhancing an estate with a glorious heritage
Standing imperiously atop a plateau on land straddling the North Wales/Shropshire border, Brynkinalt Hall is an imposing Grade II* Listed house with a truly majestic backdrop. Ten thousand trees and more provide a protective cwtch around this immaculate property with an impeccable heritage. Chirk Castle might be regarded as the town’s most noteworthy asset, but Brynkinalt is Chirk’s hidden jewel; a precious diamond of a place steeped in the history of the Welsh Marches.
It boasts connections to ancient Welsh princes, Irish kings, English queens,dukes and baronets, wastrels and warriors. Legend has it, the family lineage allegedly traces back to the Roman Emperor, Maximus.
Remarkably, to many who have lived in the area all their lives, it remains anonymous; the coy cousin of the castle. Yet Brynkinalt’s history and the estate’s development is as impressive and fascinating as any historic house in Britain.
The ancestral home of the Trevor family since 942, the current occupants, Iain and Kate Hill-Trevor, are passionate custodians of this stunning estate. Merely a handful of families in the UK can similarly boast such a long and uninterrupted stewardship of an historic family home. And indeed, for all its grandeur, gothic turrets and parapets, stunning Jacobean hall and breath-taking landscape, a family home is what it is to its core.
We are warmly invited into what is essentially the heart of every home, the family kitchen. This one is fantastically large with long, elegant casement windows looking out onto a pretty ornamental garden on one side and an immaculate manicured lawn with gravel drive at the front of the house. Stand here and gasp at the magnificent view across Shropshire and the glorious autumn colours of the vast woodland rising from the steep bank that cuts through the border into Wales.
A plate of Maryland chocolate chip cookies and pots of freshly-made tea and coffee sit waiting on the long kitchen table. We muse quietly that the marble-topped kitchen island is definitely bigger than the dimple roundabout by Chirk station, but otherwise there is nothing flashy or pretentious about the kitchen itself.
In fact, there’s nothing flashy or pretentious about the Hill-Trevors either.
Kate, slim, sparkly-eyed and smiley, sweeps her shoulder length brown hair behind her ear as she pours the tea and explains how she has become Brynkinalt’s de facto “marketeer”. A Science graduate, Kate can be found employing her investigative powers in quite a different sphere these days. “I’ve so enjoyed learning about the house, its history, researching the Trevor family tree and I’ve been especially inspired by the influence Charlotte, Viscountess Dungannon had on its design and development. She was quite a trailblazer for a woman in the early 1800s,” enthuses Kate.
The family also have a number of other notable ancestors in the family including Sir Mark Trevor who was made the 1st Viscount Dungannon by Charles II after handing out a biffing to Oliver Cromwell at the Battle of Marston Moor and Sir John Trevor, the cross eyed grandson of Sir Edward Trevor who built the 1612 element of the house, was Speaker of the House of Commons in the late 1600s.
Clearly warming to her subject, Kate scurries off down the long hallway (a perfect skateboarding alley for the children Iain later reveals) to locate an exquisite artefact discovered behind a secret panel by housekeeping staff several years ago. It is the original design book of Viscountess Charlotte’s notes, sketches, plans and drawings for the house and gardens.
Kate, white-gloved by now, carefully places the large, precariously flimsy in places, sketch book on the kitchen table, and we three marvel at Charlotte’s design, flair and draftsmanship. “Her influence can be found all around the house from architectural features inside and out, to the double walled garden she designed, to artefacts, collectables, furniture pieces and furnishings,” says Kate.
So enamoured were the Hill-Trevors with this force for Brynkinalt good they named their daughter after the Viscountess. “Well, we Christened her Charlotte but she much prefers Lottie,” Kate chuckles. As this hugely likeable woman hits her straps and talks with equal enthusiasm about her love of opening the house and sharing its history through guided tours for pre-booked House visits, parties and local charity events, in breezes Iain. Well, more tornado than breeze.
At Brynkinalt, there’s always something or someone demanding Iain’s attention. This morning it’s his Farm Manager Glyn who’s pressing him for some important contracts to be signed.
Iain quickly picks up where Kate left off. “We have this huge emotional tie to the family home,” he says. “Yes, on the face of it, it’s an important house of note, but Kate and I have always been keen to ensure the children are able to enjoy it as a family home too. We hold the kids’ parties in the house and garden, their friends come and camp in the woods, the hallway outside the kitchen is a fantastic skateboard alley. We’ve never wanted it to feel like a house that isn’t lived in and enjoyed. But we are mindful that we want to retain some privacy too.”
“Look, an historic house and estate like this is an onerous liability, it leaks money. Repair and restoration costs are huge. These windows in the kitchen for example cost £2,000 to replace. It’s a daily battle to keep the business profitable,” says Iain with disarming candour. The naysayers will doubtless mutter ‘diddums, such is a life born into privilege’. But both Iain and Kate have an enormous regard for the role they play in ensuring the estate’s ecological and economic future and work like Trojans to preserve and enhance what is unarguably a vital cog in Chirk’s economy.
The estate provides employment not only to a 14-strong estate management team, but employment opportunities and housing to those who live and work on and in estate land and buildings. Brynkinalt is an integral part of the growing economy around Gledrid, Bank Top Industrial Estate and St. Martins. “Everyone who works here takes enormous pride in playing their part,” adds Iain.
His vision, determination and enthusiasm for the estate is evident as he rattles off the daily tasks and duties to keep the place profitable. His passion for the estate he took over the management of after his father’s passing in 1998 is unquestionable. It’s fascinating to witness the impassioned way he speaks of the long-term vision he holds for Brynkinalt and the importance of flexibility for future generations.
The Brynkinalt estate is so much more than the main house. It boasts 14,000 square foot of rural offices in the Business Centre, 65-75,000 square foot of industrial space, 32 estate houses let out and home to around 75 residents, all set amongst 300 acres of ancient woodland and parkland.
Conservation, enhancement and community are three words that repeatedly crop up throughout our conversation. The pair are incredibly conscious of the importance of social responsibility across everything they do. “We are a business that never makes a profit” Iain declares. “Our liability is so extensive that whatever we do, whatever money we make, it all goes straight back into the estate. We’re not jetting off to the Bahamas first class all the time,” he laughs, “although I suppose some will think we are. It’s a slog, but we love it.
“Everything we do from dawn till dusk is about conservation and restoration,” Iain explains. “Every single thing has to yield more than one benefit.” The duo are currently enhancing the parkland and woodland through carefully managed conservation planting and have recently made the decision to become organic dairy farmers, following the retirement of tenants. Organic farming and the conservation approach of the estate will benefit our wildlife and birds, and clean river.” These enhancements will also benefit the local riding club, whose members are permitted to ride through the estate, as the tracks will be improved.
In the current climate with Britain’s exit from the EU looming ever larger by the day, we can’t help but query the wisdom of the decision to plunge lock, stock and milking parlour into dairy farming.
With typical sure-footedness Iain responds with a refreshing clarity that has been so woefully missing from the whole Brexit issue. “Dairy farming is probably least exposed to world market price fluctuations and is the sector with the best long-term outlook,” he declares confidently. “For us, it’s about trying to iron out the volatility curve. Organic prices have been the most stable in recent years. Yes, this venture will be incredibly capital intensive, but we think the timing is right.”
Already comprising of 180 acres of converted organic land, a further 220 acres will have completed its two-year conversion in December, with a plan to begin conversion of 360 more acres in Spring 2019. “By autumn next year, we will have gone from zero cows to a dairy herd of 340. It is a long process but one we’re thrilled to have begun.”
Iain’s impressive ability to future cast and think strategically is testament to his time at Wye College in London where he achieved a degree in Agricultural Business Management, swiftly followed by a Masters in Rural Estate Management. It was during his time at university that Iain met Kate. She was studying Animal Science at the same university and going on to work in molecular genetics and Animal Nutrition.
The move into organic dairy farming is a project Kate is clearly excited by and provides a fresh opportunity to release her expertise in the field of animal welfare and biochemistry. Her new role as farm secretary is one she is relishing, but that’s not to say she is slowing down on any of her other varied responsibilities.
Kate plays an active role in charitable work, particularly local charities. “We have a policy to put a lot of effort into smaller local charities, especially those that have been affiliated with the family for years,” she explains. “Iain’s parents were great supporters of the Orthopaedic hospital in Gobowen and we’ve continued that alliance with a party for the hospital volunteers and a fund raising launch for the new Horatio’s Garden at the spinal unit. We host regular events for the Clwyd Special Riding Centre and the local branch of the NSPCC and also donate the house free of charge for other charitable functions several times each year and it’s a joy to see others taking pleasure in being here.” The Hill-Trevors firmly consider themselves a Chirk family and strongly support and promote local businesses by shopping in the village and actively encouraging and raising awareness of local ventures – they have been fantastic supporters of Double.LL Magazine!
Active involvement in the local community is of great importance to Iain too. Much of the estate land, and particularly employment land opportunity, is situated in St Martins on the Shropshire side of the estate. Iain has recently redeveloped the Bank Top Industrial Estate. The redevelopment of Gledrid Industrial Estate in the late 1990s benefitted existing businesses including Saxon Heating and ETC and saw others such as Farm & Pet Place, GSF, Castell Howell and Dapol locate to the site.
A recent partnership between Brynkinalt, St Martin’s Secondary School and St Martins Parish Council saw Iain generously donating a significant amount of land for community use. “We’re trying to generate a community enjoyment of our asset with a community responsibility,” he says, revealing he’s provided 15 acres of Brynkinalt land for recreational use for both the school and the community of St Martins. “This provides the opportunity for additional football pitches, a cricket pitch and a hockey pitch too,” he enthuses. “It’s a really exciting community partnership. The aim is to deliver an amazing, truly transformative recreational facility.”
Iain’s dedication to developing and enhancing the area follows in the footsteps of previous generations of the Trevor family who also supported the growth of the community. “My father’s generation provided the original site for the school, and my grandfather’s generation gave land for the community of St Martin’s village, and the doctor’s building too.”
The current family’s vision doesn’t stop there. Iain has also obtained planning consent for 80 new homes to be built in the village of St Martins, partnering with a local building firm to begin in 2019. “The whole country has an urgent need for new homes. This will bring in numerous new families to further extend the resilience, life and economic vibrancy of our local community,” he says. Pressed, he coyly reveals the commercial value of the land donated to the school community is “probably pushing towards a couple of million quid… but that’s if it was for commercial use,” he says almost apologetically.
After two hours in the company of Kate and Iain, we’ve covered hundreds of years, several generations fighting mighty battles and feuds, are brim-full of a fascinating history, exciting futures and delicious chocolate chip cookies.
As we hop back in the car and drive slowly away from the house, we look around in awe and admiration at what this lovely couple, and their hardworking estates team, dedicate their lives to every day. We leave impressed by their extraordinary commitment, energy and generosity. Brynkinalt, and its faithful custodians, are an incredible asset to our community.