Grant for Gelli Aur Breathes New Life into Restoration Dream
Gate open! Almost £1 million from the Welsh Government, thanks to persuasion by Rhodri Glyn Thomas, assembly member for Carmarthen East & Dinefwr, means that once again the public can walk the nature trails of Gelli Aur Country Park, Golden Grove, while the rest of the park is restored.
The café has to be improved before it can reopen, and as yet the famed arboretum is too overgrown for the public to have access.
The grant, to the Golden Grove Trust, comes at the eleventh hour for the country park, in the neglected grounds of Golden Grove mansion, which has been empty since vacated by Carmarthenshire’s agricultural college in 2003. A company called Harmoni Developments thought about converting the mansion into a hotel, but got no further than thinking. Maybe flats? Two developers with this possibility in mind bought the property in succession, in 2007 and 2009. Perhaps a convalescent home for wounded service personnel? Not that either. The property passed next to the Golden Grove Trust, which was set up in August 2011 to save the house. By this time lead had been removed from the roof, and the interior was badly decayed, as these photos show only too clearly. Since 2011 roof renewal has been a priority, but not enough money was forthcoming to restore the parkland.
The trust itself has lost two of the original three directors, William Powell Wilkins (who was a crucial influence in the restoration of Aberglasney Gardens) and Lady Jane Frances Birt. The remaining director, Richard Christopher Salmon, is an art dealer and historian with a gallery in West London, and he is joined on the board by Bahram Ansari Eshlaghi, a consultant in Middle Eastern studies, with a smart address in Chelsea. The trust has been teetering on the verge of being struck off the register because it has not yet submitted accounts, and today is still listed as subject to a strike-off proposal. The two directors have now set up, in June this year, a commercial private limited company, Golden Grove Ventures Ltd, about which very little is in the public domain because it will not have to file any accounts until March 2017.
The country park is now open on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays between 9am and 5pm, when the gate is locked for the night. Car parking is free while essential restoration works are in progress.
So, well done the Welsh Government and Rhodri Glyn Thomas – backed by local county councillor Cefin Campbell — for supporting the survival of this historic, irreplaceable house and landscape.