Piercefield

Piercefield (also known as Persfield, Percefield, Piersfield) and the Windcliff (Wyndcliff)

This page was revised on 2nd March, 2019

Piercefield House in about 1920

 

 

 

 

 

‘Piercefield House, from the gardens’  1817

John Skinner ms., Vol. XIV.  Journal of sixteen excursions to various places in Somerset, etc,

© British Library Board, Add MS 33646, f. 159, image 22

 

 

 

 

 

The German Prince Puckler-Muskau, writing to his dear friend Julia, was perhaps one of the most effusive in his brief summary of Piercefield.
Piercefield Park, which includes the ridge of hills from Wind-cliff to Chepstow, is therefore without question the finest in England, at least for situation. It possesses all that Nature can bestow; lofty trees, magnificent rocks, the most fertile soil, a mild climate favourable to vegetation of every kind, a clear foaming stream, the vicinity of the sea, solitude, and, from the bosom of its own tranquil seclusion, a view into the rich country I have described, which receives a lofty interest from a ruin the most sublime that the imagination of the finest painter could conceive,—I mean Chepstow Castle.
Prince Puckler-Muskau, Tour in England, Ireland, and France, in the years 1828 & 1829: by a German Prince, vol. 2, (London, 1832), pp. 190-192; Tour in England, Ireland, and France in the years 1828, 1829, 1832, (Philadelphia 1833), pp, 526-527;

This page includes extracts from all the known descriptions of Piercefield arranged by subject.
They are arranged in chronological order under the names of the relevant owners:
Valentine Morris II (1727-1789), owned the estate 1743-1784
George Smith ( – ) owned the estate c. 1783-1794
Colonel Mark Wood (1750-1829) owned the estate 1794-1802
Nathaniel Wells (1779 – 1852) owned the estate 1802-1852
Subsequent owners

For a helpful leaflet describing a walk through Piercefield see Wye Valley, Picturesque Piercefield, (Wye Valley AONB, 2012)
A detailed description of the remains of the main features (other than the house, gardens and buildings associated with them) may be found in Ken Murphy, The Piercefield Walks and Associated Picturesque Landscape Features: An Archaeological Survey, (Cambria Archaeology, 2005), 56pp.
[Clicking on these will automatically down-load a copy]

  • Introduction
  • Primary Sources
    • Published
    • Manuscripts
  • Numbers of Visitors
  • Background
  • Ownership of the Estate
  • The House
  • Development of the Estate
  • Access to the House and Grounds
    • guides
  • The end of Piercefield as an attraction
  • Illustrations
  • Recent publications

For descriptions by visitors of all of the features on the site see Piercefield features.

INTRODUCTION

These pages include nearly 220 references to Piercefield, 1756-1900, several of them extensive (for example, the third edition of Anon, A Guide to the Town and Neighbourhood of Chepstow contains descriptions of Piercefield and Windcliff and a history of some of the inhabitants comprising over 6,000 words). 70 of these references are from mostly brief manuscript sources but there are a few exceptions, some of which appear to have been previously unknown. They are transcribed in full on other pages (forthcoming). It is likely that there are other descriptions and illustrations of the site which have not yet been identified.

This page includes some descriptions of the Windcliff which was on the edge of Piercefield park until the turnpike road from St Arvans to Tintern, built in the 1820s, separated the two. Windcliff, with Moss Cottage at its base were generally open, possibly every day, from about 1826.

Compiling these extracts has partly been an exercise in finding out just how much information about a particular site was available to tourists from the mid-18th century and how much of that was reproduced from earlier publications, (whether it was accurate or not). It is also worth exploring the variations in way language was used to describe the site, some poetic, others very prosaic and how the language changed with time.

Piercefield was exceptional as a Welsh attraction, partly because it was popular from an early date (being on the fashionable Wye tour including Tintern which was described in many of the guidebooks listed below) and partly because it was close to Bristol and Bath. The other really popular site of this type in Wales was Hafod in Cardiganshire (Ceredigion).

This page also includes references to pictures of the site and house, of which surprisingly few are known.

All available editions of guide books have been noted, but there are gaps: as is usual with guidebooks, the date of publication of the various editions are not always included in the publications (sometimes to hide the fact that they may be out of date) and not all editions are easily available, so in some cases, the first and other editions have not been found (or dated).

As a result of multiple editions of guide books and acknowledged and unacknowledged quotations from earlier publications there is a great deal of repetition in the following extracts. Some work still needs to be done to identify which details were added or excluded in each new edition or quotation.

Published descriptions

Several of the published descriptions were repeated extensively in later guide books but not always cited. Among these were:
Whately, Thomas, Observations on Modern Gardening, (1770)
Gilpin, William, (1724-1804), Observations on the River Wye and Several Parts of South Wales, etc. relative chiefly to Picturesque Beauty; made in the Summer of the Year 1770. This was written in 1770 and two manuscript versions are known, one in the NLW; the other in the Bodleian Library, both of which have slightly different text to the printed version dated 1782 but not actually published until 1783; 2nd edition, 1789, pp. 55-58; 3rd edition, 1793; 4th edition, 1800; 5th edition 1800. There were also editions printed in French.
Heath, Charles, Descriptive Accounts of Persfield and Chepstow, including Caerwent and the Passages; also the Road to Bristol and Glocester; interspersed with local and interesting Particulars, selected from the most admired Writers, viz. Young, Wyndham, Wheatley [Whately, Observations on Modern Gardening, 1770], Shaw, Grose, &c. being the Continuation of a Design for publishing, in like manner, an Account of the most interesting Places in the County, (1793) and subsequent editions.
Heath, Charles, Historical and descriptive accounts of the ancient and present state of Chepstow Castle, including Persfield …: Collected from original papers and unquestionable authorities (1801) [and 7 other edition up to 1821]
[Charles Heath included Persfield in a number of his other guide books. Many of his publications had no page numbers.]
Coxe, William, An Historical Tour in Monmouthshire, (1801)
Willett, Mark, An Excursion from the Source of the Wye, (1810) and other works by him containing similar texts.
Evans, John, Remains of William Reed, Late of Thornbury; Including Rambles in Ireland, with other Compositions in prose, His Correspondence, and Poetical Productions, (London, 1815)
Fosbroke, Thomas Dudley
, The Wye Tour, or Gilpin on the Wye, (1818, 1822, 1826, 1834 (enlarged), 1837, 1842, 1855)

Important manuscript descriptions (some published recently)

A few manuscript descriptions have been quoted in publications about Piercefield, but some of them have not been fully transcribed elsewhere. Full transcriptions appear below including:
1763
A long letter to Henry Thomas Payne’s father, from a friend who had just visited it.
In ‘Recollections of Two Excursions from Llanbedr to Ross, with the Navigation of the River Wye to Chepstow, and a Walk to Persfield. Returning by Newport, Caerphilly, Cardiff, Merthyr-Tidvael and Brecknock, by Mary Payne, 1807, Vol. 1’. (In the hand-writing of and almost certainly written by H. T. Payne). Powys Archives, Llandrindod, A104/1/2(1), pp. 100-105, followed by comments (see below).
1769
James Bucknall Grimston, (3rd Viscount Grimston,1747-1808), Hertfordshire Record Office (St Albans), MS D/EVY15-19; full transcription in Report on the manuscripts of the Earl of Gorhambury, Historic Monuments Commission Report, (HMSO, 1906), p. 252
1770
Manuscript version of Gilpin’s ‘Observations on the River Wye …’ said to be in the hand of John ‘Warwick’ Smith (who was one of Gilpin’s pupils and might have accompanied him on the tour), with annotations said to be in the hand of Gilpin. This version is very similar, but not identical to, the published version. Thomas Gray, the poet, saw this version shortly before his death in 1771. NLW ms 21630. There is another ms. version in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.
1776
Fisher, Jabez Maud, Morgan, Kenneth, (editor), An American Quaker in the British Isles: the travel journals of Jabez Maud Fisher, 1775-1779, (1992), p. 205
1786
Cooper, Anne, (1763?-1804), Journal of a tour down the Wye, MDCCLXXXVI, 1786 May 29-June 1, Yale centre for British Art, DA670.W97 C66 There is another copy in Chepstow Museum
1790
Nicholson, Frances, diary, NLW MS15190C, (typescript)
1796
Williams, William, (1774-1839) and Burgess, James, Rev (1774-1839), J. B. jnr and W. W. ‘A Pedestrian Tour thro Wales in 1796’ / ‘The Journal of my grandfather, William Williams with the Rev James Burgess in Wales, in 1796’. NLW MS 23253 C, ff. 8-11
1796 (or earlier)
Anon, Untitled volume, description of Wales, (said to be by Sir Richard Colt Hoare, but this is unlikely), NLW MS 16988, ff. 324-328 (original folio numbers)

NUMBERS OF VISITORS

As with other attractions in Wales during the 18th and 19th centuries, it is impossible to calculate the number of visitors to Piercefield. Sadly, the location of the visitors’ books kept at one of the lodges is unknown (very few visitors’ books from Welsh attractions have survived). It is certain that not everyone who came to the area visited the park, mainly because it was open to the public on only two days of the week (at most) but even on open days, it does not seem to have been overrun with visitors and few reported that they met others there: indeed Prince Puckler-Muskau suggested in 1828 that solitude could be found at Piercefield.

It might be thought that Piercefield would have attracted large crowds for various reasons:

  • it was very well known by the late 18th century and featured in many 19th century guidebooks;
  • it was near other major attractions – the popular Wye tour, Chepstow Castle and Tintern Abbey;
  • it was not far from major centres of population including Bath, Bristol and Gloucester;
  • it was very close to the Old Passage across the Severn
  • it did not require a great physical effort to visit it (in contrast, for example, with Snowdon with which it had the advantage of not being enveloped in clouds much of the time)

However, almost no one recorded coming across other visitors (indeed, they sometimes welcomed their company); they did not find the seats occupied (except in one case); there were no complaints that there was not enough room to enjoy the view points, (particularly on the small area at the top of Windcliff) and although Catherine Sinclair suggested that visitors left their rubbish behind, she did not actually visit the park during her tour in 1833 because she believed that it was always closed.

Piercefield was described by 118 visitors and mentioned by a further 54 (out of about 1500 known accounts of tours of Wales between 1700 and 1900). In contrast, Tintern Abbey, 2 miles away was described by 167 visitors to mentioned in a further 67 tours. However, since Piercefield was open for only one or two days a week (if at all) and Tintern was open for six or seven (there was a period when it was not officially open on Sundays) these figures suggest that Piercefield was more popular but many factors need to be taken into consideration before taking them at face value.

  • Tintern was more difficult and expensive to get to before the roads were created and improved from the 1820s;
  • the proportion of the number of actual visitors and the number who kept records of their visits is unknown and may vary from site to site;
  • the background of the visitors might have influenced whether they kept a record of their visit (in the 18th century, many visitors were well-educated gentry, in the 19th century cheaper and faster transport enabled the middle classes to travel for pleasure);
  • the keeping of journals of tours declined significantly after 1840;
  • Piercefield was a private park and Tintern a former place of worship, which, in the changing attitudes towards privacy and Church attendance during the 19th century, might have influenced visits to the two sites;
  • during the 19th century tourists might have found Piercefield out of date and less attractive than Tintern Abbey (partly because the owners were unable to maintain it)
  • perceptions about the accessibility of the two sites (both physically and intellectually) might have affected visitor numbers and this was probably influenced by the number of publications which described the two sites and the way they were described. Tintern was mentioned in many more guide books during the 18th and 19th centuries than Piercefield (a cursory analysis give figures of about 100 and 50 respectively). The number of references to Piercefield declined after about 1850 when new owners seem to have been less welcoming, whereas the number of references to Tintern in other publications increased: long descriptions were to be found in popular publications including newspapers and cheap magazines.

BACKGROUND

This page is not intended to be a history of the Piercefield estate, simply a compilation of descriptions of it, but a brief background has been added to place the visits in context.

The 300 acres of grounds at Piercefield, to the north of Chepstow, on the banks of the Wye, became a famous and popular attraction from the mid-18th century. Some of the earliest visitors travelled from Bath, Bristol and elsewhere on a short trip just to visit Piercefield and took a boat trip up the Wye to Tintern Abbey, staying at Chepstow (but not necessarily visiting the castle there) while the many tourists who took the boat down the Wye from Ross or Monmouth via Goodrich and Tintern to Chepstow, also made an effort to experience charms of Piercefield (providing it was open on the day they were there).

By the 1830s, steam boats were able to bring visitors for day trips to Chepstow from Bristol in significant numbers to a regular and reliable timetable. A guidebook reported that Since the Steam Packet has been established, many occasional Visitors flock to Chepstow, for the sole purpose of inspecting the Castle, Piercefield Walks, the Windcliff, and Tintern Abbey, – which may be accomplished in a few hours.  (Anon, A Guide to the Town and Neighbourhood of Chepstow, third edition, 1830)

By 1850 the railway to Chepstow brought visitors from distant places, including London. It is said that the walks were closed to the public from the 1850s, but the evidence suggests they were open, perhaps intermittently, in subsequent decades until the end of the century.

Piercefield may have been one of the first estates in Wales to open the grounds on specific days of the week (see below). These days changed from owner to owner and were sometimes advertised in contemporary guide books and would also presumably have been known to inn keepers. Tourists were frustrated if they could not visit the site on days when it was not officially open but some found devious ways of getting in.

Although many tourists wrote at length about their visit to Piercefield, much of what they commented on were the views from the grounds, rather than of the park itself. It appears the park had been landscaped especially to enable visitors to appreciate distant views from seats which had been placed in particular locations. This contrasts well with the situation of near-by Tintern Abbey which was almost entirely enclosed within the Wye valley.

OWNERSHIP OF THE ESTATE

Much of the history of the ownership of the estate comes from Ivor Waters, Piercefield on the Banks of the Wye, (1975), but he did not quote his sources. The evidence from tourists and guidebooks modify his dates slightly.

1740 (about) Purchased by Valentine Morris I (the elder, c 1678–1743) for £8,250

1743 Valentine Morris II (1727-1789) inherited Piercefield at the age of about 16.

1752 (about) Valentine Morris II landscaped the grounds with the assistance of Richard Owen Cambridge who had nearly purchased the estate, then recommended it to Valentine Morris I.  Valentine Morris II made only minor changes to a rambling Tudor and later mansion.

1772 Valentine II became bankrupt and left for Antigua. It is said that the walks became neglected by the 1780s but some tourists reported visiting them.

1778 The property was put up for sale to benefit the creditors, but was not sold. ‘The Park and Pleasure grounds were let to different persons who cut and carried off the hay … ‘

1781 The house was ‘let to Mr B—e at forty pounds per annum without either ground or garden’ and the gardens were leased to the gardener. (According to John Byng who visited the park and knew Mr B.)

1782-1783 The Rev Daniel Augustus Beaufort, (1739-1821) rented Piercefield according to

1784 William Bush occupied the house.

1784, 7th July.  The Estate was purchased by George Smith for £26,000 who allowed the grounds to be visited on Thursdays. He commissioned Sir John Soane to enlarge the house but work did not begin until 1792 when new designs for an almost complete rebuild were agreed. Elizabeth Smith (1776-1806), later the linguist and poet, lived at the house with her father.

1793 Smith’s bank failed and he was forced to sell. The estate was advertised for sale by James Christie on 10th December 1793 when the house, 82 x 61 ft was unfinished.

1794, December 1st. The Estate was purchased by Colonel Mark Wood (1750-1829) who may have asked John Soane to finish the house and extended it but it is thought that Joseph Bonomi designed some of the internal decorations including the saloon and staircase and the porch, colonades and pavilions, completed in 1798. Two new lodges at the entrance to the park were also built.

Wood allowed the grounds to be visited on Tuesdays and Fridays.

1802 The Estate was purchased by Nathaniel Wells (1779-1852), ‘a Creole’. He also allowed the grounds to be visited on Tuesdays and Fridays.

1819 Wells tried to sell the house but was unsuccessful. (It is said that he subsequently let it successively to Mr Gage, Mr Wintle (1835), Mr Walker and Mr Thompson)

1825 The grounds were still open only on Tuesdays and Fridays

1833 Catherine Sinclair complained that the grounds were not open to the public (but she might have been wrong).

1837 Wells put the estate up for sale, without success and was living there in 1845. Wells subsequently let it successively to Mr Wintle, Mr Walker and Mr Thompson, and then sold it to the late Mr Thomas Henry Morgan of Tidenham (according to Hillman, 1878)

1852 Wells died and the Piercefield estate was leased to Thomas Thompson

1856 The grounds were leased to, then purchased by John Russell (1788-1873). There were complaints that he did not allow visitors to the site but there is one reference to his wife showing visitors around the house. In 1858 he announced that the key to the grounds would be available at the Piercefield Inn (St Arvans).

1861 The estate was purchased by Henry Clay I (died 1874)

1874 Henry Clay II inherited the estate and lived at Piercefield until his death in 1921

1926 The Chepstow Racehorse Company opened a racecourse in the park.

1923 The House was abandoned

1940s It is said that the house was used for target practice by the American Army but this story may be apocryphal.

THE HOUSE

Summary
Generally, tourists had very little to say about the house, externally or internally and what little they said was mostly dismissive (William Coxe, in his An Historical Tour in Monmouthshire, (1801) was an exception.)
It is thought that Valentine Morris I and his son made only minor changes to a rambling Tudor and later mansion.
George Smith extended the house from 1785 to designs by John Soane. It consisted of a three-story house with stables, hothouses, a grapery and icehouse in the grounds.
Smith’s house was completed and extended by Colonel Wood, between 1794 and 1798.
It is assumed that Nathaniel Wells did not make any alterations to the house. However, Manby (1802) recorded that W. [sic] Wells, … is making considerable additions to the mansion’ but it is possible that he visited the site before Wells took it over, and put his name in just before publication.

RCAHM(W) record

DESCRIPTIONS OF THE HOUSE

Valentine Morris II (1727-1789), Owned the estate 1743-1784

Morris left Britain in 1772, leaving the estate in charge of his steward, John Rice.

1739
Colonel Valentine Morris, who served for some time in a military line in the island of St. Vincent’s … came to Piercefield in 1739, made additions to the old mansion, which was little better than a farm-house, and resided there till his death.
Coxe, William, An Historical Tour in Monmouthshire, (1801), pp. 392-402

1778
The house too is but indifferent, and so whimsically placed, as not to admit of a determination with respect to its front until it is examined nearly.
Sulivan, Richard, Sir, Observations Made during a Tour through Parts of England, Scotland, and Wales, in 1778. In a Series of Letters, (London, 1780), pp. 97-99

1782
Daniel Augustus Beaufort (1739-1821) and his wife Mary rented Piercefield at 40 guineas per anum. Mary Beaufort thought the old house was ‘ugly and ill-suited to the grandeur of the place’.
Beaufort, Daniel Augustus, Diaries and travel journals in Trinity College, Dublin
Ellison, C.C., The Hopeful Traveller: The Life and Times of Daniel Augustus Beaufort, LDD, (1987) p. 32

George Smith ( – ) owned the estate c. 1783-1794

1785
the house, which is an inconsiderable edifice, unworthy of its situation.
Anon, A pocket vade-mecum through Monmouthshire, and part of South Wales: containing a particular description of the views, and an account of the antiquities, curiosities, &c. in the counties of Monmouth, Glamorgan, Carmarthen, and Brecknock, in the year 1785. By A Gentleman, (London, 1785), pp. 9-14

1786
The appearance of the house is by no means adequate to the grandeur of its situation. It is irregularly built, and unequally elevated.
Cooper, Anne, (1763?-1804), Journal of a tour down the Wye, MDCCLXXXVI, 1786 May 29-June 1, Yale centre for British Art, DA670.W97 C66

1787
The house is of no account; but the views from the house and the walks (which are now in much neglect) are noble and romantic …
Byng, John, (Viscount Torrington), A Tour in South Wales in 1787, Cardiff Central Library, MS 3.237, 29th July

1793
Smith’s Bank failed and he was forced to sell ‘The Capital New-Built Mansion, … Gardens, Pleasure Ground, Lawn, Plantations, Beautiful Park.’
Sale catalogue, Soane Museum Library, SC48/2

Colonel Mark Wood (1750-1829) owned the estate 1794-1802

1795 28th August [Friday]
The old House is taken down and the new one is in building, the shell of which is only completed.
Journal of Richard Hodgkinson, 1763-1847, ‘Visit to Ross and Tour of the Sights of the Wye Valley’, Manchester Central Library Archives (GB127.L15/2)
Florence Wood, Kenneth Wood, A Lancashire gentleman: the letters and journals of Richard Hodgkinson, 1763-1847, Alan Sutton, (1992)

1795
the mansion is not finished, it is a building of stone; the plan is not strikingly elegant, but the glimpse I had of it will not warrant any opinion.
Eardley-Wilmot, Sarah, (nee Haslam), Journal of a twelve weeks tour.
National Museum of Wales, Library, Cardiff, ms 179554, pp. 119-120

1795
The park and grounds are extensive, covering a considerable eminence, and forming several distinct lawns between open groves; in the centre of one of which the new house, a stately mansion, is placed on a fine elevation of ground.
Skrine, Henry (1755-1803), Two successive tours throughout the whole of Wales: with several of the adjacent English counties; so as to form a comprehensive view of the picturesque beauty, the peculiar manners, and the fine remains of antiquity, in that interesting part of the British island. By Henry Skrine, Esquire of Warley, Somerset shire, the author of three successive tours in the north of England and Scotland in 1795, (London, 1798), pp. 16, 18-20; 

1796 (uncertain)
The house stands upon the western bank of the Wye, near the brink of a rocky precipice cover’d with wood, and almost perpendicular to the waters edge. It is an old mansion, added to and repaired, rather neat than costly; and exhibits the appearance of a plain comfortable dwelling. Indeed it seems to have been the design of the owner, through his whole plan, to render Art an assistant to Nature; and his has hit off that intention with a happy taste.
Anon, (said to be Sir Richard Colt Hoare, but this is unlikely), NLW MS 16988

1796
Col Wood is building a very large house of white stone, which is brought from Bath – was only begun 13 months ago and the Col expects to get into it in five weeks – gave £39,000 for the estate the house is to cost more than £20,000 and the walks £1,000 to put them in repair; then remains the Garden Green House and Hot House to do – so much for East India Money.
Anon, A Tour from York into Wales in the year 1796, NLW MS 4489, pp. 12-14

1796
A new house was begun a few years ago and is now nearly finished. Two handsome lodges are just erected.
Williams, William, (1774-1839) and Burgess, James, Rev (1774-1839), J. B. jnr and W. W. ‘A Pedestrian Tour thro Wales in 1796’ / ‘The Journal of my grandfather, William Williams with the Rev James Burgess in Wales, in 1796’. NLW MS 23253 C, ff. 8-11
[Despite this title, it appears that the journal in the National Library of Wales is Burgess’s].
Sykes, E.R., ‘A Walking Tour in Wales in 1796’, Proc. Dorset Nat. Hist. Arch. Soc.,LXIV (1943), pp. 84-91, which combines information from both tourists.

1796
At the time it was visited, … there was hardly any house; the proprietor was demolishing the old to erect a new edifice; …The Author did not regret the circumstance; as it appeared to him extremely difficult to place a modern house in any thing like harmony with the grounds.
Williams, David, The History of Monmouthshire, Illustrated and ornamented by Views of its principal Landscapes, Ruins, and Residences, by John Gardnor, Vicar of Battersea. Engraved by Mr. Gardnor and Mr. Hill.
Printed by H. Baldwin: and sold in London by Edwards, in Pall Mall; Egerton, at Charing Cross; Williams, in the Strand; White, in Fleet Street: and at Monmouth, by Tudor and by Heath, (1796), pp. 338-341

1797
We had a sight, at one place, of the house, which is not yet completely finished. It is built of white stone, and is prettily situated in the middle of the grounds.
Manners, John Henry, (5th Duke of Rutland), Journal of a tour through north and south Wales, the Isle of Man, [in 1797] (1805), pp. 44-47

1798
[We] were fully disposed to quit the place after condescending to view the front of the very elegant, newly erected stone mansion, which is highly adorned by exquisite sculptured statues on its cornice, and has an air of grandeur not to be surpassed in its exterior.
Anon, Sketch of a pedestrian Tour thro’ parts of North and South Wales etc. Begun September 3rd, 1798 by GN, DJJ, RP., NLW 4419B, ff. 26-27
[They tried to visit the grounds on a day when it was not open to the public]

1799
the house is … superb.
Robertson, NLW MS 11790A, p. 41

1801
William Coxe wrote one of the most detailed descriptions of the house. It was published in 1801 but written when Colonel Wood still owned it]
He [Valentine Morris] lived in a style of princely rather than private magnificence, and treated those whom curiosity drew to the scenes of Piercefield, with a liberal but ostentatious profusion: servants out of livery constantly attended, without being permitted to receive any gratuity; collations were indiscriminately offered to the numerous visitors; and even his hot-house, cellar, and larder, were open to the innkeeper of Chepstow, for the accommodation of travellers. …
The present proprietor [Colonel Wood] has spared no expence to render the mansion of Piercefield suitable to the grandeur and beauty of the surrounding scenery: all the apartments unite harmony of proportion with costliness of decoration, and Piercefield scarcely yields to any house in this kingdom in taste and splendour.
The house is a magnificent building of freestone, seated nearly in the center of the park, and surrounded by lawns and open groves of wide spreading oak beech and elm. It stands on an elevation of ground that slopes gently to the banks of the Wy [sic], and commands a distant and delightful view over the broad Severn and the red cliffs of Aust, backed by the fertile hills of Glocestershire; opposite appear the white rocks of Lancaut, which here lose their rugged form and harmonise with the surrounding scenery; beneath the castle and town of Chepstow present themselves to singular advantage, and the Wy sweeps in grand curves among 1ocks and woods, until it falls into the Severn.
The house in which Valentine Morris resided was partly pulled down by Mr. Smith, and a new edifice begun, of which the skeleton was nearly finished when the place was purchased by the present proprietor, Colonel Wood removed the old part of the building, and considerably extended and improved the plan; he added a doric portico, and handsome wings in the same style of architecture, which are ornamented with statues, and enriched with basso relievos, from the designs of the first artists.
The interior distribution of the principal apartments is excellent, equally calculated for private comfort or public splendor. The saloon or entrance is an oblong octagon, with a mosaic pavement of Painswick stone and black marble; it is decorated with beautiful verd antique scalioli pilasters, and leads to the grand staircase, through a porch with verd antique columns, supporting a fanlight of painted glass executed with considerable taste. This porch is closed by folding doors of looking glass, in which the reflection of the diversified prospect from the front of the house forms a pleasing deception.
On each side of the saloon are the withdrawing and dining rooms, finished and furnished in an elegant and costly style, and adorned with corinthian pilasters of Egyptian marble, and sculptures, and alto relievos by the best masters. These apartments are connected with the breakfast and billiard rooms, and lead through a conservatory on each side to the library and music room, which form the ground floor of the wings. The perspective of this suite, even in its present unfinished state, attracts particular notice; and when the conservatories are filled with rare and beautiful plants, will be inexpressibly striking.
The grand staircase is of Painswick stone, and rises by three flights of steps to a gallery, which forms the principal communication with the bed-chambers. The sides of this gallery are hung with four exquisite pieces of gobeline tapestry, sixteen feet by fourteen, which belonged to Louis the sixteenth. They exhibit the natural history of Africa, and represent every production of the animal and vegetable kingdoms, grouped with admirable taste and science, and uniting correctness of design with richness and beauty of colouring.
Coxe, William, An Historical Tour in Monmouthshire, (1801), pp. 392-402

[Published 1803 but written when Colonel Wood still owned it]
This edifice is constructed of free-stone, and has had two handsome wings lately added to it by Colonel Wood. Although not very extensive, it has, nevertheless, an elegant external appearance, and is fitted up internally with a taste and splendor little inferior to any of our first-rate houses in England. [note:] Col Wood is about to dispose of this estate. [end of note]
Barber, J.T., (1774-1841), Tour Throughout South Wales and Monmouthshire, Comprehending A General Survey of the Picturesque Scenery, Remains of Antiquity, Historical Events, Peculiar Manners, and Commercial Situations of That Interesting Portion of the British Empire. (1st edition, London : 1803), chapter 16, pp. 255-264.

Nathaniel Wells (1779 – 1852) Owned the estate 1802-1852

[Published 1802. This is the only reference to Wells making alterations to, or extending the mansion: other visitors suggest that it was complete. Manby might have visited Piercefield several years before 1802 and just changed the name of the owner (whose initials he recorded incorrectly), just before publication.]
This place is now the property of W. [sic] Wells, Esq. who is making considerable additions to the mansion; and, no doubt, will render these scenes as interesting as any of the numerous princely abodes for which this kingdom is famous.
Manby, George William, (1765-1854) of Hotwells, Bristol, An historic and picturesque guide from Clifton, through the counties of Monmouth, Glamorgan, and Brecknock, with representations of ruins, interesting antiquities, &c. &c. (Bristol : 1802), pp. 267-271

1803
We walked past the house which is a specimen if very bad taste in architecture. The view from the front is beautiful.
Farington, Joseph, (1747-1821) ‘Diary of a Tour from London to Cheltenham, Monmouth and Chepstow, 9-28 September, 1803’, p. 40, illustrated by small original sketches. Hereford Record Office, (formerly in the Hereford City Library), MS octavo, no 24136, 16th and 20th September, 1803.
Newby, Evelyn, [Appendix to Index to] The Diary of Joseph Farington, (Paul Mellon Centre, Yale Univ. Press, 1998), pp, 1027-1048

1804
The house is a magnificent building of freestone, reared in a romantic situation, and its interior is handsomely decorated.
Evans, John, (1767-1827), The juvenile tourist: or excursions into the West of England; into the Midland counties, with part of South Wales, (1804); (4th edition 1818), pp. 290-292

1805 (and earlier?)
And here let me recommend … the opportunity of inspecting the elegant Mansion; for although it has not to boast of a long list of titled possessors, nor of walls cloathed with pictures, – yet such is the taste, the elegance, and beauty, which pervades the whole of the interior, that let the stranger’s Rank in society be ever so exalted, he will not look with indifference on this residence. Hours of viewing it from eleven till four. [This last sentence is not in the 1813 edition]
PIERCEFIELD HOUSE is an elegant and modern freestone edifice situate on a gently rise in the centre of the Park and commands a delightful view over the lower part of the pleasure grounds, the river Severn, with the distant hills of Gloucester and Somerset shires, so often mentioned in the course of this work.
Heath, Charles, Historical and Descriptive accounts of the ancient and present state of the Town and Castle of Chepstow including the pleasurable regions of Persfield, (1805, 2nd edition.)

1805 (and earlier?)
A light portico, in the centre of the building, conducts into a SALOON, corresponding with that taste and beauty displayed throughout the whole of the mansion. The floor is laid with black and white marble, obtained from Painswick; which renders it extremely agreeable in the summer season, and causes the room to be preferred by the family in that part of the year. This room is divided by mahogany sliding doors, inlaid with looking glass, which, when united, the whole of the company may discern, at table, every object within view of the house, – with vessels floating on the Severn, to their respective ports.
The Breakfast and Dining PARLOURS display all that elegance can express, in the articles of furniture and decorative ornaments ; while the walls are inriched with fine designs, in relievo; particularly The Aurora, after Guido Reni, whose works are held in such high estimation ;—with Triumphs of Pan? and of Neptune in one part; while in another, the beauty and grace of Titian and Cipriani’s IDEAS arrest our admiration, in viewing the subjects of Cupid tied to a tree, the Graces petting him with flowers; -with its companion, The Amatory God asleep ; Venus, attended by the Graces, tickling his ear with an arrow. In the Billiard Room are equally pleasing subjects; and even the Chimney Pieces , exhibit fanciful efforts of the Painter’s talents. The WINGS respectively lead, the Green Houses, to the Library and Music Room.
The objects that next claim our attention are Four Pieces of Tapestry, from the Gobelin manufactory, at Paris. The subjects are, Collections of Wild Beasts, some in the act of worrying each other; and Representations of Travelling in Eastern Climates. The former of these appear designed from pictures of Snyders, having all the fire and spirit characteristic of that master.
It would exercise a considerable degree of judgment to decide with propriety, which part of the artist’s merit best deserves our applause; for the figures are drawn so correct and free; the colours are so exquisitely bright and clear; added to the taste of design displayed in the different subjects; that even the connoisseur might, at first sight, mistake them for paintings fresh from the painter’s easel. To increase the pleasure, they may be viewed with the utmost ease and convenience; and the strong glare of a sky-light window gives the colours their full force and beauty.
The floors of the rooms are laid with Dutch ok, and the colour of the boards preserved with a liquid, after the manner of that people. Other mansions in Monmouthshire of boast of possessing an equal degree of comfort and accommodation; but in point of taste and elegance displayed in the internal decorations, this certainly takes precedence of all the gentleman’s seats in the county.
No stranger, of sensibility, can leave Persfield, without returning his due thanks to Mr. WELLS for the pleasure resulting from viewing these delightful regions, which the liberality of their owner lays open to the public at large. To the mind of the writer, the scenes have suggested the ideas of romantic fable, rather than such as were to be found in a polished part of our isle.
[The following paragraph is in the 1805 edition but appears as a note in the 1813 edition:] The house was a very indifferent residence for a family of fortune, before Sir Mark Wood purchased the estate; who, on taking possession pulled down the old building and erected on its site (as well as furnished), the present elegant mansion. He also built the handsome Lodges, and enclosed the Park with the high Stone Wall, which, till that time, was encircled only with slight palisades. Most of the late additions to the village of St Arvon, which gives it such an air of cheerfulness and comfort, were made by his directions, who expended many thousand pounds in building, during his residence at Persfield. … [end of note]
Heath, Charles, Historical and Descriptive accounts of the ancient and present state of the Town and Castle of Chepstow including the pleasurable regions of Persfield [sic] and a variety of other particulars deserving the stranger’s notice round that neighbourhood. Collected from original papers and unquestionable authorities. The whole never before published. By Charles Heath, Printer, Monmouth, Printed and Sold by him, in the Market Place: Sold also by Mr Roberts, Ross, Mrs Kirby, Chepstow; and at all inns in the County. 1805. [This contains a preface to the first edition dated 1801]

1805?
The house is very indifferent, but the situation delightful
Sotheby, William?, A Journal of a tour through parts of Monmouthshire and Glamorgan, NLW ms 6497C, pp. 3; 94-97

1807
No expence appears to have been spared, to render the mansion of Persfield suitable to the grandeur and beauty of the surrounding scenery – The interior of it we had not an opportunity of inspecting, as Mr Wells does not allow it to be shewn: – but Mr and Mrs P- [their companions on this trip] who had seen it, while in the possession of Col. Wood assure me that the distribution of apartments is excellent – equally calculated for private comfort, and public splendour.

Payne, H.T., ‘Recollections of a visit to Llanbeder [Llanbedr] in the County of Brecon with remarks on an excursion down the River Wye from Rhos to Chepstow including Abergavenny, Monmouth, Persfield, Raglan etc. by A.M.Cuyler, 1807’ [but written by Payne], NLW add MS 784a, pp. 126-144

1807
[much of the following description of the house is identical to William Coxe, An Historical Tour in Monmouthshire, (1801), pp. 392-402 but is not in the Cuyler version.]
In the construction of the fabric, no expense has been spared to render it suitable to the grandeur and beauty of the surrounding scenery. As the present proprietor does not allow it to be shewn to strangers, I must refer to our former visit for a description of its interior. It is built with a well worked freestone, with a handsome Doric portico in front, and wings in the same style of architecture, which are ornamented with statues, and enriched with Basso Relievos from the designs of the first artists. The interior distribution of the apartments is excellent, equally calculated for private comfort and public splendour. The saloon or entrance is an oblong octagon, with a mosaic pavement of Painswick stone and black marble; it is decorated with beautiful verd antique scalioli pilasters, and leads to the grand staircase, through a porch with verd antique columns, supporting a fanlight of painted glass executed with considerable taste. This porch is closed by folding doors of looking glass, in which the reflection of the diversified prospect from the front of the house forms a pleasing deception.
On each side of the saloon are the withdrawing and dining rooms, finished and furnished in an elegant and costly style, and adorned with corinthian pilasters of Egyptian marble, and sculptures, and alto relievos by the best masters. These apartments are connected with the breakfast and billiard rooms, and lead through a conservatory on each side to the library and music room, which form the ground floor of the wings. The perspective of this suite, even in its present unfinished state, attracts particular notice; and when the conservatories are filled with rare and beautiful plants, will be inexpressibly striking.

The grand staircase is of Painswick stone, and rises by three flights of steps to a gallery, which forms the principal communication with the bed-chambers. The sides of this gallery are hung with four exquisite pieces of gobeline tapestry, sixteen feet by fourteen, which belonged to that unfortunate Prince Louis the sixteenth of France. They exhibit the natural history of Africa, and represent every production of the animal and vegetable kingdoms, grouped with admirable taste and science, and uniting correctness of design with richness and beauty of colouring.
I understand that Colonel Wood did not include these beautiful pieces in his sale to Mr Wells – of course they have been removed from Persfield.

Payne, H.T., ‘Recollections of Two Excursions from Llanbedr to Ross, with the Navigation of the River Wye to Chepstow, and a Walk to Persfield. Returning by Newport, Caerphilly, Cardiff, Merthyr-Tidvael and Brecknock, by Mary Payne, 1807, Vol. 1’. [The recollections are in the hand-writing of and almost certainly written by H T Payne for his wife Mary], Powys Archives, Llandrindod, A104/1/2(1), pp. 100-105

1808
Piercefield, near Chepstow, in Monmouthshire, was long the property of the family of Walters. It was sold in 1736 to Colonel Morris, of the island of St. Vincent, father of Valentine Morris, to whom it owes it’s improvements. In 1784 it was disposed of to George Smith, esq., of Burnhall, in the county of Durham; in 1794 to Colonel Wood, formerly chief engineer at Bengal, who completed the present tasteful and magnificent mansion, after it had been partly built by Mr. Smith; in it was sold to the present proprietor Nathaniel Wells, Esq. Among the specimens of art which embellish this mansion, are 4 exquisite pieces of gobeline tapestry, which belonged to Louis XVI. They exhibit the natural history of Africa, and represent various productions, vegetable and animal, grouped with admirable skill, and uniting great correctness of design with richness and beauty of colouring. When Mr. Barber applied for admittance at the lodge, he was informed that the grounds were shewn on Tuesdays and Fridays only; and the mansion from 11 to 4. …This edifice is constructed of free stone, and has had two handsome wings added to it by colonel Wood. Altho’ not extensive, it has an elegant external appearance; and as we are informed, is fitted up internally with a taste and splendour little inferior to the first rate houses in England.
The Cambrian traveller’s guide, and pocket companion [by G. Nicholson], (1st edition, 1808), columns 495-500

1808
Millicent Bant travelled with Lady Wilson of Charlton House, Kent on some very long tours of England and Wales. Possibly because of Lady Wilson’s status, they had access to houses which other people did not see. Not only did they get into the house at Piercefield, they were allowed to view it and the grounds on a Wednesday.
Had the good fortune to get a peep at the House; outside and in, a handsome modern structure, well situated for view: a portico with six stone pillars, and two wings, which were joined to the house by two conservatories, on the top of each wing stand three stone figures, as large as life; just under the roof are six historical entablatures in stucco. In the hall are ten handsome scagliola pillars; the rest of the apartments handsomely furnished. On the staircase are four pieces of fine tapestry.
Bant, Millicent, [tour] Essex Record Office D/DFr f4, pp. 13-14

1810
The mansion of Piercefield is a noble building of free-stone – with a much admired entrance – and – stands at the back of the park, next [sic] the woodlands that approach the Wye.-
“How beauteous midst the gay surrounding mead
Does yon proud mansion rear its ample head!
Whose polished towers with trembling radiance gleam.
As the broad sun obliquely darts his beam.” (Maurice)
This residence well accords with the grandeur and beauty of the surrounding scenery. – Elegance has spread her softening hand around, – and in the apartments we see harmony of proportion united with costliness of decorations. Among the specimens of art which embellish this mansion are four exquisite pieces of Gobelin tapestry lately belonging to Louis the 16th of the Royal house of Bournon. – They represent the Natural History of Africa, and exhibit every production of the animal and vegetable kingdoms, – grouped with admirable taste and science, and blending correctness of design with richness of colouring. – [note:] Strangers are not permitted to inspect the whole of the house – as the numerous family of Mr Wells occupy almost every apartment. [end of note]
Bruce, William Joseph, A Peregrination through part of the Counties of Somerset, Monmouthshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire with a portion of South Wales and a tour round north Wales as performed in the Autumn of the Year 1810, to which is subjoined a brief History of the Principality of Wales … and a tour [of part of England] during the summer of 1809, NLW, ms 19405 C, pp. 42, 46

1810
The house erected on this estate is a magnificent pile of building of free-stone, and stands nearly in the centre of the park. It consists of a centre and two wings: the former having three stories, and the latter one. Piercefield was long the property of the Waters’ family, till the year 1736, when it was sold to Colonel Morris, father of Valentine Morris, esq. who afterwards possessed it; and to whose taste and liberality it is indebted for its chief artificial beauties and its long-established celebrity. In 1784, it was bought by George Smith, esq.; who again sold it, in 1794, to Colonel Wood, formerly chief engineer at Bengal. The latter gentleman made many additions and improvements to the house and grounds: among which may be specified the two wings, which he added to the former.
Evans, John, Rev., and Britton, John, The Beauties of England and Wales, Or, Delineations, Topographical, Historical and Descriptive of each County, vol, 11, (1810), pp. 182-184

1815
The house itself is characterised more by an elegant simplicity than by princely magnificence. It is built with a light freestone. The library and dancing room constitute its two wings. The stair-case is ornamented with four pictures of most exquisite tapestry, the production of a French nunnery; and the other apartments are decorated with furniture, paintings, and statuary, of the most costly and excellent kind. The stile of the building is uncommonly fine, possessing considerable elevation;
Evans, John, Remains of William Reed, Late of Thornbury; Including Rambles in Ireland, with other Compositions in prose, His Correspondence, and Poetical Productions. To which is prefixed, a Memoir of His Life; by the Rev John Evans, Author of The Ponderer.  (London, 1815), pp. 112-113

1816
The house consists of three stories, but the third seems to have been built after the original erection, and gives a very clumsy appearance to the whole. A semi-circular portico of four columns adorns the entrance. Two temples, one on each side, form the side wings, in a line with the main building, and gave it rather a heavy appearance, so that the building only appears agreeable when standing at the park gate, at a considerable distance from it.
Spiker, Samuel Heinrich, Dr (1786-1858), Travels through England, Wales, & Scotland, in the year 1816. : Translated from the German (London : 1820), Vol. 2, pp. 82-85

1818
Reed [William Reed, 1815, above] describes the house eloquently. It is characterised he says more by an elegant simplicity, than by princely magnificence. It is built with a light free stone. The library and dancing room constitute its two wings. The stair-case is ornamented with four pictures of most exquisite Tapestry, the production of a French Nunnery, and the other apartments are decorated with furniture, paintings, and statuary of the most costly and excellent kind, The style of the building is uncommonly fine, possessing considerable elevation and it is surrounded with extensive grounds, here rising into gentle swells, and there as gently sloping into vallies.
Fosbroke, T.D., The Wye Tour, or Gilpin on the Wye, with historical and archaeological additions, especially illustrations of Pope’s Man of Ross; and copious accounts of Ross, Goodrich Castle, Monmouth, etc. (1818), pp. 104-108

1818
The mansion is an elegant modern building, standing in the back part of the park. It is ornamented with four elegant pieces of gobeline tapestry, which belonged to Louis XVI. representing the natural history of Africa.
Willett, Mark, An Excursion from the Source of the Wye, A New Edition / Second edition. (John Evans and Co., Bristol, [1818?])
Willett, Mark, The stranger in Monmouthshire and South Wales; or illustrative sketches of the History, Antiquities and Scenery, of South Wales and its Borders. 1825 (and other editions?)

1819
Sale catalogue for Piercefield
The principal part of the old house, formerly inhabited by the celebrated Valentine Morris, forms the offices, and consists of house keepers room, butler’s pantry, a servants’ hall, kitchen, larder, brewhouse etc.
Waters, Ivor, Piercefield on the banks of the Wye, (Chepstow: F.G. Comber 1975), p. 23

1825
PIERCEFIELD HOUSE. Here the ground falls on the left side, in a fine style, into the vale, and rising again in the same taste, presents to great advantage this elegant and highly finished Mansion, which is constructed of freestone, and stands nearly in the middle of the park. It consists of a centre and two wings, the former having three stories, and the latter one. A light portico in the centre of the building leads into a saloon, the floor of which is laid with black and white marble, rendering it extremely agreeable in the summer season. This room is divided by mahogany sliding doors, inlaid with looking glass, from the reflection of which, when united, the whole of the company present can discern every object within view of the house, with vessels floating on the Severn to their respective ports.
The Breakfast and Dining Parlours principal rooms display great elegance in the articles of furniture and decorative ornaments; while the walls are enriched with fine designs in relievo painting. In the billiard-room are similar subjects, and even the chimney-pieces exhibit various efforts of the painters talents. The wings respectively lead through green-houses to the Library and Music-room. The floors of the rooms are laid with Dutch oak, and the colour of the boards preserved with a liquid, after the manner of that people.
Among the specimens of art that embellish this mansion are four excellent pieces of tapestry from the Gobelin Manufactory at Paris, which formerly belonged to Louis XVI: they exhibit the natural history of Africa, and represent various productions, vegetable and animal, grouped with admirable skill, and uniting correctness of design with richness and colouring.
Anon, A Guide to the Town and Neighbourhood of Chepstow; the beauties of Piercefield; the Grand Scenery of the Windcliff; the Celebrated Ruin of Tintern Abbey, &c. &c., (1825), pp. 41-65. (See 1830 edition below.)
IDENTICAL TO: Anon, A guide to the stranger visiting the town of Chepstow; the delightful regions of Piercefield, the grand scenery of The Windcliff; the celebrated ruin of Tintern Abbey : &c. &c. : detailing whatever is worthy the traveller’s notice in this romantic neighbourhood … compiled from the latest and best authorities. (1825), pp. 40-59

1828
The interior of the house itself is not shown. It is on a beautiful rising lawn, to which there is an entrance in front, by a grand gate, with two large lions on its pillars.
Green, Jacob, Notes of a Traveller during a tour of England, France and Switzerland in 1828, vol. 2, (New York, 1831), p. 120

1830 (about)
Watercolours of Piercefield House facade, from a distance
Smith, Henry, Manuscript Notes in Charles Heath’s, ‘Excursions in Herefordshire and Monmouthshire.’ NLW ms 14581B and 14582B, between. pp. 416 and 417.

1837
[for sale] A magnificent stone-built Mansion, Park, Woods and Walks, for Romantic Beauty unrivalled … {including descriptions of the estate by some visitors}.
Sale catalogue, W. Smith, Son and Co., 8 Newgate Street, … [London], Sloane Museum Library, SC48/3

1840
The house is constructed of freestone, and stands nearly in the centre of the park. It consists of a centre and two wings, the former having three stories, and the latter one. Among the specimens of art which embellish this mansion, are four exquisite pieces of gobeline tapestry, which belonged to Louis XVI. They exhibit the natural history of Africa, and represent various productions, vegetable and animal, grouped with admirable skill, and uniting great correctness of design, with richness and beauty of colouring.
Nicholson, N., The Cambrian traveller’s guide, and pocket companion, (3rd edition revised, 1840), pp. 198-201

1850
The house has no particular architectural pretensions.
Britton, John, Britton’s Autobiography, Personal and literary memoir of the author, pt. 2. (1850) pp. 156-157

Later Occupiers

1856
Went first to Piercefield where we called [.] the place now belongs to a Mr. Russell. We saw his wife & she shewed us over the house which is handsomely furnished & some very fine old chimney pieces.
Hibbert, Mary Ann, Diary, Gloucestershire Record Office D1799 F337, 28th September, 1856

1858
the House … is formal and without beauty in itself, but the site is very fine, and the views from the windows must be very good.
watercolour ‘Piercefield Park, Severn and Wye August 3rd
Headlam, Thomas, ‘Illustrated Journal of a tour in Monmouthshire on the Wye and in North Wales during the Month of August, 1858’ by Thomas E Headlam with watercolour sketches by his wife Ellen, NMGW St Fagans, ms WFM 1561, pp. 6-11

DEVELOPMENT OF THE ESTATE

Some of these comments on the estate were written sometime after the owner left the property.

Valentine Morris II (1727-1789), Owner 1743-1784

According to Charles Heath ‘The Principal Architect, employed in erecting the different Buildings and Seats in the Walks in Persfield, under Mr Morris’s direction was the late Charles Howells, mason, who kept the Public House, at Pont-y-Saison near Tintern in the County. … He informed me, Mr Morris devoted a large portion of his time in superintending these monuments of his taste.’
Heath, Charles, Historical and Descriptive accounts of the ancient and present state of the Town and Castle of Chepstow including the pleasurable regions of Persfield (1801); (1805)

It is said that William Knowles, a Chepstow builder supervised the work. He also cleared Tintern Abbey for the Duke of Beaufort.
Waters, Ivor, Piercefield on the Banks of the Wye, (Chepstow: F.G. Comber 1975), p. 8

[published in 1828]
It was impossible for a horse, attached to any draft, to pass from Tintern to St. Arvons. The road on the left hand, up to the fish-pool of Porthcasseg, now the water-course, was that on which the public travelled. Mr. Morris gave the land, made the road, and kept it in repair, during his residence at Persfield, without any assistance from Chapel Hill, to which parish that duty belonged.
From a house called “Piccadilly,” the first on the left up the hill, Mr. Morris also gave the land on the right hand side, made the road, planted it with quick and beech trees, and kept it in repair at his own expense.— It then led through Persfield Park, and joined the road (where an old Windmill stood), at Cross-way Green.
If to the Genius of a Morris we owe our obligations for the intellectual enjoyment of Persfield, with equal gratitude should we pronounce the Name of ARTHUR WYATT [the Duke of Beaufort’s agent], who has united these scenes to the “Garden planted by the Hand of Nature,”—and but for whose Mind they might (as they had before, for ages), have remained in endless night. – Its pleasures are further heightened by adjoining a fine road, and being open to public inspection every day in the year.
Heath, Charles, Historical and Descriptive Accounts of the Ancient and Present State of Tintern Abbey with a variety of other particulars deserving the stranger’s notice relating to that much admired ruin and its neighbourhood. Collected from original papers and unquestionable authorities. (1828)

1805 (and earlier?)
REMARKS ON PERSFIELD
IN point of striking picturesque views in the romantic flood is exquisite. The cultivated inclosures forming the bottom of the valley, with the river winding round them, and the vast amphitheatre of rocks and pendent woods which wall it in, to such a stupendous height, is the capital beauty of the place; and, the owner has fixed his benches, &c. in those points of view, which command it in the happiest manner, with the utmost taste.
Nothing can be more truly picturesque than the appearance which the SEVERN takes in many places, of being supported and bounded by the wall of rocks, though four miles distant; this effect is beyond all imagination striking. In regard to the extensive prospects, the agreeable manner in which the town, castle, and steeple, are caught, with the rocks, woods, and river, taken in themselves, other places are equal ; but, when they unite to, form the landscapes here mentioned, I believe they stand unrivalled.
Throughout the whole of these walks it is evident that Mr. Morris, as well as successive Proprietors, meant them merely, as an assistance to view the beauties of nature; as a means of seeing what Nature had already done to their hands, and without a strong design of decoration, or ornament. Everything is in a fine taste; but as all the beauties are spoken of, it may be allowed to hint a few circumstances wanting to render it complete.
But it is not to be imagined, in the least, to disapprove the taste of their ingenious owners;–by no means; –for it is not certain that it would be possible to add what will be hereafter remarked; but minuted merely that the stranger’s idea of Persfield may be exact; and that he might not mistake any general exceptions made use of, to imply beauties that are not here.
The river WYE, which runs at the bottom of the walks, is an infinite advantage; but it is by many degrees inferior in beauty to a fresh water one, which keeps a level, and does not display a breadth of muddy bank at low water; and the colour is very bad ; it has not that transparent darkness, that silver-shaded surface, which is, of itself, one of the greatest beauties in Nature, and would give a lustre inexpressibly elegant among these romantic objects.
Cascades are likewise much wanting. In such steeps of wood, and embrowning hollows, that have a pleasing solemnity, nothing has so glorious an effect as breaking unexpectedly upon a cascade, gushing from rocks, and over-hung with wood. There are many spots in the Persfield hollows, which would point out in the strongest manner the beauty of such objects.
Lastly,–there is a want of contrasts; for the general emotions which arise on viewing the rocks, hanging woods, and deep precipices of Persfield, are all those of the subline: and, when that is the case, the beautiful never appears in such bewitching colours as those it receives from contrast. To turn suddenly from one of these romantic walks, and break full upon, a beautiful lands scape, without any intermixture of rocks, distant prospect, or other object that was great or terrible, but on the contrary lively and agreeable, would be a vast improvement here; and the remark is rather ventured, because those views at Persfield which are beautiful, are all intermixed with the sublime;- the farm beneath you is superlatively so; but the precipice you look down from, the hanging woods, and the rocks, are totally different. The break, which catches the town and steple, is in this taste, but even here some large rocks appear.
Small elegant buildings, in a fight and airy taste, rising from green and gently swelling slopes, with something moving near them, and situated so as the Sun may shine full upon them, viewed suddenly from a dark, romantic walk, have a charming effect. But it must strike every one, who walks over Persfield, that the finest seats &c, are seen rather too much before you step into them they do, auto break upon you unexpectedly enough. In many of them you see the rails, which inclose them on the brink of the precipice, at a small distance before you enter. What an effect would the View from the Grotto, for instance, have, if you entered it from behind, thro’ a dark zig-zag narrow walk!
[note in 1805 edition] These Hints are mentioned with great reluctance: for PERSFIELD is a place full of Wonders, and will afford the visitor amazing entertainment.
Persfield, says Mr. Williams, would reject with scorn all the common efforts of decorative art. Temples, columns, statues, would be nuisances; but a finer river, a cascade in a solemn and woody precipice; a solitary URN in an appropriate spot, with only the simple Inscription,
“To the Memory of Valentine Morris”
would complete all to be desired in these ornamental grounds.
Heath, Charles, Historical and Descriptive accounts of the ancient and present state of the Town and Castle of Chepstow including the pleasurable regions of Persfield [sic] and a variety of other particulars deserving the stranger’s notice round that neighbourhood. Collected from original papers and unquestionable authorities. The whole never before published. By Charles Heath, Printer, Monmouth, Printed and Sold by him, in the Market Place: Sold also by Mr Roberts, Ross, Mrs Kirby, Chepstow; and at all inns in the County. 1805. [This contains a preface to the first edition dated 1801] (and some subsequent editions).

[written in about 1805]
Mr Morris had such a passion for improving Persfield, that he risked his Life, in order to lop the straggling Branches of a tree (disfiguring the appearance of the Precipice at the Lover’s Leap) a service which all his Workmen refused, although offered a very large Recompense; and which he performed by Means of a Cord fastened round his Waist, and enabling him to descend above 50 Feet, where, had any accident happened, he must inevitably have been dashed to Pieces.
Sotheby, William?, A Journal of a tour through parts of Monmouthshire and Glamorgan, NLW ms 6497C, pp. 3; 94-97

George Smith ( – ) owned the estate c. 1783-1794

Smith was credited with straightening out some of the sinuous paths. Archaeological work on the site in 2005 confirmed this.

1787
The house is of no account; but the views from the house and the walks (which are now in much neglect) are noble and romantic …
Byng, John, (Viscount Torrington), A Tour in South Wales in 1787, Cardiff Central Library, MS 3.237, 29th July

1788
The grounds are now not in such perfection, nor so extensive; the whole length of them is about five miles, but since the present purchaser, Mr Smith, has had the place, only half are grown wild and not at present displayed. He has however, begun to open them again, and is greatly altering the whole; whether his new models will be more valued than the originals, time and taste must determine; many of the beautiful serpentines, I fear, from what we now observed, will be thrown into straight lines.
Shaw, Stebbing, A tour to the West of England, in 1788, (London, 1789), pp. 213-216

1789
The following appears to be incorrect, but it depends on the date of printing.
The whole [of the estate] has been for some time neglected, and while this sheet was printing was sold in chancery.
Gough, Richard, Britannia: or, a chorographical description of the flourishing kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and the islands adjacent; from the earliest antiquity. By William Camden. Translated from the edition published by the author in MDCVII. Enlarged by the latest discoveries, by Richard Gough, Vol. 2, (London, MDCCLXXXIX. [1789]), pp. 484

Colonel Mark Wood (1750-1829) owned the estate 1794-1800

Smith ‘enclosed the Park with the high Stone Wall’

[1794]
He [Colonel Wood] entirely removed the old building [the old part of  the house?] and considerably extended and improved the plan of Mr Smith – The House as it now stands is of his construction – He also made some alterations in the disposition of the grounds; how far they may be deemed improvements can best be judged by those who have remembered them in the time of Mr Morris – I am informed that several of the Old Walks are now no more.

Payne, H.T., ‘Recollections of a visit to Llanbeder [Llanbedr] in the County of Brecon with remarks on an excursion down the River Wye from Rhos to Chepstow including Abergavenny, Monmouth, Persfield, Raglan etc. by A.M.Cuyler, 1807’ [but written by Payne], NLW add MS 784a, pp. 126-144

1795
Adam Mickle laid out a new approach to Piercefield from a new lodge [in 1795].
Cox, William, Historical Tour, (1801), p. 312

(Written 1807)
The Rev. H.T. Payne wrote two slightly different descriptions of Piercefield.
(1) The approach is by a handsome Lodge with Iron Gates, communicating with the high road, and I understand was conducted by Mr Mickle.
(2) The approach is by a handsome Lodge with Iron Gates constructed by the late proprietor, who under the direction of Mr Mickle has obviated the reflection of “the broad straight line” which a tourist of that day, had cast upon his predecessor.
(1) Payne, Henry Thomas, (1759-1832) for his wife’s niece, A.M.Cuyler
‘Recollections of a visit to Llanbeder [Llanbedr] in the County of Brecon with remarks on an excursion down the River Wye from Rhos to Chepstow including Abergavenny, Monmouth, Persfield, Raglan etc by A.M.Cuyler, 1807’, NLW add MS 784a, pp.126-144
(2) Payne, Henry Thomas, (1759-1832), for his wife
‘Recollections of Two Excursions from Llanbedr to Ross, with the Navigation of the River Wye to Chepstow, and a Walk to Persfield. Returning by Newport, Caerphilly, Cardiff, Merthyr-Tidvael and Brecknock, by Mary Payne, 1807, Vol. 1′. Powys Archives, Llandrindod, A104/1/2(1)

1796
Col Wood is building a very large house of white stone, which is brought from Bath – was only begun 13 months ago and the Col expects to get into it in five weeks – gave £39,000 for the estate the house is to cost more than £20,000 and the walks £1,000 to put them in repair; then remains the Garden Green House and Hot House to do – so much for East India Money.
Anon, A Tour from York into Wales in the year 1796, NLW MS 4489, pp. 12-14

Nathaniel Wells (1779 – 1852) Owned the estate 1802-1852

1805 (and possibly earlier)
GENERAL OUTLINE OF PERSFIELD
PERSFIELD is not a large place, — the park contains about three hundred acres, and the house stands in the midst of it. On the side of the approach the inequalities of the ground are gentle and the plantations pretty; but nothing in the upper lawn is great. On the other side, the lower lawn falls precipitately every way into a deep vale, which shelves down the middle. The declivities are diversified with clumps and with groves, and a number of large trees straggle along the bottom. This lawn is encompassed with wood, and to give variety to the views from Persfield,—to disclose the native grandeur which surrounds it,- as well as to set off its most striking features to advantage, WALKS have been cut through the woods, and on the face of the precipice, which border the grounds to the South and East.
The Wye runs immediately below the wood; the banks are high hills; in different places steep, bulging out, or hollow on the sides; rounded, flattened, or irregular at top; and covered with wood, or broken by rocks. They are sometimes seen in front; sometimes in perspective; falling back for the passage, or closing behind the bend of the river; appearing to meet, rising above, or shooting out beyond one another.
The wood which incloses the Lawn crowns an extensive range of these hills, which overlook all those on the opposite shore, with the country, which appears above or between them; and winding themselves as the river winds, their sides, all rich and beautiful, are alternately exhibited; and the point of view in one spot becomes an object to the next.
In many places the principal feature is a continued rock, in length a quarter of a mile, perpendicular, high, and placed upon a height. To resemble ruins is common to rocks; but no ruin of any single structure was ever equal to this enormous pile: it seems to be the remains of a city; and other smaller, heaps scattered about it, appear to be feinter traces of the former extent, and strengthen the similitude.
It stretches along the brow which terminates the forest of Dean; the face of it is composed of immense blocks of stone, but not rugged; the top is bare and uneven, but not craggy; and from the foot of it, a declivity, covered with thicket, slopes gently towards the Wye, but in one part is abruptly broken off by a ledge of less, rocks, of a different hue, and in a different direction. From the grotto it seems to rise immediately over a thick wood, which extends down a hill below the point of view, across the valley through which the Wye flows, and up the opposite banks, hides the river, and continues without interruption to the bottom of the rock; from another seat it is seen by itself without even its base; it faces another, with all its appendages about it; and sometimes the sight of it is partially intercepted by trees, beyond which, at a distance, its long line continues on through all the openings between them.
Most of the hills about Persfield are full of rock ; some are intermixed with hanging woods, and either advance a little before them, or retire within them, and are backed, or overhung, or separated by trees, In the walk to the cave, a long succession of them is frequently seen in perspective, all of a dark colour, and with wood in the intervals between them. In other parts, the rocks are more wild and uncouth; and sometimes they stand on the tops of the highest hills; at other times down as low as the river; they are home objects in one spot; and appear only in the back-ground of another.
The woods concur with the rocks to render the scenes of Persfield romantic; the place every where abounds with them; they cover the tops of the hills; they hang on the steeps ; or they fill the depths of the vallies. In one place they front, in another they rise above, in another they sink below, the point of view: they are seen sometimes retiring beyond each other, and darkening as they recede; and sometimes an opening between two is closed by a a third at a distance beyond them.
Heath, Charles, Historical and Descriptive accounts of the ancient and present state of the Town and Castle of Chepstow including the pleasurable regions of Persfield [sic] and a variety of other particulars deserving the stranger’s notice round that neighbourhood. Collected from original papers and unquestionable authorities. The whole never before published.  By Charles Heath, Printer, Monmouth, Printed and Sold by him, in the Market Place: Sold also by Mr Roberts, Ross, Mrs Kirby, Chepstow; and at all inns in the County. 1805. [This contains a preface to the first edition dated 1801] (and subsequent editions).

1805?
Upon the whole, although this celebrated place, excited my imagination, yet the sensation I felt on walking over the grounds was far from pleasing …
Sotheby, William?, A Journal of a tour through parts of Monmouthshire and Glamorgan, NLW ms 6497C, pp. 3; 94-97

1810 (about)
Just before you reach [Chepstow] in approaching the bridge a beautiful house to the right arrests your attention; which is situated in the centre of a spacious domain interestingly obscured by the luxuriant foliage of the surrounding trees [Piercefield] and presenting you at different angles of the Road, with its rich and varied beauties. By the politeness of Mr Wells, the proprietor of Piercefield (of which I said a few words at the beginning), we were allowed to walk in the grounds which surpass any in the neighbourhood. In the place there is certainly much to admire; but nothing to strike very forcibly; the walks are tedious, too steep and sombre to be quite pleasing.
Anon, Narrative of a Tour through Wales by an anonymous English Gentleman, NLW ms 18943, ff. 1r, 3r-4r

1816
[The House] Its situation is uncommonly well chosen, being built on a gentle ascent, with a large lawn in front, to which there is an entrance by a magnificent gate, with two large stone lions on its pillars. There is another gate, ornamented with vases, on the same line nearer to the abbey. We enter the park through a side gate (visitors not being allowed to drive up to the great entrance-gate), and proceed along a walk which runs round it, and which enables us to view the most beautiful part of it. …
The park upon the whole seems to be neglected by its present proprietor; the walks are in various places choked up with weeds and bushes, and every where covered with large stones; so that when passing along them we seem as on a bad country road.
Spiker, Samuel Heinrich, Dr (1786-1858),Travels through England, Wales, & Scotland, in the year 1816. : Translated from the German (London : 1820), Vol. 2, pp. 82-85

1818
We earnestly recommend the visitor to inspect these walks according to the succession of objects here laid down, in which many of them appear to greater advantage. Thus, if you approach from St. Arvan’s, you lose the darksome interest of this [the Giant’s] cave; for on that side a gleam of light streams through it; but on this, all is dark, gloomy, and obscure.
Willett, Mark, An Excursion from the Source of the Wye, A New Edition / Second edition. (John Evans and Co., Bristol, [1818?])

1831
Many of the objects are seen more than once, but, being viewed from different stations and with new accompaniments, they appear new. The walk, however, has a degree of tediousness and too much sameness in many of its parts, notwithstanding the general variety which enlivens it.
Leigh, Samuel, Leigh’s Guide to Wales & Monmouthshire: containing observations on the mode of travelling, plans of various tours, sketches of the manners and customs, notices of historical events, and description of every remarkable place, and a minute account of the Wye, with a map of Wales.
1st edition, 1831; 2nd ed. 1833; 3rd ed. 1835; 4th ed. 1839; 5th ed.; 6th ed. 1841; 6th ed. 1842 and 1844

1822
Early this year owing to the previous rainy season, about three acres of that part of the Martridge Wood, which lies between the Lover‘s Leap and the Cold Bath, have slidden down towards the river, carrying with them some fir trees, the underwood, and some rocks.
Gentlemans Magazine, March 1822, p. 267.

ACCESS TO THE HOUSE AND GROUNDS

There is little evidence that the house was normally open to the public although Charles Heath in his 1805 edition of The Ancient and Present State of Chepstow and Persfield recommended that visitors view it and states that the ‘Hours of viewing it [the house], from eleven till four’ [p. 70] and follows this with a detailed description of the interior [pp. 79-81]. However, very few tourists seem to have taken this opportunity: perhaps in practice, it was rarely open to the public.
During much of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Piercefield Park was officially open on only one or two days a week except to special visitors and those who chose to trespass at other times.
There is no firm evidence whether Valentine Morris (owner 1743-1784) restricted access to the house and grounds to certain days of the week. A few of the people who recorded visiting Piercefield during his residence were also entertained by Morris in the house.
Miss J.M. was entertained in the house in 1760 because one of her party knew one of the occupants of the house; Joseph Banks, the naturalist, had supper with Valentine Morris in 1767; The Hon. James Bucknall Grimston, (3rd Viscount) and his companion Thomas de Grey, (2nd Baron Walsingham) were entertained by Mr Morris in 1769.
The house was leased after Morris left in 1772, and no one described the interior until 1801 (Coxe) and Heath recommended viewing it (probably in the same year, but certainly in 1805).

George Smith (owner c. 1783-1794) initially allowed the grounds to be visited only on Thursdays but in 1793 Charles Heath reported that it was open every day. Smith began rebuilding the house in 1785 and it was not finished when he sold it to Wood.

Col. Mark Wood (owner 1794-1800) completed work on the house by 1797-1798. He allowed visits to the Park on Tuesdays and Fridays and in his absence on other days too.

Nathaniel Wells (owner 1802-1852) also allowed the grounds to be visited on Tuesdays and Fridays. According to Farington (1803), Wells did not refuse application for admission on other days but Shum (also 1803), thought otherwise. Charles Heath stated in 1805 that the Mansion was also open on Tuesdays and Fridays but in his 1813 edition, he reported that only the grounds were open on those days. In 1810 Bruce noted that ‘Strangers are not permitted to inspect the whole of the house – as the numerous family of Mr Wells occupy almost every apartment.’ One visitor recorded that the grounds were open only one day week during part of the 1840s.

Subsequent owners and occupiers
In about 1850 the estate was leased to John Russell (1788-1873) and was purchased by him in 1855 following the death of Wells in 1852. The grounds were not always open on specified days – it seems likely that they were not officially open at all for months if not years during the 1850s, but it was possible to apply to the occupants for permission which might not have be granted until the following day.
In 1854 a guide book stated that admission may be obtained by making a written application to the occupier, Mr. Wintle.
In 1858 there were suggestions in the press that it should be reopened. By that time, far fewer tourists wrote journals than in previous decades so it is difficult to assess how influential the many guide books which described Piercefield were in attracting visitors to the grounds.
In 1858, a newspaper article announced that ‘through the liberality of the present proprietor, these delightsome walks, which have been for a long period closed to tourists, are now to be inspected, upon application at the Piercefield Inn [St Arvans], for a card of admission.’ (Chepstow Weekly Advertiser, 24th July, 1858)
In that year, the last known account of a visit to the park was recorded by Thomas Headlam.

In 1861 Piercefield was purchased by Henry Clay and from that date, although some guide books imply that it was open, no tourists mention visiting the grounds and only one guide book refers to it in its title. (Taylor’s Illustrated guide to the banks of the Wye, including Chepstow, Piercefield, Wyndcliff, the Magnificent Ruins of Tintern Abbey, Monmouth, Ross, Raglan & Goodrich castles and other parts of the Welsh Borders (Chepstow: [1870])).

One very late guide book, of 1898, suggests thatIf it be a Tuesday, the open day, the gatekeeper will at once furnish you with a little man for a guide through the tortuous leafy groves, bringing you all unexpectedly into some most exquisite spots of romantic beauty.’ (Anon, The Bristol Channel District Guide, (1898), Trip no. 14)
However, from the 1850s, Moss Cottage and Windcliff continued to be mentioned in guide books and by tourists because they could be visited without entering the Piercefield estate.

GUIDES TO THE GROUNDS

Some of the many guidebooks and published accounts of visits described the route along the paths in great detail, but the gardener, house staff, an elderly women or young children could be availed upon to act as a guide. Only a few tourists recorded the amount they paid the guide: one offered 2s 6d; another complained at being expected to pay 3s but one visitor was told that the guide was given only 1s a day, however many parties they took around the grounds. As at Hafod, the gardener and the house keeper probably gave the best value for money.

1768
I cannot avoid mentioning the spirit with which Mr Morris has his place shown; he has always people ready to attend whoever comes, to conduct them every where, and not one of them is suffered to take a farthing; yet they shew every thing with great readiness and civility:
Young, Arthur, (F.R.S., Secretary to the Board of Agriculture) A Six Weeks Tour through the Southern Counties of England and Wales, (1st edition, London, 1768), pp. 114-130, (2nd ed, 1769, pp. 164, 228)

1783, 1794 or 1800 
Mr Thomas [occupier]
No servant is suffered to take any reward for his trouble of showing the gardens.’
Anon, British Library, 5961, f. 13 [The diary has been dated to 1790, but the dates and days show that this is not correct: the 17th June fell on a Tuesday in 1783, 1794 and 1800]

1803
Farington paid the Gardener at Piercefield 2 shillings and paid another one shilling and two pence for something else there, possibly to one of the servants because ‘Not having knives and forks and glasses we sent to Piercefield house and were furnished with them.’
Farington, Joseph, (1747-1821) ‘Diary of a Tour from London to Cheltenham, Monmouth and Chepstow, 9-28 September, 1803’, p. 40, illustrated by small original sketches. Hereford Record Office, (formerly in the Hereford City Library), MS octavo, no 24136, 16th and 20th September, 1803.
Newby, Evelyn, [Appendix to Index to] The Diary of Joseph Farington, (Paul Mellon Centre, Yale Univ. Press, 1998), pp, 1027-1048

1807
Visitors are here expected to enter their names in a book which is kept by the porter – Neither carriages nor horses belonging to strangers are admitted into the Park. … The road leading to the house, which is not visible from hence, winds to the left – An old woman, who seemed to be in waiting, pointed out to us a walk in the opposite direction, and disappeared – but we were afterwards accompanied by a little girl  the gardener being gone forward with some other company
Payne, H.T., ‘Recollections of a visit to Llanbeder [Llanbedr] in the County of Brecon with remarks on an excursion down the River Wye from Rhos to Chepstow including Abergavenny, Monmouth, Persfield, Raglan etc. by A.M.Cuyler, 1807’ [but written by Payne], NLW add MS 784a, pp. 126-144
Payne, H.T., ‘Recollections of Two Excursions from Llanbedr to Ross, with the Navigation of the River Wye to Chepstow, and a Walk to Persfield. Returning by Newport, Caerphilly, Cardiff, Merthyr-Tidvael and Brecknock, by Mary Payne, 1807, Vol. 1’. [The recollections are in the hand-writing of and almost certainly written by H T Payne for his wife Mary], Powys Archives, Llandrindod, A104/1/2(1), pp. 100-105

1828
After breakfast I went to see Piercefield the seat of Mr Wells. I rang the park gates and was shown through the park by a boy who having found a woman (one of the guides) she showed me through the walks which are three miles in length and I was informed by the woman that all the money given by visitors went to the gardener and that he paid them a shilling a day to shew strangers the walks and that for that they had sometimes to go five or six times up and down the walks in a day.
Clark, Charles B., Tour of Wales in August and September, 1828, NLW MS 15002A, 7th October 1828 (Tuesday)

1828
Piercefield is a superb villa, with a very extensive park, the most interesting part of which extends for about three miles along the banks of the Wye, and through the whole of which we all travelled on foot, with two or three guides in attendance.
Green, Jacob, Notes of a Traveller during a tour of England, France and Switzerland in 1828, vol. 2, (New York, 1831), pp. 115-117, 121-124

1833
At a little distance from the lodge we met a small boy, who walked with us to a tall tree, and catching at a rope hanging to it, rang such a sonorous peal on a great bell hidden among the branches, as must have long since scared away all the. Dryads and gentle Genii of the place. This startling summons having brought the guide to our assistance, we were conducted to the “Alcove,”
Twamley, Louisa A. The annual of British Landscape Scenery; An autumn ramble on the Wye, (London: 1839), pp. 40-44

1847
Emily Hall was very disappointed by her visit to Piercefield and thought the three shillings charged by the guide was wasted. She wrote: I should certainly say to anybody wanting to go to Piercefield – “Don’t”
Diary, Bromley Archives, 855/F2/5, pp. 163

Guides to Windcliff

1842
I do not know the height of the Wind Cliff – the guide book says it is “most awful” – hard to descend, still harder to mount: but there is a good-natured woman at the bottom who mounts most cheerfully for a shilling, and will do so many times in the day.
Lady Ritchie [Thackeray’s daughter], editor, The Works of William Makepeace Thackeray, vol. 26, (Miscellanies), (London, 1911), pp. 100-130

VISITS TO THE HOUSE AND GROUNDS

Valentine Morris II (1727-1789), Owner 1743-1783

Inherited the estate in 1743, began landscaping it in 1752 but became bankrupt in 1772. The house and grounds might have been leased out, sometimes separately and it is said that the grounds became neglected, but they were visited by a few people. It was not until 1784 that the estate was sold.

[written by 1803]
Philanthropic, hospitable, and magnificent, his house was promiscuously open to the numerous visitors whom curiosity led to his improvements; but alas! by his splendid liberality, his unbounded benevolence, and unforeseen contingencies, his fortune became involved …
Barber, J.T., (1774-1841), Tour Throughout South Wales and Monmouthshire, (1803)

1760
One of our company being acquainted with a Lady at Mr. Morris’s House, we were invited to eat a Bit of Cake and drink a Glass of Wine;
Letter from Miss J. M. to William Shenstone, Esq [of Leasowes]. Select letters between the late Duchess of Somerset, Lady Luxborough, Miss Dolman, Mr. Whistler. Mr. R. Dodsley. William Shenstone, Esq. and others, Vol. 1, (London, 1778), pp. 285-294

1767
dined with Mr Morrice
Joseph Banks, Diary, Cambridge University Library add. 6924

1769
Tuesday 22nd August
We rode to Pearcefield [sic] belonging to Mr Morris.
Mr Morris’s very obliging civilities induced us to accept of an invitation he made of us of supping with him; the polite reception we met with engaged us to dine with him the next day, and his usual complaisance to strangers induced him to give us letters of recommendation to his friends. I must not forget to add that Mrs Morris joined with him in endeavouring to show us every kind of politeness. By her recollection it was we owed the pleasure we had in hearing the report of a gun as near as possible vie with the bursts of real thunder, the rocks returning the echo 23 times.
23rd August. In the evening we left our hospitable entertainer and travelled on to Monmouth.
James Bucknall Grimston, (3rd Viscount Grimston,1747-1808), Hertfordshire Record Office (St Albans), MS D/EVY15-19; full transcription in Report on the manuscripts of the Earl of Gorhambury, Historic Monuments Commission Report, (HMSO, 1906), p. 252
Grimston was accompanied by Thomas de Grey, (1748-1819) (2nd Baron Walsingham), whose manuscript account of their tour is in Norfolk Record Office, WLS LXX/2 481×6

1781
The walks are ill kept, some of them are almost impassable, viz, the zig-zag walk to the water, and that to the cold bath. As horses would not spoil the walks, men and old women who cannot traverse them, should be allowed to go in any carriage; and how highly would it repay the gardener to keep a garden chair with a small horse; as it is so profitably and agreeably practiced at Mr Hamiltons at Pains-Hill.
Byng, John, (Viscount Torrington), An Excursion Taken in the Year 1781, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

1782
Daniel Augustus Beaufort (1739-1821) and his wife Mary rented Piercefield at 40 guineas per anum. Mary Beaufort thought the old house was ‘ugly and ill-suited to the grandeur of the place’.
Beaufort, Daniel Augustus, Diaries and travel journals in Trinity College, Dublin
Ellison, C.C., The Hopeful Traveller: The Life and Times of Daniel Augustus Beaufort, LDD, (1987) p. 32

1783, 1794 or 1800 
Mr Thomas [occupier]
No servant is suffered to take any reward for his trouble of showing the gardens.’
Anon, British Library, 5961, f. 13
[The diary has been dated to 1790, but the dates and days show that this is incorrect: the 17th June fell on a Tuesday in 1783, 1794 and 1800]

1784
the [previous] owner was ruined by a spirit of hospitality and that his own sister was then a lodger in her brother’s lordly Mansion, occupying only a few rooms, and with scarce a domestic at her command
Cumberland, George, (1754-1848) of Bristol, A Tour in North and South Wales in the Year 1784, NLW Lloyd-Johnes MSS Deposit Dec. 1976 (Microfilm 215)
Lloyd-Johnes, H.J., A Tour in North and South Wales in the year 1784, National Library of Wales Journal, XIX, (1976), pp. 336-338

[written in 1790]
During the time Mr Morris lived there the place was open to company every day in the week
Nicholson, Frances, NLW MS15190C, (typescript, p. 19), 8th July 1790

George Smith ( – ) owned the estate c. 1783-1794

1787
It is now the property of Mr Smith who suffers it to be shown only once a week.
Anon, Excursion into the West of England, NLW, Ms 11492B, p. 39

1787
[The estate has] lately been sold to Mr Smith, who has fixed Thursday the day of admission, but at Mr J’s desire permitted us to come today.
Byng, John, (Viscount Torrington), A Tour in South Wales in 1787, Cardiff Central Library, MS 3.237, 29th July

1790
the present possessor does not allow it to be seen any day except Thursday which was the occasion of our staying at Chepstow a day longer than we intended.
Nicholson, Frances, NLW MS15190C, (typescript, p. 19), 8th July 1790

1793
By the kind Permission of Mr Smith, these Walks at present are to be seen every day.
Heath, Charles, Descriptive Accounts of Persfield and Chepstow, including Caerwent and the Passages, (1793), preface

Colonel Mark Wood (1750-1829) owned the estate 1794-1800

1795 28th August [Friday]
The walks are now open for strangers only 2 days in the week and lucky for me Friday was one. I walked up the footpath through the Park to the house which is more than half a mile. I here met with the Gardener and we began our perambulation. … [at the end of the walk through the estate] I here presented my Guide with a present of half a Crown and dismissed him.
Journal of Richard Hodgkinson, 1763-1847, ‘Visit to Ross and Tour of the Sights of the Wye Valley’, Manchester Central Library Archives (L15/2)
Florence Wood, Kenneth Wood, A Lancashire gentleman: the letters and journals of Richard Hodgkinson, 1763-1847, Alan Sutton, (1992)

1796
Col Wood allows the gardens to be seen on Tuesdays and Fridays only. However, as the family were absent we this morning (Monday) obtained permission to visit the place.
Williams, William, (1774-1839) and Burgess, James, Rev (1774-1839), J. B. jnr and W. W. ‘A Pedestrian Tour thro Wales in 1796’ / ‘The Journal of my grandfather, William Williams with the Rev James Burgess in Wales, in 1796’. NLW MS 23253 C, ff. 8-11

1797
The gardens are only allowed to be shewn on Tuesdays and Fridays
Manners, John Henry, (Fifth Duke of Rutland,1778-1857), Journal of a tour through north and south Wales, the Isle of Man, [and a small part of Scotland] &c. &c. [in 1797], (1805), pp. 44-47

1798
At Piercefield, the seat of Mark Wood Esq., so famed, so celebrated for the chosen scite it occupies and for the delightful contributions of nature and art so powerfully exerted to make it please we were somewhat defeated in our hopes by being informed that the admission of strangers to the grounds was only permitted on Tuesdays and Fridays and then under the guardianship of a servant, this narrow minded policy of the colonel impressed us with an unfavourable trait of the man, we … were fully disposed to quit the place after condescending to view the front of the very elegant, newly erected stone mansion, which is highly adorned by exquisite sculptured statues on its cornice, and has an air of grandeur not to be surpassed in its exterior. Many strangers had arrived here in carriages who reluctantly suffered the same disappointment, not having calculated on the restrictions and notices to be observed in visiting Piercefield. The proscription was a contrast to what we had invariably met with, which perhaps inclined us to be more piqued than so trivial an incident seemed to demand; its military owner may consider that its beauties want no favourable circumstance to bring them into notice, its celebrity is complete, a wish to visit it by those unacquainted with the spot is resistless; therefore, tis time for intrusions to be shut out; but opposing considerations deserve attention, its very popularity is the cause why so much attention is every summer paid to the place, tourists in Wales or the west of our island carry with them descriptions of it, parties coming to the Wells at Bristol or Bath seldom fail to make excursions hither, the variety included in the route by sailing to Chepstow, its local situation too on the borders of Cambria and England beckon visitors to the scene who must retire ungratified or resort to the general rendezvous (the inn at Chepstow) till the day of exhibition.
Anon, Sketch of a pedestrian Tour thro’ parts of North and South Wales etc. Begun September 3rd, 1798 by GN, DJJ, RP., NLW 4419B, ff. 26-27

Nathaniel Wells (1779 – 1852) Owned the estate 1802-1852

1800, 11th September Thursday
We went to Piercefield and tho it not being a “shew day” we could not see the house we prevailed on the old Porteress to accompany us around the grounds. … The woman who has care of the [Lodge] gate … told me that Mr Wells is very exact about admission to see the grounds. Every person who goes for that purpose is required to write His or Her name and the book is carried to him every Saturday night from which he transcribes all the names into a book which he keeps in his own possession. He does not refuse application for admission on other days but Tuesday or Friday, but should a person be seen in the grounds without leave, He would himself go to the gate and express himself angrily to her.
Trevenen, John Rev [Probably] (Rector of Creed, Cornwall, 1817-1829) (1781-1829), Journal of a Walk Through Wales in the Autumn of 1800, NLW facs 501, pp. 55-56

1801
This much admired spot is about 2 miles from Chepstow and Company were permitted to walk there, but our friend at Dingstow Court told us that they were now shut up and that they were not permitted to walk in them, but this we afterwards found was not exactly the fact but they were only open on Tuesdays and Fridays, but neither of these days suited our plan.
Mr M., A Tour of South Wales, [1801], NLW MS 1340C, pp. 56-57

1803
Eager to view this enchanting domain, the favourite resort and theme of tourists, nor less the pride of Monmouthshire, we applied at the gate for admission; when a well-grown lad made his appearance, who stared at us through the rails, with more than the usual stupidity of boys brought up at a distance from towns. Again and again, with entreaties and threats, we stated our business; but nothing could excite the gaping vacuity of his countenance, or induce him to open the gate. Rightly concluding that he was an idiot, we were returning towards the town for instructions how to act, when a venerable pate with “silver crowned” appeared at the window of the lodge, and by dint of hallooing and patience, in waiting upwards of a quarter of an hour, we had the old man at the gate. He was the boy’s grand-father; and, if intellect were hereditary, the boy might presume on his lineage with more chance of correctness than many of higher birth.
The old man, after obliging us to hear a tedious incomprehensible narrative to account for his hobbling attendance, at length concluded by telling us, that we could not upon any account see the grounds, as they were only shewn on Tuesdays and Fridays. This was on a Saturday; but to wait until the following Tuesday would be a tax indeed; and to proceed without seeing Piercefield a sad flaw in our tour; so we essayed with success a means which, it may be remarked, when applied in a due proportion to its object, is scarcely ever known to fail.
We rode up an embowered lane to the village of St. Aryan’s, and leaving our horses at the blacksmith’s, entered Piercefield grounds, at a back gate.
Barber, J.T., (1774-1841), Tour Throughout South Wales and Monmouthshire, Comprehending A General Survey of the Picturesque Scenery, Remains of Antiquity, Historical Events, Peculiar Manners, and Commercial Situations of That Interesting Portion of the British Empire. (1st edition, London: 1803), chapter 16, pp. 255-264.

1803
17th September (Saturday)
The Gardener at Piercefield informed us that the public days for seeing the place are Wednesday [sic] and Friday but that if written to He never knew Mr Wells refuse an application on other days. Accordingly I wrote requesting admission. … when I had completed my work [drawing in Chepstow Castle] I declined going to Piercefield though I had been informed at the Inn that Mr Wells had sent Compliments with permission for me to go.
Tuesday Sept 20
The morning proved very wet so as to prevent my visiting Piercefield … at noon the Weather became fair and I … proceeded to Piercefield …
The woman who has care of the [Lodge] gate spoke highly of the charitable and good disposition of Mr and Mrs Wells, and of Miss Wells, his sister. Mr Wells is a Creole of a very deep colour, but Miss Wells is fair. The woman told me that Mr Wells is very exact about admission to see the grounds. Every person who goes for that purpose is required to write His or Her name and the book is carried to him every Saturday night from which he transcribes all the names into a book which he keeps in his own possession. He does not refuse application for admission on other days but Tuesday or Friday, but should a person be seen in the grounds without leave, He would himself go to the gate and express himself angrily to her.
Farington, Joseph, (1747-1821) ‘Diary of a Tour from London to Cheltenham, Monmouth and Chepstow, 9-28 September, 1803’, p. 40, illustrated by small original sketches. Hereford Record Office, (formerly in the Hereford City Library), MS octavo, no 24136, 16th and 20th September, 1803
Newby, Evelyn, [Appendix to Index to] The Diary of Joseph Farington, (Paul Mellon Centre, Yale Univ. Press, 1998), pp, 1027-1048

1803
I had almost forgotten to mention that Tuesdays and Fridays are the only days upon which the grounds at Piercefield are shown. On these days there is no difficulty whatever in gaining a sight of them, but on other days, no person upon any pretence is suffered to see them.
Shum, George, ‘Sketches in Monmouthshire, Glamorganshire and Gloucestershire Made during the summer of 1803’ Newport Central Reference Library ms.

1805
By the kind Permission of Mr. WELLS, these WALKS and MANSION HOUSE are open for Public Inspection EVERY TUESDAY AND FRIDAY.
The Hours for viewing the Mansion are restricted from Eleven o’clock till Four; but the Walks are open from Morning till Night.
[see the entry in the 1813 edition of this book, below, which does not mention the Mansion as being open.]
From Chepstow we proceed along the Monmouth turnpike (a fine driving) road, for about a mile, till we arrive at the LODGE. Here company alight; neither carriages nor horses being permitted to pass these gates; and enter the Park, through which a pleasant path leads to a second gate, where a person usually waits to conduct the visitors over these pleasurable regions.
Let it be further mentioned that the Public were permitted over the Pleasure Grounds TWO days in a week, – an indulgence the liberality and politeness of Mr Wells have thought proper to continue; previous to which, Mr Smith confined the inspection to every Thursday only. Strangers who wish to visit Persfield, should give attention to the days the Walks are open to the Public, viz, every Tuesday and Friday, as no admittance is to be obtained, under any circumstances, at an intervening time.
Heath, Charles, Historical and Descriptive accounts of the ancient and present state of the Town and Castle of Chepstow including the pleasurable regions of Persfield [sic] and a variety of other particulars deserving the stranger’s notice round that neighbourhood. Collected from original papers and unquestionable authorities. The whole never before published.  By Charles Heath, Printer, Monmouth, Printed and Sold by him, in the Market Place: Sold also by Mr Roberts, Ross, Mrs Kirby, Chepstow; and at all inns in the County. 1805. [This contains a preface to the first edition dated 1801]

1808
Millicent Bant travelled with Lady Wilson of Charlton House, Kent on some very long tours of England and Wales. Possibly because of Lady Wilson’s status, they had access to houses which other people did not see. Not only did they get into the house at Piercefield, they were allowed to view it and the grounds on a Wednesday.
In the evening went to the celebrated walks of Piercefield three miles in length; we went only half way to the point which they call the double view. … Had the good fortune to get a peep at the House; outside and in, …
Bant, Millicent, [tour] Essex Record Office D/DFr f4, pp. 13-14

1810
[note:] Strangers are not permitted to inspect the whole of the house – as the numerous family of Mr Wells occupy almost every apartment. [end of note]
Having learnt that the public were admitted to Piercefield only on Tuesdays and Fridays – I addressed the following letter to the proprietor – as soon as I descended to breakfast.
Beaufort Arms, Chepstow, Thursday 23rd August 1810
Sir
Having obtained a short respite from my official duties in the Adjutant General’s Office – the recorded beauties of “Piercefield” attracted me to its vicinity, – but as I understood on a day when the public are not allowed an inspection of your residence. – The very limited period of my leave of absence – prompts me therefore, humbly to entreat your permission to view Piercefield.
I have the honour to remain – with great respect – Sir, your most obedient humble servant
W.J. Bruce.
The answer to this appeal politely acquainted me that a servant should be in readiness to attend me over the grounds in the afternoon. … On my arrival at Piercefield Lodge – I found my promised conductor in attendance – and we immediately proceeded on the tour of the gardens, comprising three miles.
Bruce, William Joseph, A Peregrination through part of the Counties of Somerset, Monmouthshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire with a portion of South Wales and a tour round north Wales as performed in the Autumn of the Year 1810, to which is subjoined a brief History of the Principality of Wales … and a tour [of part of England] during the summer of 1809, NLW, ms 19405 C, pp. 42, 46

1810 (about)
By the politeness of Mr Wells, the proprietor of Piercefield (of which I said a few words at the beginning), we were allowed to walk in the grounds which surpass any in the neighbourhood.
Anon, Narrative of a Tour through Wales by an anonymous English Gentleman, NLW ms 18943, ff. 1r, 3r-4r

1810
The prospect from the house, which stands high, must be excellent; but it is not shewn. This house, and 3000 acres of land, not all good, cost the present owner £90,000 sterling.
Simond, Louis, Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain, During the Years 1810 and 1811 by a French traveller: with Remarks of the Country, its Arts, Literature, and Politics, and on the Manners and Customs of its Inhabitants (1815), p. 209; 2nd edition (1817), 267-269

1810
These walks are, by the liberality of the proprietor, open for the inspection of the public on Tuesdays and Fridays, from nine o’clock in the morning until five in the afternoon.
Willett, Mark, An Excursion from the Source of the Wye, [1810] 1st edition, pp. 86

1813
By the kind Permission of Mr. WELLS, these Walks are open for Public Inspection EVERY TUESDAY AND FRIDAY, From Morning till Night. [In the 1805 edition, Heath stated that the house was also open.]
Heath, Charles, Historical and Descriptive accounts of the ancient and present state of the Town and Castle of Chepstow including the pleasurable regions of Persfield [sic] and a variety of other particulars deserving the stranger’s notice round that neighbourhood. Collected from original papers and unquestionable authorities. By Charles Heath. The Sixth Edition, Monmouth, Printed and Sold by him, in the Market Place: Sold also at all the towns in the County, and by Longman and Co., London, Preface dated July 1813

1816
now the property of Sir Nathaniel Wells, who allows the public the gratification of viewing and roaming about his park every Tuesday and Friday. The house itself is not shown, but it is said to contain nothing remarkable, excepting some Gobelin tapestry, which formerly belonged to Louis XVI.
Spiker, Samuel Heinrich, Dr (1786-1858), Travels through England, Wales, & Scotland, in the year 1816: Translated from the German (London: 1820), Vol. 2, pp. 82-85

1818?
[The visitor] should … arrange his excursion in order to visit Piercefield on the public days, which are Tuesdays and Fridays only. The house is not now shewn to strangers.
The principal Lodge is about half a mile from Chepstow, on the Monmouth road, where the party will alight and order their vehicle to meet them at the village of St Arvan, one mile and a half further, near the upper extremity of the walks, where there is a decent village inn called the Squirrel. At this lodge the Gardener resides, who will attend the party through the walks.
Willett, Mark, An Excursion from the Source of the Wye, A New Edition / Second edition. (John Evans and Co., Bristol, [1818?])

1826
Readers … will make such an arrangement of their time as will enable them to devote either Tuesdays and Friday to visiting Persfield [Piercefield], – the walks being then only open to the public; but the glorious eminence of WINDCLIFF may be attained from the Grotto Cottage, [Moss Cottage] in the ascent up the Simplon of Monmouthshire that leads to Persfield and Chepstow, at any time in the week. – Language fails in attempting more than to notice the existence of such a scene!
Heath, Charles, Journey down the Wye from Gloucester to Ross, Preface, dated October 1826

1828
This paragraph by Charles Heath implies that visitors were provided with refreshments by the staff of Piercefield House, but it is more likely that he meant (somewhat tongue in cheek) the staff of Moss Cottage, which sold refreshments.
Having enjoyed this mental banquet, the writer hopes that the house steward and butler have not been forgotten, and that they are now prepared to spread the table of hospitality, for without these appendages EN SUITE, even this seat of pleasure, loses a portion of that interest which it is so admirably calculated to inspire; …
It may not be uninteresting to inform Strangers, that, at the upper end of the village of St. Arvon, a few hundred yards from the termination of Persfield Walks, is an Inn, called the Squirrel, where carriages and horses can be taken care of during their stay at Persfield and should they afterwards wish to extend; their excursion, to Tintern—two miles and a half there is a good driving road to the Abbey; and a new line of communication with it is now laid down, which will present many of the views before described, with other rich pictures of the venerable Monastery and its appendant scenery. Also, should it not be possible to visit Persfield, on the day it. grounds are open to the public, they can proceed in their equipages to the Windcliff—this delightful scene being open every day in the year. Parties going from Chepstow to Abergavenny, can pass through St. Arvons; and in their road lies that interesting object, the magnificent Castle of Ragland, which no stranger of taste, if he had leisure, should omit visiting, as it will amply reward the extent of a few miles of his intended tour, being only twelve from Chepstow. At Ragland is a very good Inn, the Beaufort Arms, kept by Mrs. Hallen, where carriage and other parties will meet with post horses, wines, and other requisite accommodations.
Heath, Charles, Historical and Descriptive Accounts of the Ancient and Present State of Tintern Abbey with a variety of other particulars deserving the stranger’s notice relating to that much admired ruin and its neighbourhood. Collected from original papers and unquestionable authorities. (1828)

1829
It was not the day for seeing Piercefield, which we did not so much regret as we had enjoyed its best view from the magnificent Windcliff.
Wintle, Thomas Drayton, A Tour on the Wye: Or an Account of a Three Days’ Journey from Gloucester to Ross, Monmouth & Chepstow, (Gloucester, 1829), pp. 46-48

1830
If a party happen to arrive on a day when Piercefield grounds are not open to the Public, horses or carriages can be left at the Piercefield Inn, at the entrance to the village of St. Arvans during the time the Company are engaged in proceeding to and returning from the Windcliff—the Walk there being always open.
[The top of the Windcliff could be accessed by the 300 plus steps leading from the Moss Cottage at the base of the cliff.]
Anon, A Guide to the Town and Neighbourhood of Chepstow; the beauties of Piercefield; the Grand Scenery of the Windcliff; the Celebrated Ruin of Tintern Abbey, &c. &c. (Chepstow: Third edition with various Alterations and Additions, 1830), pp. 38-61

1831
The grounds can only be seen on Tuesdays and Fridays, by applying to Mr. Wells.
Leigh, Samuel, Leigh’s Guide to Wales & Monmouthshire: containing observations on the mode of travelling, plans of various tours, sketches of the manners and customs, notices of historical events, and description of every remarkable place, and a minute account of the Wye, with a map of Wales.
1st edition, 1831; 2nd ed. 1833; 3rd ed. 1835, p. 265; 4th ed. 1839 p. 279; 5th ed.; 6th ed. 1841; 6th ed. 1842 and 1844

1833
Catherine Sinclair might have been wrong in understanding that the grounds were closed to the public at this time.
Travellers feel extremely ill used now, in not being admitted to lionize the beautiful grounds of Piercefield, formerly opened with the utmost liberality, but now entirely shut up from public view, having been recently sold to a new purchaser, who has not revealed his name, being desirous to evade the odium of causing such an exclusion. This anonymous proprietor has thus entrenched himself behind his park walls, wishing, very naturally, to prevent the right of prescription from being established over his private walks, as the facility with which some former residents admitted every party of strollers who arrived in the neigbourhood very nearly lost them their legal right to exclude any one, because the public, after being long indulged, becomes like an old privileged servant, who ends by assuming the master. Forty years is the period during which, if passengers have always had access, the gates cannot again be closed, nor the pathway obstructed, against unwelcome intruders,
Sinclair, Catherine, (1800-1864), Hill and Valley, or Hours in England and Wales, (Edinburgh, 1833), pp. 307-308; New York, 1838, pp. 256-257

1840
The traveller should arrange his time so as to see the grounds of Piercefield, which are shown only on Tuesdays and Fridays. The house is now exhibited to strangers, by an order from the Piercefield Inn [St Arvans].
Nicholson, N., The Cambrian Traveller’s Guide, and Pocket Companion, (3rd edition revised, 1840), pp. 198-201

1842
[Piercefield]‘the gates were closed to strangers after 12 o’clock’
Anon, ‘A Five Days tour to the Wye, August, 1842’, NMW 190489, p. 53

1842-1845 
The grounds of Piercefield are well worth seeing but are only shown one day a week.
Caswall, Robert Clarke, Rev (1768-1846), Dorset History Centre, D/DES/F37

1843
to obtain admission to Piercefield, send your card, with a request for admission, directed for Nathaniel Wells, Esq., the urbane proprietor, who will leave orders at the lodge for the following morning.
Anon [Willett, Mark], The Stranger’s Illustrated Guide to Chepstow, (1843), note, pp. 15-21

THE END OF PIERCEFIELD AS AN ATTRACTION.

By the 1840s, the writing of journals recording tours of Wales became unfashionable and few are known, but this source of information is substituted by reports in newspapers (now mostly digitised) and guide books (some of which are copies or later editions of out-of-date sources). The reduction in the quantity of information might not prove that Piercefield had either become unattractive or was generally closed to visitors: it is simply that the usual sources of information about visits has either dried up or changed. It is interesting to note that two of the following references are from conventional diaries rather than accounts of tours or guide books.

It seems likely that the estate was not freely open to the public during the 1850s and ‘60s except by request, but by 1878 the estate was reported to be open on Tuesdays possibly by Henry Clay II who inherited the estate in 1874. An 1887 guidebook confirmed that it was open on Tuesdays and stated that it was ‘one of the great show-places of the neighbourhood, and, as far as the natural beauties go, most justly so’ but that ‘Valentine Morris … spent an enormous fortune in laying out the grounds and decorating them in what must be confessed to be the bad taste of the age.’

1847
Emily Hall was very disappointed by her visit to Piercefield and thought the three shillings charged by the guide was wasted. She wrote:
I should certainly say to anybody wanting to go to Piercefield – “Don’t”
Diary, Bromley Archives, 855/F2/5, pp. 163

1850
To save time, and the distance of a long circuitous walk, I ventured, with some qualms of conscience, to trespass through a hedge, and by an unbeaten track, across the Park, and thus followed the course of the river, for nearly three miles, to the Chepstow Lodge.
Britton, John, Britton’s Autobiography, Personal and literary memoir of the author, pt. 2. (1850) pp. 156-157

1854
admission may be obtained by making a written application to the occupier, Mr. Wintle.
Cliffe, Charles Frederick, The book of South Wales, the Bristol channel, Monmouthshire and the Wye, (3rd edition, edited and revised by the Rev. George Roberts, 1854), pp. 41; 364-366

1854
[Piercefield] is at present closed to the public; but a letter addressed to the occupant of this splendid property generally ensures admission. It is usual to give at least a day’s notice; but travellers applying at the lodge, and sending their card to the mansion (if time will admit), will meet with every attention.
Taylor’s Illustrated guide to the banks of the Wye, including Chepstow, Piercefield, Wyndcliff, Tintern Abbey, Raglan Castle, Goodrich Castle and other parts of the Welsh Borders with Historical and Topographical Remarks, illustrated with Five Steel Engravings and a Copious Map.  (Chepstow: Robert Taylor; London, Simpkin, Marshall, and Co. 1854), pp. 31-37 (and subsequent editions)

1856
the carriage which had been ordered from Chepstow came to take us a drive. Went first to Piercefield where we called the place now belongs to a Mr. Russell. We saw his wife & she shewed us over the house which is handsomely furnished & some very fine old chimney pieces. Then we went to Tintern abbey.
Hibbert, Mary Ann, Diary, Gloucestershire Record Office D1799 F337, 28th September, 1856

1878
Wells subsequently let it successively to Mr Wintle, Mr Walker and Mr Thompson, and then sold it to the late Mr Thomas Henry Morgan of Tidenham; from whose hands it passed into those of Mr John Russell in 1856 who again sold it in 1863 to Mr Henry Clay, father of the present owner. Mr Clay restored the Mansion, and with characteristic liberality again conferred the public boon of admission to the park and walks, on each Tuesday during the summer and autumn between the hours of 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.
Anon, [signed S.H.], Hillman’s illustrated historical handbook for tourists to Chepstow, Wynd-Cliff, Tintern Abbey, Monmouth, Raglan: castles & ancient remains of Wentwood, and other places of interest on and about the Wye: with an appendix containing geological, ornithological, entomological, and botanical notes of the district. (1878), p. 36
(4th ed., revised and enlarged. Chepstow: Hillman & Co.; London: Marshall Brothers 1889), pp. 34-44. Another edition, 1890.

1887
The grounds and walks, which extend for some 3 miles, along the cliff of the Wye, are open every Tuesday for the whole day – carriages have to be left at the lodge, and are rejoined at the Wyndcliff gate. … Valentine Morris … spent an enormous fortune in laying out the grounds and decorating them in what must be confessed to be the bad taste of the age.
Bevan, George Phillips, Tourists’ Guide to the Wye and its Neighbourhood, (London, E Stanford, 1887)

ILLUSTRATIONS

This list is not exhaustive, but it does include sketches and watercolours which are in relatively unknown sources.

Early 18th century
Wall-painting at the Castle View hotel, Chepstow possibly of Piercefield.
(Country Life, 12.12.1957, p. 1320)

1770
William Gilpin
Watercolours
f. 56v
pen, ink and wash half-page sketch, ‘a rocky scene near Persfield’ (the river in the foreground, rocks and vegetation in the middle ground; cliffs in the background).
f. 60v
pen, ink and wash, 2 half-page sketches, both ‘Scene at Persfield’
1 landscape, vegetation and trees in foreground, ?cliffs in background
2 the Wye reflecting the cliffs in the middle ground and distant landscape.
A manuscript version of William Gilpin’s Observations on the River Wye, and Several Parts of South Wales, chiefly relative to Picturesque Beauty, made in the summer of the year 1770, NLW ms 21630

1780
Very poor sketch of ‘The grotto at Persfield near Chepstow, the floor is paved with small pebbles and the roof inlaid with pebbles, ore etc. Inlaid with Pebbles, ore and fossils’
Pridden, John, A Tour through Gloucestershire and Wales, 1780, NLW MS 15172 D, pp. 69-78
Published in Whittle, E., ‘All these Inchanting Scenes’ Piercefield in the Wye Valley, Garden History Journal, 24:1, (1996), p. 158

1791
Pencil and watercolour sketch by John Swete
Lovers Leap, Piercefield in the background
NLW, Drawing volume 76 (PB3635), image 27

1793
John Soane attended the sale of Piercefield house and sent its new owner, Colonel Wood, a set of drawings of the house.
Sir John Soane Museum, (set of plans which apparently rejected)
Waters, Ivor, Piercefield on the banks of the Wye, (Chepstow: F.G. Comber 1975), p. 22

1793
Print, ‘View of the Grounds of Persfield’ by John Gardnor, Vicar of Battersea. Engraved by Mr. Gardnor and Mr. Hill, showing the Wye with a sailing boat and a barge being rowed and lanscape (no details of buildings or the grounds).
Williams, David, The History of Monmouthshire, (1796), plate 36, p. 338

1797
[two sketches]
That drawing marked * is taken from the meadows in the plan marked * and shows the appearance of Windcliff. the higher part of the boundary, under which the river continues its course to Chepstow and passes round this singular farm in its progressions.
In ascending to the Cold Bath (near which we found an uncommon quantity of the ?Challi – fungus, many about a foot high.) and afterwards getting down to the meadow from whence I made a drawing (no. 5)
sketch no. 7 large tree [the Beech Tree]
sketch no. 8 girl seated by rocks and trees [the Giant’s Cave]
I could not quit it without making another drawing no.?4 which conveys some idea of the beautiful scenery of the loss of this astonishing mound of Rocks and woods
Cumberland, George, (1754-1848) of Bristol, A Tour in North and South Wales in the Year 1784, NLW Lloyd-Johnes MSS Deposit Dec. 1976 (Microfilm 215)
Lloyd-Johnes, H.J., A Tour in North and South Wales in the year 1784, National Library of Wales Journal, XIX, (1976), pp. 336-338

1798
James Wathen
‘Persefield House and the Lawns, Tuesday 4 clock 17 July 1798’
Hereford Archive Service, S40 part 1 69

1801
Plate 104, (p. 397) Piercefield, the Seat of Mark Wood, Esq. seen from the opposite Heights. Geo. Holmes del., T. Medland sc.
Plate 105, (p. 399) Plan of the Grounds of Piercefield, and the Peninsula of Lancaut. Surveyed by Maull.
Coxe, William, An Historical Tour in Monmouthshire, (1801), pp. 392-402

1803
Watercolour: The Windcliff.
Shum, George, ‘Sketches in Monmouthshire, Glamorganshire and Gloucestershire Made during the summer of 1803’ Newport Central Reference Library ms.

1805?
watercolour no. 36. ‘Piercefield from the opposite bank of the Wye’ [unfinished].
This shows the full façade of the house set in lawns with hills beyond and the Wye, with a sailing boat, in the foreground.
Sotheby, William?, A Journal of a tour through parts of Monmouthshire and Glamorgan, NLW ms 6497C, pp. 3; 94-97

1817
Drawings by the Rev John Skinner of Camerton, Somerset, (1772-1839)
‘no. 22 Piercefield House, from the gardens’
‘no. 23 Passage through the rocks in Piercefield Gardens’
John Skinner ms., Vol. XIV.  Journal of sixteen excursions to various places in Somerset, etc., British Library, Add MS 33646, ff. 159-160

1822
print, distant view of the House
Fielding, T. H., (1781-1851) and Fielding, C. V., A picturesque description of the River Wye, from the source to its junction with the Severn. Illustrated by numerous coloured views. (London: published by the author, 1822), (1841 edition), no 10

1829-1839
Sketches of the interior of the house and grounds by members of the Wells family.
Waters, Ivor, Piercefield on the banks of the Wye, (Chepstow: F.G. Comber 1975), between pp. 22 and 23

1830-1840 
[guide book]
Madeley, G.E., Four Views of Piercefield,
1 View on the Ban-y-gar Rocks, the River Wye &c near Piercefield
2 View of the Wind cliff &c taken from the “Lover’s Leap”, Piercefield Park (showing the railings).
3 View as seen from the Mansion, Piercefield, showing the Town of Chepstow, and the confluence of the Rivers Severn and Wye.
4 View of the Mansion, Piercefield, taken form the Turnpike Road
(all in Chepstow Museum and printed in Whittle, E., ‘All these Inchanting Scenes’ Piercefield in the Wye Valley, Garden History Journal, 24:1, (1996), pp. 148-161

1830 (about)
Watercolours of Piercefield
Between pp. 404 and 405
Hand drawn and coloured map of ‘Piercefield and the Road from Chepstow to Tintern, H Smith.’ [no date]
Between pp. 410 and 411
Hand drawn and coloured map of ‘The Road from Chepstow to Tintern & Piercefield Grounds H Smith’ [no date]
[opp. p. 416]
‘Piercefield’ façade of the House in the middle ground]
[p. 415]
Chepstow Castle from Piercefield
[p. 416 sic]
‘The Grotto’ [an alcove with a stone arched façade, containing slightly more than a semi-circular seat with a fence-like back to it.]
[opp. p. 417]
‘The Giant’s Cave’ [a cutting through the rock with a man climbing steps beyond it. Over the cave is the figure of an armless giant. On the right is the Wye with a sailing boat]
Between pp. 418 and 419
Watercolour of ‘Wyndcliff’ with seated male visitor
Watercolour of Llancaut and Piercefield (unfinished)
Smith, Henry, Manuscript Notes in Charles Heath’s, ‘Excursions in Herefordshire and Monmouthshire.’ Vol. 2, NLW ms 14582B, between. pp. 416 and 417.
These two volumes contain four of Charles Heath’s late editions of his guide books plus additional watercolours, pencil drawings, pen and ink drawings, prints and hand drawn maps produced by Henry Smith of Bristol, some of which may well have been copied from previously published material. There are a few manuscript annotations in the volumes.  Some of the watercolours are dated 1808 but at least one of these is on paper watermarked 1826. The first volume includes letters from Charles Heath dated 1827, recording the presentation of the guidebooks to Henry Smith.

1832
Drawings by the Rev John Skinner of Camerton, Somerset, (1772-1839). The quality of his drawings varied considerably; some are very sketchy and poor and his handwriting is often almost illegible. By ‘View Beyond’ he meant a view from the grounds, looking beyond them to surrounding landscapes.
On entering the gardens, we directed the carriage to be driven round to the farther extremity of the grounds to await our arrival, and walked to the seat placed at the point which commands the castle of Chepstow to great advantage …
‘no. 29 The First seat in Piercefield Gardens above the Gorge looking towards Chepstow Castle’
‘no. 30 Course of the Wye under Piercefield …’
‘no. 31 View beyond from another seat’
‘no. 32 View Beyond’
‘no. 33 View beyond of a horse shoe c??????????? of the river’
‘no. 34 View Beyond’
‘no. 35 … view beyond …’
‘no. 36 view beyond’
‘no. 37 view beyond’
‘no. 38 view beyond’
‘no. 39 a cavern with the Wye beneath’
‘no. 40 Opening of the Cavern over the Wye’
‘no. 41 Wye cliff hill …’
‘no. 42 ?curvalum of the river under the cavern’
John Skinner ms., Vol. XCIII. JOURNAL continued, describing visits to the Cheddar Cliffs, Chepstow, Tintern, Monmouth, and Stanton Drew; 1832, British Library, Add MS 33725, ff. 235-252

1830s
Pencil sketch of the ice house, by E.G. Wells, 1830s
Waters, Ivor, Piercefield on the banks of the Wye, (Chepstow: F.G. Comber 1975), p. 20

1840 (about)
‘Piercefield House and Park’ showing the house with pavilions on both sides and the Ha-Ha.
Watercolour by Ralph Lucas, (Chepstow Museum)

1848 (pre)
Print of Piercefield house with semi-circular Ha Ha in front of it and the grounds.
‘Piercefield’ (Engraved and Published by Newman and Barclay, Watling Street, London),
The prints have dates written in manuscript at the top of most pages, possibly the date when the owner of the book visited the places illustrated. This one is dated 21 Sept. 1848
NLW BV 120 (‘Views in north Wales’)

1858
watercolour ‘Piercefield Park, Severn and Wye August 3rd’ (mix3264.jpg)
Headlam, Thomas, ‘Illustrated Journal of a tour in Monmouthshire on the Wye and in North Wales during the Month of August, 1858’ by Thomas E Headlam with watercolour sketches by his wife Ellen, NMGW St Fagans, ms WFM 1561, pp. 6-11

Postcards
RCAHM – Tom Lloyd collection

BIBLIOGRAPHY – RECENT WORKS

Anon, ‘Welsh Country Homes, XXXVII Piercefield’ (Long article with photographs). South Wales Daily News, 27.8.1910, Album of news cuttings, NMW, NA/GEN/90/24E
Waters, Ivor, A Chepstow and Tintern Anthology [poetry], Published by The Chepstow Society., Chepstow. (1948)
Waters, Ivor, The Unfortunate Valentine Morris, Published by The Chepstow Society, Chepstow (1964)
Waters, Ivor, Piercefield on the banks of the Wye, (1975)
Whittle, E., ‘All these Inchanting Scenes’ Piercefield in the Wye Valley, Garden History Journal, 24:1 (1996), pp. 148-161
Ken Murphy, The Piercefield Walks and Associated Picturesque Landscape Features: An Archaeological Survey, (Cambria Archaeology, 2005), 56pp. (available on line)
Murphy, Ken and Whittle, Elizabeth, ‘Piercefield, Monmouthshire: The Results of a New Survey’ Bulletin of the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust, no. 39, (Summer, 2005) (available on line)
Maguire, Mark John, The Wye Valley Tour and the development of the Picturesque Movement in painting and Theory, c. 1770-1800, MA Thesis, (Swansea, 1990)
Newman, John, The Buildings of Wales, Gwent / Monmouthshire, (London, 2000), pp. 470-474
Harden, Bettina, The Most Glorious Prospect: Garden Visiting in Wales, 1639-1900 (2017), pp. 161-171

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