The history of Parc-Le-Breos is fascinatng and the house and surrounding area are full of stories to tell from the past. A ten minute walk will take you to the picturesque green cwm with its neolithic Severn valley tomb and Cathole cave where in 2011 the oldest known cave art in North Western Europe was discovered. A site known as Church Hill lying above the cwm was also recently excavated, yielding a large quantity of roman artifacts.
The name Parc-Le-Breos however originates from the ancient hunting park of the Breos family on which the house is built. The original park of the de Breos lords encompassed a large part of the South Gower landscape, some 2000 acres in all. The park dates from around 1220 and its boundaries can easily be picked out on an OS map today. If you take a walk from the house to Three Cliffs Bay you will cross the boundary as you leave Parc woods for Cefn Bryn. In all the boundary runs for over 6.7 miles.
Although the oldest maps and references indicate a dwelling at the site, the existing house is thought to date from the early nineteenth century, reaching its heyday under the ownership of the Vivian family in the latter part of the century. The Vivian family, or at least John Vivian, arrived here in Gower from Cornwall around 1800 and became a managing partner in a copper smelting works based in Penclawdd and Loughor. By around 1809 John and his son John Henry had set up the company Vivian and Sons and opened their own works in Hafod where the business grew. By 1840 the Hafod works were the largest in the world, and the Vivian’s became enormously wealthy. Although the white rock copper works had existed in Swansea since 1737, due to the Vivian’s success in the industry they are widely accredited with the industrialisation of the lower Swansea valley employing over 3000 people there in 1886. The Vivian’s were great innovators of the industrial age. They developed new efficient furnaces for the smelting of zinc at Margam. At their peak the Vivian’s owned various metallurgical production and processing companies, phosphate works, brick works mines and collieries as far afield as Norway and Chile and had secured a 27% share of the copper market. From the late 1800s their company slowly declined, eventually being bought out in 1927 by a company which is now known as Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI).
Thses days, little is known of the origins of the older part of the house, but it is likely that Graham Vivian made many of the extensions and alterations that resulted in the house which stands today. These works were complete by the time of the first Ordnance Survey map survey in 1897. Some fascinating accounts survive which describe the house and farm in their heyday. In these, the rooms of the house are described in detail, right down to the photographic dark room. (Every house should have one!) Moving outside, they describe a terraced and garden with roseries and parterres for flowers, as well as the old kitchen gardens with cucumber and melon houses. The accounts also describe the home farm which even had a tramway for moving dung and a water turbine for driving the machinery.
In the time of the Vivians, Parc-Le-Breos was essentially a sporting estate renowned as one of the best all round shoots in the country. In particular it was known for woodcock with as many as 52 having been shot in one day.
Below are the oldest photos we have of the house, the photo showing the outside of the house was taken in 1912 and the premises are already looking a little unloved by this time. The photos of the inside are believed to have been taken by Aubrey Vivian, who succeeded his father (Henry Hussey Vivian, the first Lord Swansea) as owner of Parc in 1894. Letters indicate that he actually lived in the house from May/June 1890 until his sudden and unexpected death on 1st March 1898.
Unfortunately during the late 1930s the house began to fall into a state of disrepair. The last occupants being the RAF during world war two. You can still find graffiti left by the airman in some of the bedrooms! Finally the house, in a much unloved state, was sold in the early fifties to settle death duties.
The house was bought by Tom and Gladys Edwards in October 1953 who used the land for market gardening. There are some nice photos of Tom digging potatoes and cutting flowers for the market stall they had in Swansea market. At this point parts of the house were used for rearing chickens and turkeys, breeding finches and even housing a pig sty!
By the early 1960s their son John and his wife Olive began the pony trekking business here. Their wedding gift from Tom and Gladys was Robbie, the first horse to work at Parc-Le-Breos. The gallery below shows the early days of the pony trekking centre. If you look closely I’ld say there is a distinct Country and Western theme!
Over the years the house has slowly been renovated and the run down parts rebuilt in a tasteful manner. Old features have been restored and even older ones uncovered during the restoration. A few years ago, an old postcard of the house turned up on Ebay - it dated from 1912. For the first time we could see what the house looked like in its heyday. As a result last year we were able to remake the original Victorian weatherboards and bring the house a little closer how it used to look.
Parc Le Breos House