A listed castle in north Wales that housed hundreds of Kindertransport refugees has been bought after the Government stumped up the final £600,000, after campaigners warned of its “perilous” state of disrepair.
The future of the Grade I Listed Gwrych Castle in Abergele, which was the original home of Zionist youth movement Bnei Akiva, was secured last week after UK government-funded National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) stepped in with “the final piece of the financial jigsaw”.
Dating from 1810, with direct links to British royalty, the castle housed 200 Jewish refugee children as part of Operation Kindertransport during the Second World War.
Bnei Akiva and Bachad (Friends of Bnei Akiva) looked after these children under the guidance of Arieh Handler, in the first Jewish Hachsharah farm in England, teaching them the ideology of Torah v’Avodah and giving them agricultural training to help them set up some of the early kibbutzim in the soon to be established State of Israel.
The Castle was home the Bnei Akiva’s first ever ‘kinus’ (gathering) in December 1940, hosted Handler’s wedding, and continues to play a role in modern day youth movement, hosting summer camps and educational visits.
The government’s £600,000 followed a large donation by the charitable trust of hotelier Richard Broyd, who bought the medieval Grade 1-listed Bodysgallen Hall and the Grade 1-listed Hartwell House, outside Aylesbury, in Buckinghamshire.
The rescue effort was spearheaded by Dr Mark Baker, who set up the Gwrych Trust 21 years ago, after it was looted, vandalised and reduced to a derelict shell after an American businessman pulled out of plans to buy it in the late 80s.
“As a child, I would pass the castle every day to and from school, and at the age of eleven founded the castle trust,” he said this week.
“Now we are in a position to purchase and realise that vision. A huge vote of thanks must go to the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Richard Broyd Charitable Trust for believing in our vision.”
NHMF chair Sir Peter Luff said: “Gwrych Castle is enchanting, even in its sadly reduced state. The vision of Gwyrch Castle Preservation Trust to restore this spectacular building with a rich history and to open it again is inspiring. All of us at the National Heritage Memorial Fund felt compelled to support their ambition.”