|Many residents of Chepstow in Monmouthshire have enjoyed walks in
the grounds of this ruinous house, without knowing much about its significance
in the story of British architecture. Commonly referred to as "the old
mansion", the house is to be found near Chepstow racecourse and has the
In 1802 the Piercefield estate was sold by Mark Wood and the purchaser was Nathaniel Wells who had inherited the fortune of his father, a plantation owner of St. Kitts in the Caribbean. Wells added to the estate until it reached a size of almost 3,000 acres. Nathaniel's father left south Wales to seek his fortune and had several children but his surviving heir was a result of his relationship with a black slave called, if memory serves, Juggy. Nathaniel was educated in England and became a slave owner himself on the death of his father. In 1818 he became Sheriff of Monmouthshire and later Deputy Lieutenant. He married a clergyman's daughter and brought up a large and successful family in Wales. It is very strange that one can look in vain for references to his mixed parentage in Bradney's history of Monmouthshire or in his memorial inscription at a local church.
See also: The Morris family of Piercefield and Tintern and their impact on early American affairs. Valentine Morris, of the branch that remained in Wales, was responsible for the famed parkland at Piercefield but the classical re-modelling of the house took place after his misfortunes had forced the sale of the estate. The derivation of the name Piercefield does not seem to have been resolved. Sir Joseph Bradney seems to have thought it to be an English version of an ancient Welsh place name.
Piercefield House resulted from a 1785 commission by George Smith to remodel his existing house in the neo-classical style. The task was given to a young architect, famous today as the benefactor of the London institution which bears his name - the Sir John Soane Museum. Soane was born in Reading in 1753 of "humble parentage". After early training in an architect's office he earned a Royal Academy travelling scholarship to Italy. After three years he returned home to secure an appointment as architect to the Bank of England and St. James's Palace. He designed many other important buildings, and in 1806 was elected Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy. He died in 1837, and bequeathed his house in Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, and a wealth of art treasures, to the nation. This became the Sir John Soane Museum. Mr. Ptolemy Dean of the Museum describes Piercefield as one of Soane's most important works.
John Weston / Data Wales
Photographs by Blake Weston, late of Chepstow Comprehensive School.
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