Llandrindod Wells Tourist Information
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: The quintessential Welsh spa town, with beautiful Victorian architecture
Llandrindod Wells is the quintessential 19th-century Welsh spa town and the administrative centre for the county of Powys. The town owes its existence to the discovery of mineral-rich springs here in the 18th century.
Over the following century, the springs gained a reputation for enhancing health and curing disease, and people flocked to the region to 'take the waters'. Today, the architecture of Llandrindod wells reflects its Victorian heyday as a fashionable spa town.
The healing properties of the springs at Llandrindod Wells were recognised in Roman times, but it was really the visit in 1754 of a German physician named DW Linden that sparked the transformation of this quiet rural backwater into a fashionable spa. Linden was fascinated by mineral springs and was known for his studies of the curative powers of mineral-rich spa water.
Perhaps his interest was prompted by his own ill-health, for he was suffering from illness when he visited Llandrindod. He drank from the saline (salt-rich) spring and his illnesses were cured.
Two years after his visit he wrote a scientific treatise extolling the medicinal powers of the spring waters, and almost overnight the small village found itself a destination for visitors seeking health cures of their own.
The Victorian Spa
The visitors' attention was focussed on the Rock Park area, where several different types of springs were discovered, including saline, sulphur, radium, chalybeate, and magnesium. The area around the chalybeate spring was paved and the Lord of the Manor, JW Gibson-Wyatt, installed a marble fountain for public use.
Visitors arrived for the summer 'season'. Many took a three-week cure involving a drink of saline water before breakfast, sulphur in the morning and afternoon, and chalybeate after every meal. They took regular baths and a strange assortment of other treatments including massage, electric current therapy, and heat therapy.
The healing waters were often delivered to boarding houses in gallon jars. Visitors were also encouraged to take advantage of the clear air and brisk climate, which makes sense as many came from the crowded industrial cities where clean air was a novelty.
Of course, many people came not to partake of the waters but simply to be part of an active social life; there were theatres, concerts, and promenades where fashionable clientele could see and be seen.
This overview of historical highlights in Llandrindod Wells loosely follows the excellent town heritage trail. There are numerous information panels around the town, linking historic places, with very useful maps and snippets of local history about the buildings you see and the people who influenced the town's growth.
The heritage trail is one of the best I've had the pleasure of exploring and I highly recommend it as a way to get the most out of a visit. The trail begins at Rock Park, the heart of the spa.
Rock Park Spa
This 12-acre Grade II* listed park dates to the 1860s and is one of the earliest public parks in Wales. It includes mineral springs, Victorian spa buildings, an arboretum, and a series of trails beside the River Ithon, passing through attractive woodland. The Spa Buildings remain a striking example of late Victorian and Edwardian architecture. Beyond the Spa Buildings are a row of picturesque shop buildings, now private residences.
Just outside Rock Park is the former Gwalia Hotel, built in 1900 in a blend of Edwardian Baroque and Queen Anne style and worth noting for its octagonal domed turrets and fine entrance portico. Famous visitors included composer Sir Edward Elgar and two Prime Ministers, Nevile Chamberlain and David Lloyd George. It is now used by the Powys County Council.
Just a short stroll away is the Albert Hall, built in 1896 to host Welsh-language services for the Presbyterian visitors to the spa. The Hall seated 750 people and cost some GBP 1600. It was used not only for church services but for concerts, lectures, political rallies, as well as an annual Boxing Day Eisteddfod. It is still used as the town's theatre and event centre.
This area was the original main shopping street before emphasis shifted to the area around Middleton Street. Many of the buildings here exhibit architectural; details like richly decorated facades, Flemish bond brickwork, and ornately decorative balconies.
Just off the street is the Llanerch Inn, an 18th-century coaching inn that is one of the oldest buildings in Llandrindod Wells. Though the exterior has been modernised, the inn's interior features original 18th-century timbers and an even older 17th-century staircase.
Back on High Street is Caxton House, home to the Radnorshire Advertiser, a popular newspaper that always published a lengthy 'who's who' list of visitors to the town during the spa season. Nearby is the Old County Hall, where the old county of Radnorshire was administered in 1909. You can see the county symbol on the front facade. After the council moved in 1950 the building became the local Police Station and courthouse.
The town's railway station is part of the 'Heart of Wales Line', one of the most popular scenic railways in Britain. The line boasts the oldest standard gauge track in Wales and the longest light railway in Britain. It was built to link the industrial heartland of southern Wales with the equally industrial north-west of England. It covers 120 miles from Swansea to Shrewsbury and passes through some of the most beautiful areas of Wales.
On the station platform is a plaque marking the spot where Elizabeth II first set foot on Welsh soil after being crowned in 1952. She came here after her coronation to officially open the Claerwen Reservoir in the Elan Valley.
The station has changed very little since it was opened in the Edwardian period. It boasts a richly decorated glass canopy brought here from the Pump House Hotel.
Opposite the station is the former station master's house, located beside the Post Office on Station Crescent. Beside the track is The Signal Box, built in 1876 and an early example of the flat-gabled style of railway signal boxes produced by the Crewe Works.
Middleton Street and Station Crescent
Middleton Street is named for Edward Middleton, a a wealthy landowner, public benefactor, and High Sheriff of Radnorshire in 1849.
When the railway arrived in Llandrindod Wells in 1868 it instantly put the spa within an easy rail trip of large urban areas in the north-west of England, the Midlands, London, and South Wales. Almost overnight the town was transformed into a fashionable destination for visitors coming to take the waters.
The town's population increased from 300 in 1871 to almost 2,800 in 1911, but that was just the residents; the actual population in summer, including visitors, was at least three times that number.
The dramatic rise in visitors meant a huge opportunity for shopkeepers. Middleton Street was transformed into a shopping area, with former boarding houses now housing shops at ground level. Shops from larger urban areas opened branches in Llandrindod Wells to serve the affluent visitors.
Middleton Street retains a large number of Victorian shops fronts, many sporting elegant cast-iron decoration with neo-classical facades and curving shop windows. Look for the Victoria Buildings, designed in 1898 as a theatre with a ground-floor arcade of shops and a striking town clock.
The hall was later transformed into a cinema named The Kino after the old-fashioned word Kinematography, another term for a moving picture. Another shop worth noting is the Mid Wales Emporium, built in 1881 as one of the first department stores in Mid Wales. The shop occupied the entire building at the junction of Station Crescent and Temple Street.
A local myth says that Temple Garden gained its name because it was once the site of a prehistoric stone circle, popularly dubbed a Druid's temple. Though it makes a good story, it appears that the legend is just that; a legend, without basis in fact. There was indeed a stone circle here, but it was a romantic Victorian folly, and local water carriers used to tie their donkeys up to the standing stones.
Maybe there was an element of truth in the legend after all, because it is possible that the standing stones were brought to Temple Garden from a Bronze Age stone circle nearby.
The stone circle was restored in 1873 by a Colonel G Francis. The 'Temple' proved a popular tourist attraction and boarding houses facing Temple Gardens enticed visitors by claiming ' a view of the Stone Circle'.
Opposite the Garden stands the Commodore Hotel, built in Arts and Crafts style 1882 to act as the rectory for Holy Trinity Church and Archdeacon de Winton. The rectory had 2 acres of gardens, a stable, and coach house. The north wing had a huge reception room capable of holding 200 people, which was used for church functions.
The rectory was later used as a hotel but was taken over by the military in WWII and used as an Officer Cadet Training Centre. After the war, it was once more converted into a hotel. Look for the Elizabethan style chimneys, oriel windows, and terracotta tile roof.
On the edge of Temple Gardens stands a statue of Thomas Jones, a successful 18th-century painter and native of Llandrindod Wells. Jones studied at Jesus College, Oxford before training at the St Martins Academy in London.
He evolved a fresh, new style of art that would influence the French Impressionist movement, and one of his paintings was purchased by Catherine the Great of Russia and is on display at the Hermitage Museum. Other works are held at the Tate Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Welsh National Gallery.
Later in life, he inherited the Pencerrig estate and served as High Sheriff of Radnorshire. He died in 1803 and is buried at Caebach Chapel.
On the far side of Temple Street, opposite Temple Gardens, is the much smaller Memorial Gardens, so called because it holds the town's war memorial. Atop the memorial is a bronze statue of a soldier, modelled by a local man named Jack Hamer and sculptured by B Lloyd and Sons from Rhayader.
On the north side of Memorial Gardens is the Town Hall, which began as the private home of Dr William Bowen-Davies, the town's first GP. The house was surrounded by a walled garden, and some of the trees that flourished in the garden still live on in the Memorial Gardens.
Beside the Garden is the Radnorshire Museum, built in 1911 as the Carnegie Library and now home to a delightful small museum covering the heritage of Radnorshire.
One of the most interesting artefacts is the Llandrindod Wells Log Boat, a medieval boat found preserved in the mud of the River Ithon by students. Another highlight is a collection of items linked to Rev Francis Kilvert, the famous Victorian cleric and diarist. The museum also covers the heyday of Llandrindod Wells as a fashionable spa.
On the south side of the Memorial Garden is one of Llandrindod Wells' iconic buildings, the Metropole Hotel. The Hotel was built in 1872 by Edward Coleman, a Postmaster from Howey. It was enlarged several times over the following decades and included a 'hydro', where staff would offer spa treatments to wealthy clientele. The Hotel is easily recognisable by its distinctive art Nouveau veranda and retains some of its original stained glass, also in Art Nouveau style.
The Automobile Palace
Built in 1911 as an automotive showroom, this wonderful example of Edwardian architecture is now home to the National Cycle Collection. The original automobile Palace had space to display 80 cars. It was built by Tom Norton, who sold the first Model T in Wales. With its Art Deco facade and ornate decorative exterior, the Palace is one of the town's landmark buildings.
National Cycle Collection
This comprehensive museum is housed in The Automotive Palace and displays over 250 vintage and antique models. From historic cycles to modern mountain bikes, the museum exhibits trace every aspect of cycling history in Britain.
See Boneshakers and the Hobby Horse from the very dawn of cycling, and explore a recreation of a historic street scene, with a country garage and bicycle shops. One rarity is an 1896 bamboo bicycle, made in London.
The Pump House Hotel
Tucked away in a wooded area off the town centre is the Pump House Hotel, transformed from a farmhouse in the early 19th century to become a boarding house catering to spa visitors. The boarding house was transformed into a hotel with an unusual two-tiered pricing system for first and second-class visitors. The hotel was divided in two, with the 'House of Lords' catering to first-class customers, and the 'House of Commons' catering to second-class visitors.
In 1868 the landowner Edward Evans decided to take advantage of the town's growth as a spa centre. He called in architect Thomas Nicholson to lay out The Lake and create the Pump House Hotel. The hotel was later replaced by an even larger and more elaborate luxury building claiming to be the largest in Wales and the most comfortable in Europe. The hotel grounds covered 100 acres and offered recreational activities such as golf, tennis and croquet, boating on the Lake, and promenades through the surrounding woodlands.
The hotel was used as a military hospital in WWII and after the war as a teacher training college and a residential school for deaf children. In 1974 it was purchased by Powys County Council as its administrative headquarters. By the 1980s the Victorian buildings had become unsafe. They were demolished and a modern replacement built east of the old hotel. The best-preserved part of the former hotel is the old Boiler House.
A very popular gathering place today just as it was in 1872 when it was created by the Pump House Hotel Company in 1872 as a boating lake. During the Edwardian period, a weekly regatta was held on The Lake during the summer season. The Victorian boathouse still stands, but it is now a private residence. The Lake has been stocked with fish since 1935.
From The Lake you can see the outline of Llandrindod Hall on the wooded hillside above. The present Hall stands on the same site as a hotel, also called Llandrindod Hall, built in 1749 by William Grosvenor, an entrepreneur from Shrewsbury.
Grosvenor shrewdly saw that the area would become a popular destination for people drawn by the health-giving properties of the water. He built the hotel and promoted it by offering activities such as fox hunting, cock-fighting, and otter hunting.
The hotel's great hall was able to accommodate 1,000 people for dances. The hotel burned down in 1880 in what may have been a case of arson, as burning was the cheapest and quickest way of dealing with what was then a failing business.
Near the Hall is Llandrindod Well Old Parish Church. The first written reference to the church comes in 1291 but the building stands on the foundations of a much earlier Pre-Norman building. Inside the church is a sheela-na-gig, an ancient symbol of fertility. The church housed the first school in the area, founded in 1750.
The Pavilion and Holy Trinity Church
By 1871 the medieval Old Parish Church was no longer large enough nor convenient enough to meet the needs of the rapidly expanding population of Llandrindod Wells. A wealthy landowner named Edward Evans donated the site for a new parish church on what had been Cefnllys Common. The new church was designed by architect Thomas Nicholson of Hereford and was financed by donations from local townsfolk and visitors to the spa.
The strong link to the spa was evident, for the church only offered services during the summer months and the curate was only appointed for the high season when visitor numbers were at their highest. In 1881 Archdeacon de Winton changed all that when he had the large rectory built beside the church (it is now the Commodore Hotel).
Holy Trinity holds a special place in the history of the Church in Wales; it was here in 1920 that the first archbishop of Wales was confirmed and all subsequent Archbishops have been elected to office at Holy Trinity.
The church is worth visiting today for its excellent 19th-century hammer-beam roof with carved figures of angels.
Behind Holy Trinity is the former Grand Pavilion, built in 1912 as an entertainment centre to replace temporary tented stages in Rock Park. The Grand Pavilion was what would today be called a multi-purpose venue, made to host a wide variety of entertainment such as concerts, dances, and theatrical performances. It was later adapted to hold a cinema. It was from the balcony of the Pavilion that Lord Robert Baden-Powell gave a speech in 1933 when Llandrindod Wells hosted a Scout Jamboree.
Places just outside Llandrindod Wells and thus not on the heritage trail include:
Castell Collen Roman Fort
On the outskirts of town is Castell Collen, a Roman auxiliary fort built around AD 75. It was occupied until the 4th century, and finds discovered during excavations at the fort are on display in the Radnorshire Museum. The fort is on private land.
The scanty remains of two castles occupy a high, narrow ridge above a loop in the River Ithon. The powerful Norman lord Roger Mortimer built the first stone fortifications around 1240 on a site once used by Welsh princes.
Mortimer's castle was badly damaged in 1262, and as a result, his family erected a second castle was to the south-west, beginning about 1273. The castle was used as a centre for administering the Norman territories in Mid Wales, and a royal borough grew up around the site.
Llanfihangel Cefnllys Church
At the base of the castle hill stands the medieval church of St Michael, or Llanfihangel Cefnllys. The church dates to the 12th century but stands on a much earlier Celtic site used as early as the 10th century. Highlights include a Norman font and a late medieval wooden rood screen.
About Llandrindod Wells
Address: Llandrindod Wells, Radnorshire, Wales
Attraction Type: Town
Location: On the A483 and A4081 about 8 miles north of Builth Wells
Website: Llandrindod Wells
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest
National Cycle Collection - 0 miles (Museum)
Radnorshire Museum - 0.1 miles (Museum)
Llandrindod Wells, Holy Trinity Church - 0.1 miles (Historic Church)
Rock Park - 0.4 miles (Garden)
Castell Collen Roman Fort - 1.1 miles (Roman Site)
Llanfihangel Cefnllys Church - 1.5 miles (Historic Church)
Cefnllys Castle - 1.8 miles (Castle)
Llanwrthwl, St Gwrthwl's Church - 5.5 miles (Historic Church)
Nearest Accommodation to Llandrindod Wells: