Col Edward Nanney-Wynn of Maesyneuadd, Llanfendigaid – and Farthings Hill
This corner of Sussex can boast a good number of families with lineages to be proud of; the Burrells, Shelleys and others, some still going strong and others, sadly, with pedigrees cut short, have provided plenty of material for local historians to pore over. Their histories and their houses are familiar, and their names well-referenced in august publications such as the Sussex Archaeological Collections and Lower's Worthies of Sussex, that compendium of past movers and shakers published in the nineteenth century. They have been extensively written about, and the shelves of local libraries are weighty with the earnest works of today's researchers.
But just as interesting, perhaps more so in a way, is to discover from time to time a member of an ancient line, with no roots in Horsham, who has lived in the town and then moved on. The family background of such folk lies elsewhere, but for a while – perhaps just a year or two, or maybe longer – they have settled here, and by doing so have added a little to the flavour of our own history. They come from old stock, often with a background full of colour and incident, all of which adds an extra dash of spice to the more familiar fare.
Such characters as Sir Eustace Fitzmaurice Piers, from a long line of Irish baronets, doughty supporter of women's emancipation, and resident in Horsham in the 1900s, have been profiled before, as has the Macleod of Macleod, 23rd clan chief of that name and one of Britain's greatest landowners, who decided to live in Kerves Lane for some 20 years. An Irishman, a Scotsman – and now a further discovery; a Welshman, with a family history as long and as worthy as any of the others, and who again lived in Horsham, before returning to Merioneth to claim his inheritance.
Any student of Welsh history will be familiar with the name Nanney-Wynn, but on the face of it Horsham is a most unlikely place to find a member of that family. Imagine my surprise when, working through a 1950s street directory in search of the occupant of a particular house in Broadbridge Heath, I came across by chance someone called Nanney-Wynn living at Farthings, on Farthings Hill (a largish Victorian house, now a veterinary surgery). Through my own interest in matters Welsh the name was well known to me, but I must say I was at a loss to understand its presence here in Horsham, and so I thought to dig deeper, and in doing so, and thanks to help from the family, I am now able to tell a little of the story of Colonel Edward Roger Nanney-Wynn.
His family reaches back at least to the time when Norman influence was just making itself felt in Wales, and his surname is an amalgamation of two of Wales' great and old families, the Nanneys of Nannau and the Wynns of Maesyneuadd (and elsewhere), both significant landowners in their day who came together in marriage in the early eighteenth century. Nannau, as we know it now, is an eighteenth century house, set in the hills behind the market town of Dolgellau, and in the very finest part of Wales (I speak from conviction, and was born there), but it has long been a seat of power, with a long and sometimes violent history. The Nanneys were there in early times, and took their name from the place. They were also of royal Welsh descent, with a line that took them back to Cadwgan, Lord of Nannau and younger son of the King of Powys (to a Welsh historian this is heady stuff). The Wynns, though not royal, were no less illustrious. They could trace themselves back to one Osborn FitzGerald, from near Tywyn on the Merioneth coast, another great lord and one who played his part in Llewelyn the Great's wars against the English in the thirteenth century. Among other properties, the Nanneys owned Llanfendigaid, a Merioneth house which is still in the family, while the Wynns held Maesyneuadd, near Harlech, now – in the ways of things today – a country house hotel.
The tangled branches of the Wynn family stretched all over North Wales, and its central core was at Gwydir Castle, near Llanwrst. In a country of castles this one is, I think, the most evocative of all; neither large nor imposing, in the way of Caernarvon or Harlech, but most definitely packed with atmosphere, in a way the grander ones are not, with fine panelling, large and smoky fireplaces, intimate rooms, old timbers and stone walls.
But some of the fine panelling is lucky to be in the Castle at all; a few years back a curious curator opened up a number of long-neglected packing cases in the Metropolitan Museum's warehouse deep in New York's Bronx, and discovered lengths of ancient oak panelling, all carefully labelled and untouched since the 1920s. William Randolph Hearst, in one of his periodic forays through Europe, had extracted the woodwork from the then owner of Gwydir, along with many other European treasures, and carted it all off back to America, destined for his own grandiose dream castle on California's Pacific coast. But in the meantime other things must have distracted him, and the crates never got beyond New York. Thanks, however, to the diligence and co-operation of the Metropolitan, and much to the delight of today's owners of Gwydir, the panelling is now back where it should be. Horsham folk venturing north into Wales could do no better than visit Gwydir, where they will be assured of a warm welcome and some noisy peacocks.
But I digress. Let us now return to Colonel Nanney-Wynn. He was born at the family home of Maesyneuadd in 1907, and was destined from the start for a soldier's life. After spending his childhood on the hills and beaches around Harlech, he was educated at the Imperial Service College, Windsor, and later the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. It was here that he first showed an aptitude for the developing field of electronics, and this ability won him a subject prize at Sandhurst – new technology from an old pedigree, as it were. Like his father and grandfather before him, he had a successful military career, and served with the British Expeditionary Force and the Signals Division of the Seventh Guards Brigade. He was stationed in Canada for a while and saw active service in Palestine. In 1950, at the age of 43, he retired from the Army with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and was able to make this move thanks to the financial freedom afforded him by the receipt of an inheritance from one of his godfathers (who was shared, incidentally, with Lord Baden-Powell).
It was at this point, and before the death of his mother in 1957 when he moved to Llanfendigaid, that he came to live in Horsham. I had puzzled as to why, for the town did not seem a natural choice for a man used to grand Welsh houses and many acres of hillside – but the answer was, after all, straightforward. His wife Marjorie hailed from these parts, and she was the daughter of Major W Freese Sheffield DSO, a Loxwood farmer. After many Army postings, and with a young family of three daughters, and relatives close by, the locality must have seemed sensible. Their three daughters were Mary, Alice and Victoria, and the family lived at more than one address in the area. Schooling was also local, and Alice remembers Heron's Ghyll and Parkfield, the one on the edge of the Forest and the other at the north end of Horsham Park, but both now long gone, and replaced by many smaller houses.
But we must be grateful, must we not, that Farthings, their home on Farthing's Hill, is still there. Precious few spacious Victorian houses, with their tempting gardens, have been left unexploited by the developer. Those of us who remember Horsham in the 1950s and earlier recollect a landscape very different from that of today. There were plenty of green spaces then, and even in those days there were fields not far from the town centre – and mellow brick walls, behind which lay many a secret garden and orchard.
On his return to take up his Welsh inheritance, Colonel Nanney-Wynn was kept busy with many of the roles that his background had fitted him for. He was appointed Deputy Lord Lieutenant of his home county in 1958 and was High Sheriff in 1967. Additionally he took a keen interest in the Cadet Force movement, and was County Commandant for Merioneth and Montgomery between 1957-69, as well as Assistant Chief Commissioner for the Welsh branch of the St John's Ambulance Brigade, in recognition of which he was created a Knight of St John in 1980. My uncle, a fellow Deputy Lord Lieutenant for Merioneth, saw a good deal of him in the post-war years, and remembers him as a courteous and delightful man, 'one I was always pleased to meet'. He also remembered 'he came from a very old family and had much to be proud of, but he was also a humble man in the best sense of that word'.
He died in 1982 at the age of 75, at his ancestral home at Llanfendigaid., a house which has now been passed down to his grandson - so there is continuity. He was a man much loved and respected throughout the county, and despite his ancient pedigree and sense of tradition, we have seen that in his own particular field of expertise he was willing and able to master the exciting new world of electronics. A good thought, and a pleasing way to end this profile. While Horsham cannot, of course, claim Edward Roger Nanney-Wynn for her own, we should at least be grateful that he had an association with our town, along with the likes of Sir Eustace and the Macleod - all of whom, through their long and historic pedigrees, have added a little extra to the Horsham cavalcade.
My thanks to the Nanney-Wynn family for their help in the writing of this profile, and in particular to Miles Wynn Cato, his grandson, family historian and author of 'Old Blood of Merioneth'.