The Statue of David Davies on the bridge at Llandinam which you cross to approach Broneirion, is most appropriately situated since that bridge was the first piece of engineering construction work he undertook. The year was 1846, the year in which his father died leaving nine children. Between 1846 and 1871, David Davies (originally a top sawyer by trade) built 144 miles of railway, and even visited Sardinia in 1862 to advise on the construction of railways on that mountainous island.
David was a very religious man, who loved his chapel dearly, and when he chose a site for his house, he wanted it to be where he could see his chapel, his boyhood cottage home and the station serving the railway he had built. David, his wife, Elizabeth, a Llanfair Caereinion girl, and their only son Edward moved into the house in 1864. Visitors will be able to see that the house is situated just as he wished. From the front lawn the chapel can clearly be seen across the valley and, nestling under the hill above it, the little white cottage in which he grew up, and just below the house the railway station.
Edward grew up, married and had three children, and for a while Broneirion was unoccupied until David, Edward’s only son, married and went to live there. Sadly, David’s young bride contracted a mysterious tropical disease on their honey moon and though she lived long enough to bear two children she died while they were infants. Soon Broneirion was to have another change, for when David married for the second time he wanted to take his second wife into his father’s home across the valley, and his elderly mother moved into Broneirion where she saw out her days early in the war.
In 1940 David Davies, then Lord Davies, offered both his home and Broneirion to Gordonstoun School which needed to move from Scotland for the duration of the war. The offer was keenly accepted and many boys still return for nostalgic visits each summer.
David Davies died 1944 three months before his son was killed in action in Holland. His son’s young widow, Lady Davies, was a friend of Hether Kay of Hyssington and both had a keen interest in guiding. Miss Kay had a vision of a training centre for Welsh Guides, and Lady Davies, knowing this, enthusiastically offered Broneirion. Being in the middle Wales and about the right size, situated in beautifully varied countryside, it was ideal, but in post-war Britain the cost of setting it all up was a terrific problem. They both felt strongly that the house should be a home, not an institution and to that end that it should be furnished attractively and comfortably. Hether Kay soon made the idea a living reality and gifts of furniture and soft furnishings, much of very high quality, began to arrive in the house. Every Welsh County was persuaded to adopt a bedroom and be responsible for the furnishing. Over the years this has kept the bedrooms well decorated, bright and comfortable.
In 1947 the house was officially opened by the World Chief Guide, the late Lady Baden-Powell, and Welsh Guides had a base.
The opening in 1947 was a great occasion. The Pageant, Byddwch Barod, (Be Prepared), written by Miss Kay, with a cast of more than 200, was performed, and Elizabeth Vaughan, then a young Guide in Montgomeryshire sang in the Pageant to a harp accompaniment, in one of her first public performances. The Pageant was re-enacted 2 years later for the World International Commissioners, and was filmed. Many other big events followed over the years, and on several occasions Welsh Guiding has had the honour and privilege of receiving their Association President.
In 1949 The Princess Royal attended an All Wales Eisteddfod held in a marquee on the lawn at Broneirion, and in 1970 Princess Margaret was entertained to luncheon in the House before attending the Welsh Guide Eisteddfod being held at Gregynog. Both of these visits were memorable occasions for Broneirion.
For the past fifty years the House has been the centre of excellent Guiding and Guiders training in Wales, as well as being a warm, welcoming and comfortable Guiding home. It has been a proud pleasure for successive Chief Commissioners to hold the responsibility for ensuring that Broneirion continues to be the focus for all that is best in Guiding in Wales, always aware that Guiding, and Guider training, must never stand still, but must move forward and set the standard for others to follow.
A House Committee was formed in 1946, to facilitate the smooth running of the House, and this Committee throughout so many years, now recently renamed The Broneirion Management Committee, and has the responsibility for setting and maintaining the standard achieved by the House. Succeeding chairmen have worked unstintingly to make improvements; each committee member providing a great deal of commitment and expertise which is reflected in the comfort and facilities which are provided in Broneirion, and in the cheerful atmosphere created by the staff.
Broneirion celebrated 21 years of Guiding in July 1968. The World Chief Guide had given great support to the Guides in Wales after they had first taken on the commitment of Broneirion and every one was delighted to welcome her back as she had performed the original opening ceremony.
The World Chief Guide was present at the launching of ‘Friends of Broneirion’ which marked the 1968 celebrations. The membership of ‘Friends’ reached 130 on the day that it was launched, giving an indication of the affection so many had for Broneirion. By 1977 the membership had reached 535 and £2,283 had been given to Broneirion in eight years. Now, in July 1997, 29 years after the first ‘Friends’ meeting, the membership stands at 550, and the amount raised for Broneirion totals £23,459.55p. It is now possible for ‘Friends’ to covenant their donations, which enables Guides Cymru to claim back tax for charitable donations, and there are also 34 Life Members. ‘Friends’ give most valuable support, and their generosity has provided many extra essentials which make the difference between a House and a Home!
Broneirion is situated on the side of a steep, wooded valley, overlooking the River Severn and the village of Llandinam. It makes a wonderful setting for the pale stone coloured House with its Welsh slate roof, which is a fine example of a mansion in Italianate style. It is surrounded by four and a half acres of very beautiful grounds, which look particularly lovely in Spring when the naturalised daffodils, rhododendrons and azaleas are in full bloom. The famous Wellingtonia trees, the first of their species to be planted in Wales, have now reached an enormous height towering above the house. Also situated in the grounds is the Brownie House, Y Bwthyn. Originally the Davies children’s summer house, it is now a very attractive Pack Holiday House, and is much used by members of all ages. Inside the House there are many treasures, the beautiful Chapel is dedicated to Lady Eldrydd Davies, and is used a great deal. The dining room is a reminder of the Founder, the tables and long benches, of exquisite craftsmanship by ‘Mousey’ Thompson, were bought with the allocation to Wales from the Baden-Powell Fund. The fine portrait of Lord Baden Powell by Miss Margaret Lindsey Williams was gifted by the artist in admiration of his work. Also in the dining room is a beautiful Czechoslovakian crystal Guide / Scout vase, this was a gift from Lady Baden-Powell. Throughout the house there are many other fine pieces of antique furniture and memorabilia gifted by generous friends over the years.
In 1992 the landlord, Lord Davies, eldest son of Lady (Eldrydd) Davies, made it known that Broneirion would have to be sold. For 46 years Guiding in Wales had enjoyed a most amicable relationship with its landlord, and his wife, the present Lady Davies who was, and still is, the President of Girlguiding Cymru. The decision was made that Girlguiding Cymru really had to raise sufficient money to buy the property outright. An appeal was launched, and with much determination from its members, and valuable help from many outside organisations, the money was raised in a remarkably short time, enough to buy the house and provide a modest Endowment Fund, the interest from which would help with repairs and renovations. At the same time the opportunity arose for Girlguiding Cymru to purchase a Camp Site, close to the house, something that had been very greatly needed for a long time. This Camp Site is named Cae Gwenllian, in honour of Girlguiding Cymru’s much loved Treasurer and a former Chief Commissioner, Hon. Gwenllian Philipps, who for so many years had supported Guiding in Wales with her sensible advice and careful guardianship of resources. The Official Re-opening of Broneirion took place on 28th June 1993, and the Hon. Betty Clay, the daughter of the Founder and the World Chief Guide, performed the Opening Ceremony on this occasion. Two years later, and very unexpectedly, Girlguiding Cymru were able to purchase Broneirion Lodge, a ‘cottage orné’ sited at the entrance to Broneirion, an important purchase as it is situated on the boundary of the main property.
Guiding in Wales was particularly delighted to hear in November 1996 that Broneirion House, Coach House, and the Lodge had all been listed Grade II, endorsing the fact that the property is particularly fine, and worthy of the work and care which has been taken to maintain its original appearance and features.
Now as we celebrate 60 years of using this lovely House and its grounds for so many different Guiding activities, I should like to end by quoting the words of Miss Hether Kay whose inspiration it was to take on the daunting task of turning Broneirion into a Guiding Home for the whole of Wales and the World. I hope she would approve what has been achieved by her successors.
“It is as it has always been, a story of enterprise; its result are great.
Let us look back and give thanks and look forward and take courage”