South Glamorgan Piercefield House is a largely ruined neo-classical mansion designed by Sir John Soane, located near Chepstow in Monmouthshire, Wales. Its extensive surrounding park overlooking the Wye Valley includes Chepstow Racecourse. The house is now but a shell, and a mere shadow of its former glory.
Records since the 14th century refer variously to Peerfield, Peersfield, Persfield and Piersfield, the area taking its name from the nearby manor of St. Pierre. The land was owned by the influential Walter family from medieval times until the 18th century. Local historians report an enlargement of the existing house under John Walter in the 1630s, and a later extension around 1700 is believed to have been the work of William Talman, also responsible for Chatsworth House.
In 1727, the estate was sold for �3,366, 5.6d to Thomas Rous of Wotton-under-Edge. His son then sold it again in 1740, for �8,250, to Colonel Valentine Morris. Morris (c 1678-1743) was born in Antigua, the son of a sugar planter and merchant, and is thought to have been descended from the Walter family.
The estate was then inherited by his son, also Valentine Morris (1727-1789), who began living at Piercefield with his family in 1753. Morris soon added to the magnificent splendour of the estate and its setting, by landscaping the parkland in the fashionable style of Capability Brown. Piercefield was developed into a park of national reputation, as one of the earliest examples of Picturesque landscaping. Morris laid out walks through the woodland and included a grotto, druid�s temple and giant�s cave. He also developed viewpoints along the clifftop above the River Wye. One of the many tourists to marvel at this view was the poet Coleridge, who wrote: "Oh what a godly scene....The whole world seemed imaged in its vast circumference".
In the 1770s Valentine Morris's gambling, business and political dealings bankrupted him, and he was forced to leave his beloved Piercefield and set sail for the West Indies. In 1785, Piercefield was sold again, for �26,200, to George Smith, a Durham banker. Smith commissioned a young architect, John Soane � later to become famous as the benefactor of the London institution which now bears his name - to design a new mansion in the neo-classical style, which would incorporate Morris� house. Work began in 1792, and the new three-storey stone building had reached roof level when Smith found himself in financial difficulties. He sold Piercefield in 1794 to Colonel Mark Wood, who continued and modified the work with architect Joseph Bonomi, incorporating a Doric portico and wings, and commissioning the long stone wall which now runs along the edge of the estate.
In 1802, Wood in turn sold the house and estate to Nathaniel Wells, for �90,000 cash. Wells was born in St. Kitts, the son of William Wells a sugar merchant and planter originally from Cardiff, and Juggy, one of his house slaves. With his inherited fortune Nathaniel continued to add to the Piercefield estate until it reached almost 3,000 acres (12 km�). In 1818 he became Britain's only known black sheriff when he was appointed Sheriff of Monmouthshire.
It is rumoured that Admiral Nelson spent a night at Piercefield House on one of his visits to Monmouthshire. Nelson was closely connected to the town of Monmouth through his mistress Lady Hamilton. It is possible that he stayed in the summer of 1802 with his lover Emma Hamilton and her elderly husband Sir William Hamilton, on a journey to a friend's Pembrokeshire estate via Monmouth.
In the 1850's the walks were closed to the public and the estate was bought by John Russell. Around this time suggestions were made in the national press that the estate would be a suitable residence for the Prince of Wales. However, Russell sold the estate in 1861 to Henry Clay, a banker and brewer from Burton-on-Trent. In 1874 it passed to his eldest son, also Henry Clay, who lived there until his death in 1921.
The Clay family then sold the house and much of the estate to the Chepstow Racecourse Company, who opened the new racecourse there in 1926. The house, already in a poor state of repair, was abandoned and stripped, gradually decaying to its current ruinous condition, with just the main facade still standing. It was allegedly used for target practice in the Second World War. The woods overlooking the river became established as a nature reserve, and footpaths which now form part of the Wye Valley Walk were reopened in the 1970s.
Plans to develop the site as a hotel or outdoor pursuits centre have so far been unfulfilled. The estate was, however, sold in 2006.
For more information see: http://www.piercefieldpark.co.uk/