A HISTORIC house is currently closed off to the public while negotiations take place over the sale of its 125-year lease.

The trustees, who run Bodelwyddan Castle, have been left with "little choice" but to put the 125-year-lease they hold on a large part of the property up for sale.

Bodelwyddan Castle Trust (BCT), which runs the castle, museum and art gallery, wants to use the money it will raise to continue its public education role and allow access to its treasured collection of Welsh art by linking to a charity with a similar ethos.

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The decision to sell the remaining 99 years of the lease to the highest bidder and close in 2019 follows the withdrawal of a £144,000 support grant from Denbighshire County Council.

The funding cut, which was applied from April 2018, resulted in the loss of seven of the trust's 13 staff and the ending of a long loan of 130 paintings from the National Portrait Gallery (NPG).

Dr Helen Papworth, chair of the trust, said: “In the three years that I have been a trustee, I have seen the impact of costs savings which resulted in the removal of the National Portrait Gallery collection in February, 2017 with the loss of a significant number of employees.

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"Despite the financial pressures, the remaining core of loyal staff and volunteers have created a range of exhibitions of Welsh art and, to complement the tours through replica trenches in the grounds, the World War One exhibition.

"The beautifully maintained parkland and woods have attracted many people who come to enjoy the different events, such as theatre and displays, or to observe the local wildlife in tranquil surrounds.

"We believe that the sale of the lease will enable our resources to be used for similar charitable purposes, providing visitors to North Wales, and local people, with continued access to the collection of Welsh artworks stored at the castle."

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When the funding cut was made, some of BCT's own paintings were hung on the walls to replace works that had been returned to the National Portrait Gallery.

The castle, set in 260 acres, dates from before 1460, but was renovated in the 1830s by the Williams family and is now also occupied by the Bourne Leisure-owned Warner hotel.

In 2017, replica trenches from the Great War and an exhibition “From Civilian to Combatant”, telling the story of men and women involved from the area, were introduced.

Kevin Mason, former director of the Bodelwyddan Castle Trust, said: "I personally think it is very sad that trustees have been left with little choice but to offer their remaining lease term for sale. It could represent the end of an era during which the Trust has provided 25 years of much needed tourism, heritage and education services to North Wales.

"Clearly if there is a purchaser then the Trust will have to vacate the site but there is no reason why the trustees cannot move elsewhere to continue the work of the charity in some other form – perhaps joining forces with another similar charity in the area. But that will be the trustees’ decision when the time comes.

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"I am aware that the remaining staff at the castle, who have lived with considerable uncertainty since the county council’s decision to withdraw funding, are going to try to make sure that they operate an excellent public service for as long as possible in 2019 and perhaps into 2020.

"The staff are busy developing new nature trails and enhancing their First World War tours of the grounds so that members of the public can still enjoy the facilities while they remain in the Trust’s hands.

"Trustees have decided that the grounds will remain open to the public but that the house will only be open for pre-booked groups. This is due to some very necessary cost-cutting exercises that trustees have had to apply."

Dr Papworth added the sale of the lease will enable the trust to invest its assets in another charitable organisation, one with similar objectives.

[Pictures by Geoff Abbott]