The castle was built between 1819 and 1825 at the behest of Lloyd Hesketh Bamford-Hesketh, grandfather of Winifred Cochrane, Countess of Dundonald. From 1894 until 1924, when the Countess died, it was the residence of the Dundonald family. The Countess left the castle in her will to King George V and the then Prince of Wales (who later became King Edward VIII). However, the gift was refused and the castle passed to the Venerable Order of Saint John. In 1928, the Earl of Dundonald purchased the castle for £78,000, selling the contents to meet the cost.
During World War II, the Government used the castle to house 200 Jewish refugees. Following the war, the castle left the Dundonald family and was open to the public for twenty years. It was called The Showpiece of Wales at this time, and attracted many visitors. It was also used as a training venue for the English World Middleweight boxing champion Randy Turpin in the early 1950s. In the early 60s it was an occasional venue for the famous motorcycle dragon rally and in the 70s it was used as a centre for medieval re-enactments, attracting tourists with such events as jousting and mock banquets.
The castle was last open to the public in 1985. Thereafter, it started to decline. It was bought in 1989 by an American businessman (Nick Tavaglione ) for £750,000. However, his plans to renovate the building were not carried out. As a result, the castle was extensively looted and vandalised, becoming little more than a derelict shell, although it was used in 1996 as the backdrop for Prince Valiant, a film starring Edward Fox , Joanna Lumley and Katherine Heigl.
During the period of Tavaliogne's ownership, local historian Mark Baker campaigned for the castle to be brought back to its days of glory—a campaign that he started when he was twelve years old. Baker was also instrumental in forming the Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust, dedicated to ensuring the castle's future. The condition of the property was monitored by the Trust, who eventually forced the American owner to put it up for sale.
Clayton Hotels bought the castle in June 2006 for £850,000, after it failed to reach its £1.5m reserve price at the 2 June auction. On 30 April 2007, Clayton announced a 3 year project, costing £6,000,000, to renovate the castle and convert it into a 90-bedroom 5-star hotel, creating 100 jobs. The project is subject to planning permission, but has the approval of the Trust.
The Gwrych Castle Trust Archive and the National Library of Wales hold important materials relating to Gwrych, including numerous original plans and various designs for the stained glass windows.
Clayton hotels has since gone into administration, and the castle was sold by the administrators to a new owner in early 2010.
Books about Gwrych Castle
- The Rise and Fall of Gwrych Castle including Winifred, Countess of Dundonald- A Biography by M Baker
- Gwrych Castle - A Pictorial History by M Baker
- Myths and Legends of Gwrych Castle by M Baker