Piercefield House
Piercefield House is a largely ruined neo-classical mansion designed by Sir John Soane, located near Chepstow in Monmouthshire, south east Wales. Its extensive surrounding park overlooking the Wye Valley includes Chepstow Racecourse. The house is now but a shell, along with its extensive stable block , 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, according to some sources, 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. At this time, tourism in the Wye valley was in its infancy. Morris soon added to the magnificent splendour of the estate and its setting, by landscaping the parkland, with the help of Richard Owen Cambridge in the fashionable style of Capability Brown. The work was largely undertaken by architect Charles Howells and builder William Knowles of Chepstow, who had also undertaken work at nearby Tintern for the Duke of Beaufort. 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, bathing house and giant’s cave. He also developed viewpoints along the clifftop above the River Wye, and opened the park up to visitors. 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". The scientist and traveller Joseph Banks wrote: "I am more and more convinced that it is far the most beautiful place I ever saw". 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 continued to open the walks, but straightened some of them . He also 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, MP for Newark-on-Trent, 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. Wood was also the owner of Llanthony Priory. 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 km²). 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 and Kymin Hill. In 1848, Samuel Lewis' Topographical Dictionary of England (sic) described Piercefield in the following terms: From Piercefield Park, a splendid seat, the views are remarkably magnificent, and embrace numerous reaches of the Wye, the Severn, and a great range of the surrounding country. The mansion, situated on an eminence, in the midst of fine plantations, is a superb elevation of freestone, consisting of a centre and two wings, and much admired for its tasteful architecture: on the spacious staircase are four beautiful pieces of Gobelin tapestry which belonged to Louis XVI, representing subjects in the natural history of Africa. Wells left the area in the 1840s and his tenants closed the walks to the public. After Wells' death, the estate was leased to John Russell( 1788-1873, High Sheriff of Monmouthshire 1855),who owned the neighbouring estate of Wyelands. In 1855 Russell bought the estate. The walks were occasionally reopened to the public, but for a charge. Around this time suggestions were made in the national press that the estate would be a suitable residence for the Prince of Wales. However, following the explosion at his Risca Blackvein Colliery, Russell sold the estate in 1861 to Henry Clay, a banker and brewer from Burton-on-Trent, and returned to Terhill House in Gloucestershire. In 1874 the estate passed to Clay's eldest son, also Henry Clay, who lived there until his death in 1921 aged 96. The Clay family then sold the house and much of the estate to the Chepstow Racecourse Company (of which the Directors were all members of the Clay family), 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 walls still standing. It was allegedly used for target practice in the Second World War by US troops. 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. The Estate was again placed up for sale in September 2009 by Jackson-Stops & Staff, Estate Agents, with an asking price of £2 million. It reportedly had planning and Listed building consent for the restoration of the house, stable block and kitchen gardens, together with their associated cottages.