It’s a wedding venue in the Swansea Valley where many have celebrated their special day.
But while Craig-y-Nos Castle is a dream location for lovers of the gothic or fairytale, it was once somewhere very different.
And, as revealed in new ITV Wales documentary, The Children of Craig-y-Nos, it houses some wonderful and shocking stories from its time as a tuberculosis sanatorium.
The show includes the incredible story of a reunion between two best friends, Roger Beynon and Graham Canning, who met as children in the hospital and became best mates. But they then spent decades apart believing the other might be dead.
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Roger met Graham while the pair were both patients in Craig-y-Nos Castle which served as a tuberculosis sanatorium between 1922 and 1959.
Despite being best friends during their time in the hospital, once Roger was able to leave he lost contact with his friend and was unable to find him in the years following. As a result, he assumed the worst had happened to Graham.
“Although I looked for years afterwards, I couldn’t find Graham,” said Roger, from Ammanford.
However, thanks to the hard work of another former patient who worked to collect as many memories and stories from the children of Craig-y-Nos as possible, Roger was shocked to see a face he recognised instantly.
“He recognised me! He said, ‘I couldn’t fail to see you straight away,'” said Graham, recalling the first time his old friend had seen his face after decades of believing him to be dead.
Laughing, Roger added that he knew it was his friend because he was trouble when the pair were growing up together and he looked like trouble now.
Miraculously, thanks to their chance reunion, the pair have reignited their decades-old friendship more than 60 years after the castle stopped being a hospital, all of which is down to the efforts of fellow patient Ann Shaw.
In 2006, Ann started a blog called ‘The children of Craig-y-Nos’ as a way of sharing the experiences of as many former patients of the hospital as possible.
(Image: ITV Cymru Wales)
Ann, originally from Crickhowell but now living in Scotland, was surprised to find that there was barely any information available about the castle’s period as a sanitorium when she began looking into it.
Determined to uncover stories from this forgotten period of Welsh history, Ann set up the blog and asked for people to get in touch with their own experiences.
Soon after, Ann said, her husband in Scotland was picking up the phone non-stop to telephone calls from Wales, with people desperately wanting to share their own stories from Craig-y-Nos.
“I ended up with 150 case histories and that’s when I kind of realised I’d tapped into 50 years of lost Welsh history,” said Ann.
From there, Ann and co-author of the book ‘Children of Craig-y-Nos’ Carole Reeves spoke to every single person who had been in touch to collect their stories, the result of which is the focus of the ITV Cymru Wales documentary ‘Children of Craig-y-Nos’ tonight (September 6).
(Image: ITV Cymru Wales)
For some, it brought back pleasant memories while for others it was troubling part of their past they still struggled with. But for all of the children, now pensioners, who reached out to Ann, their experiences at Craig-y-nos were something that had stayed with them throughout their lives.
Roger was taken to the sanitorium with TB when he was just 14 months old, and eventually left when he was seven-years-old. As a result, many of his early memories revolve around his time in the castle.
“I had a family who I didn’t know,” said Roger.
“There was a lad alongside me in a plaster cast and then all of a sudden he wasn’t there. And that seemed to happen a lot. And somewhere down the line I think the realisation that there were children in the ward who were dying.”
In Ann’s case, what she remembers is the stark difference between the warmth and comfort of her home in Crickhowell and the cold, harsh environment of the sanitorium.
“We had green tarpaulins that we were given, and this was to keep the snow and the rain off the bed,” said Ann.
“You’d wake up in the morning and there was snow on the bed.”
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Ann added: “I left a warm bedroom in the farm. And there was no glass in the windows [in Craig-y-nos], everything was open. So the wind just howled through… There was this noise of the wind going through and the girls coughing, they were all coughing.”
Revisiting the building for the filming of the documentary, memories are brought back to the surface again for the former patients.
In one particularly moving scene, Sylvia Moore, who came to the hospital from her home in Llanelli, revisits the room where she stayed for two of the five years she spent at the castle.
“This is where I was, and I spent two years here on my own… looking out of the window,” said Sylvia.
“Outside there’s a beautiful spruce tree and I swear blind that I watched that tree grow. I did a lot of cloud watching from here as well, because that’s the way we used to amuse ourselves.
“So yes, it brings back some heartfelt memories, shall we say.”
You can watch ‘Children of Craig-y-nos’ on ITV Cymru Wales at 8pm on Monday, September 6.
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