Foley House is the most important residential building in Haverfordwest. It was designed by John Nash, architect of Buckingham Palace and Regent Street. It was one of the small number of houses designed by Nash during his period in Carmarthen, and is likely to be from about 1790. It is listed Grade II*. Its particular interest stems from the fact that it forms an example of Nash’s ‘early phase’ of smaller villas, the others being Priory House, Cardigan; Glanwysc near Crickhowell and Zion House, Tenby. Later west Wales houses were generally larger, such as Llanerchaeron, now restored by the National Trust. It has a well-developed plan with Nash’s characteristic feature of the staircase on the entrance front, a cantilevered affair in a stone-paved entrance hall with some very refined ceiling plasterwork. Several rooms have survived well, with a series of first-rate rooms typical of a more London-focussed taste of the late-18th century, and the main sitting room has a serpentine east wall with distant views over Haverfordwest.
The Foleys were lawyers who lived in the area, with Foley’s brother, Sir Richard, being an admiral, and they entertained many famous contemporaries at the house, Lord Nelson having stayed there in 1802 with Emma Hamilton. Nelson made a public address to the town’s inhabitants from the balcony above the drawing room. The house changed hands several times during the 19th century, with the usual fate of large houses, post-War, it coming into Local Authority ownership in 1947 to be the town museum. In the event it was never used as a museum, was briefly a school and was latterly used as the Council offices for the magistrates’ clerks.
After being unoccupied since 2003 the Council placed the house and adjoining cottage on the market but they have failed to find a buyer. Over the years several alterations were undertaken without listed building consent which were damaging to its character. These now require rectification in addition to a back log of repairs. One potential sale which came close to completion fell through as a result of the Council not being prepared to provide an open-ended indemnity for such work. The Council has stated that ‘it would not be in the public’s best interest to offer such an indemnity to a potential buyer of the property as it would be akin to offering an open cheque book and clearly that is something we are not able or willing to do’.
After being unable to find a buyer for the building the council approached the Welsh Georgian Trust to see whether it could develop a scheme to save the building. The trust, as a building preservation trust and a registered charity, is ideally suited to take forward problem buildings. The trustees visited the building together with council officials and their conservation officer. Following subsequent discussions the trust believe that prime facie there is a role that it can play in restoring the building and bringing it back into a sustainable use. The trust requested a period of at least three months to undertake a feasibility and viability assessment of the building.
The Welsh Georgian Trust then approached the Architectural Heritage Fund for a grant to enable it to carry out a project viability assessment for Foley House. We are pleased to announce that this grant application has been approved and the trust is now about to embark on this work. It is anticipated that this appraisal will take approximately 2 months to complete.