The site that Gwernyfed High School is built upon is exceptionally rich in history and can be traced back to earthworks that have been dated back to the Iron Age. During the Dark Ages this site was held by a Welsh Prince who had fought at the Battle of Crecy in 1346. He fought on the side of Edward III and his son The Black Prince and withstood the repeated assaults of their French enemy. The Welsh Prince named Einion Sais and the coat of arms that he wore on his shield was ‘argent, three cocks, gules’ which means that the three cocks birds were depicted red on a silver shield. Where Einion Sais lived is lost in the mist of history but we do know that in 1600 David Williams brought Gwernyfed from John Gunter.
The Williams were a family from Ystalyfera and their purchase provided them with an old medieval house, which had been rebuilt in 1450, together with an estate of nearly 4000 acres. In 1633 the house we now know as Old Gwernyfed was built, or rather the old medieval house was modernised. The roof was removed and an extra storey put in. Dormers placed in the attic, and the rear gardens landscaped with fishponds, bowling greens, formal gardens and terraces of gardens. Then, late in the eighteenth century, disaster struck, and the west wing of Old Gwernyfed was gutted by fire. As this was the main living quarters the family moved away and the house, although lived in by a succession of farm tenants, was allowed to deteriorate.
In 1804, Sir Edward Williams, the last in the male line of the Williams family died and the Gwernyfed Estate passed to his daughter who was married to Thomas Wood. The Wood family’s most immediate problem was that the Estate did not have a house commensurate with the vast wealth and power that the Estate held. By the mid nineteenth century a hunting lodge had been built near the centre of the deer park. The 1850 tithe map for this area records orchards, a fish pond, pleasure grounds and gardens surrounding it. With Gwernyfed now belonging to the Wood Family the history of the Gwernyfed Park Mansion House, which is now the school, is about to begin.
In 1872 Colonel Thomas Wood Inherited the Gwernyfed Estate and he began to make plans to build a new home within the old deer park. Construction started in 1877 and took 3 years to complete. It was designed by William Eden Nesfield (2 April 1835 – 25 March 1888) an architect and artisan, son of William Andrews Nesfield, a British landscape architect. Located in offices in Argyll Street London he worked with his business partner Richard Norman Shaw, they are most famous for their Gothic Revival Architecture, which the Mansion house is a marvellous example of, his signature being sunflowers which can be seen on the gutters and iron trimmings around the building. It was built primarily as a wedding gift and comprised a lounge hall, four reception rooms, gun room, twenty two bedrooms and dressing rooms, seven fitted bathrooms and an oak staircase, which is probably the only unchanged item today.
The house is built of local grey sandstone and it is constructed in a Jacobean style, emphasised by the tall red brick East Anglican chimney stacks and a high pitched tile roof.
In 1922 the local sale of the century took place when the Gwernyfed Estate was sold. The sale amounted to some 3,173 acres and comprised nineteen farms including Pipton, Trevithel, Fford-Fawr, Great Tyle Glas, Bradwys, Upper Cwm-Cadarn, Neyadd, Little Lodge, Blainau-Isaf, Wern Frank and Maes-y-Lade. For sale as well were seven holdings from 41-110 acres and fifteen smallholdings of 3-9 acres together with some 102 acres of woodland. Even the local went under the hammer. The Three Cocks Hotel, together with 12 acres and a quarter mile of the River Wye salmon fishing rights was sold.
After the sale in 1922 which saw the property sold as a gentleman’s residence it had a number of notable owners including Captain W. D. Hall M.P., Commander Glen Kidson, R.N., and finally Granville Farquhar bought Gwernyfed Park from the Hore-Ruthven family. Guy Farquhar moved into the house in 1928 after he married Daphne Henry in July. In the late 1930’s it was offered for sale at £50,000 with 278 acres of park land but there were no takers. During the Second World War it was requisitioned by the Ministry Of Defence and used for the South Wales Borderers (of Zulu fame). Troops were billeted on the house and munitions were stored in the grounds. Over the years there have been many exciting events when unexploded ammunition has been found and destroyed.
In 1948 the site was brought by the local authority and on the 5th June 1950 opened as Gwernyfed Secondary School with a roll of 168 pupils and 11 staff. By 1960 the first external examinations were allowed by the authority. The school entered three pupils for G.C.E. level examinations in English Language, English Literature, Mathematics, Chemistry and Biology. Two pupils passed in the five subjects and the other pupil passed in four. In 1962 the School Farm with 40 acres was established although the new farm buildings were not provided for another six years.
Finally, in September 1971, the school was re-roled as Gwernyfed High School and the modern era, of which we are all a part, began.