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In praise of eccentrics

Cardigan Castle has been awarded nearly £5m in lottery funding to renovate the old building - but how did it get into such a state of disrepair? Kevin Ashford looks back at the history of the Castle and one of its rather eccentric previous owners

There aren’t many genuine eccentrics around these days, are there? I know there are lots of ‘crazy’ people on our television screens and in our newspapers but I can’t be alone in feeling that many of those wacky personas are a little bit manufactured – the result of media manipulation.

It’s a sentiment made even stronger when you get reminded of a genuine ‘out there’ figure from the past.

I was at a ceremony this week to announce a £4.7 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant which will allow the start of work to renovate Cardigan Castle.

It’ll be opened up as a tourist attraction as well as becoming an important centre for Welsh language teaching and the history of the Eisteddfod. There’s been a long running campaign to bring the site back to life and some of the archive footage from our film library was a real eye opener.

Cardigan Castle used to be privately owned. Barbara Wood and her mother moved into a listed Regency house in the castle grounds in the 1940s.

Barbara continued living there after her mother died but the house fell into disrepair and was condemned by the local council. She refused to move out though and finally agreed to live in a caravan in the grounds. Barbara Wood eventually had to move out in 1996 on health grounds and died in a nursing home aged 91.

Watch Kevin Ashford’s report on Cardigan Castle’s renovation funding announcement

To describe Barbara Wood as feisty is something of an understatement. In later years she became a recluse, surrounding herself with cats behind the crumbling castle walls. That didn’t stop her having plenty of run-ins with the authorities though – at one point she told members of Cardigan Borough Council to ‘go fry themselves’ when they tried to force the sale of the castle.

Barbara once gave an extraordinary interview to HTV (as it then was). The house around her was in a shambolic state – she admitted that very little had changed there since her mother had passed away – the only lighting seemed to be candles. She was obviously physically frail and struggled to hear the interviewer’s questions and her voice had a curious high-pitched, reedy quality that only added to the atmosphere – it was as though Miss Havisham from Dickens’ Great Expectations had come to life.

There was an incredible moment when it was suggested in the interview that she should move out of the castle – the look on Barbara Wood’s face can only be described as steely as she dismissed the idea –  it really was one of those ‘shiver down the spine’ moments.

Now eccentrics can often be the target for ridicule but Barbara Wood and her memory seem to be held in very high regard in Cardigan. Everyone I spoke to about her referred to her as Miss Wood and talked fondly about this real character who refused to conform.

There’s a cat that roams the Cardigan Castle now. It’s been named Barbara in memory of Miss Wood.

It’s friendly enough but apparently it refuses to be tamed which seems to me to be rather appropriate.

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