This portrait, painted in about 1620, is of Emma Dolben, daughter of John Dolben of Cae Gwyniau, Denbighshire. In 1630 Emma married the Reverend Hugh Williams, Rector of Llanrhyddlad and Llantrisant, Anglesey. Their eldest son, Sir William Williams of Wynnstay became Solicitor General and Speaker of the House of Commons in 1684. Emma’s great grand-daughter, Margaret, married Hugh Owen of Penrhos. Among the possessions she took to her new home at Holyhead was the portrait of Emma Dolben.
Their only daughter, Margaret Owen, married Sir John Thomas Stanley of Alderley in 1763, thus forging the link between Penrhos and the Stanley family. Over the years the family flourished such that the modest Tudor house at Penrhos was replaced by a handsome mansion. The portrait of Emma continued to hold pride of place at the house and a legend grew in the family that bad luck would befall the Stanleys if it ever left Penrhos.
In 1939, at the commencement of WW2, the house was taken over by the military and the portrait was removed from Penrhos. It is said that the Stanley family did indeed suffer a number of sad tragedies following this. Their connection with Holyhead ended and the mansion was allowed to crumble to a sad ruin.
The 300 acre Penrhos Estate was sold in the late 1960’s for the building of Anglesey Aluminium Metals Ltd. The start-up of the aluminium smelter did not go smoothly and there were concerns that the venture could fail. However, in 1972 The Honourable Mrs Adelaide Lubbock, daughter of the 5th Lord Stanley of Alderley, returned the portrait of Emma Dolben to Penrhos. It was placed on indefinite loan at Anglesey Aluminium and was hung in the company Board Room. Those with a superstitious mind considered that this coincided with the turnaround of the plant and the dramatic improvements that ensued.
After well over three decades the portrait left Penrhos to be returned to the Stanley family. Not long after this production of aluminium ceased at the smelter. Forklore, superstition, fact or fiction?
From research undertaken by Peter Scott Roberts
Photograph of Plas Penrhos from ‘Hen Gaergybi Old Holyhead’ by D I Rendall and J C Davies
Image of the painting of Emma Dolben from a leaflet produced by AAM Ltd.
© Holyhead Maritime Museum