Red Adair of Castles Answers SOS; TROUBLESHOOTER: New Mission in Prague for Man Who Saved Gothic Ruin

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), September 6, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Red Adair of Castles Answers SOS; TROUBLESHOOTER: New Mission in Prague for Man Who Saved Gothic Ruin


Byline: DARREN DEVINE

HE HAS become the Red Adair of the world of Welsh castles, the man who saved one of the country's most important Gothic ruins.

But now film-maker and novelist Stephen Weeks is ending his 30-year love affair with Penhow Castle, near Newport, to become a troubleshooter, saving the castles of one of Europe's most beautiful cities, in the style of business troubleshooter John HarveyJones.

Mr Weeks spent almost 30 years restoring Penhow into the oldest lived-in castle in Wales, but has now decided his work is done and his special talents are needed in Prague.

More than 860 years old, Penhow Castle is expected to fetch between pounds 900,000 and pounds 1m after going on the market earlier this week.

Mr Weeks, who directed Sword of the Valiant in 1985, did not save Penhow just for himself - every year for almost 30 years it has been open to the public.

He estimates that around 90,000 schoolchildren have visited the castle during his ownership - a part of their country's history they could only have sampled through books had it not been for his intervention.

``One of the interesting things is that if castles are derelict buildings they are just a heap of old stones, but when they are properly used they become the centre of their communities,'' he said.

``For the schoolchildren who came to see Penhow it was probably the first castle they ever saw and certainly the first lived-in castle they had seen. ``People would also come and use the castle for concerts and charitable exhibitions, which was always a great pleasure.

``But now I just feel that I have done what I needed to do at Penhow. I just found I needed a new challenge and I have been doing increasing amounts of work in Prague anyway, to the point where you can only live in one place at one time.

``I think I have given a fair whack, with opening the castle at my own expense for 30 years.''

The fact that Mr Weeks, 52, will have his work cut out restoring two castles near Prague is part of the attraction.

``Most of the castles there are completely derelict and ruined.

``Under Communism they were turned into pig farms and were very poorly treated.

``Penhow had been a farm when I bought it in 1973 and some of the rooms had been used for chicken runs and grain stores so it was the same in Wales a long time ago as well.

``The attraction is using your imagination to see something revived.

``My other work, which subsidises my conservation work, is as a writer and film-maker and I enjoy harnessing my imagination on these projects.''

Mr Weeks would not say how much of his own money would go towards bankrolling the restoration of the Prague castles, but said he was receiving help through a historic buildings trust.

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