Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Old Houses in the Vale of Ffestiniog

This valley and the surrounding area contain amazing survivors of the many Elizabethan homes of farmers and gentry who lived in this then prosperous area. After the wars and famines of the 1400s, the cattle trade with England prospered and the drovers brought back cash and new ideas. Today’s slate tips hide early cattle rearing farmsteads which dotted the hillsides. However it is still possible to trace the developments of houses as the fashions changed.

Even in these stony Welsh mountains, the earliest surviving homes were timber-framed halls open to the roof, with a hearth on the floor and small windows. Large curved crucks of oak reached from the ground to the ridge, often with ornate carved collars. Other hall houses had straight trusses resting on stone walls. At either end of the hall were smaller rooms, for family quarters and storage, which could be of two storeys. Hall houses were smoky with little privacy.

Around the 1530s a new design (now called the Snowdonian style house) became popular across north Wales, and many can be seen locally. This was a storeyed house with a large inglenook fireplace and a gabled end chimney with a spiral stair in the gable end next to the fireplace. Upstairs there was a corbelled chimney in the other gable. Many hall houses were converted into storeyed buildings by inserting a chimney centrally or in a gable end.

Later on, richer families extended their houses by either building additional wings or by building a second house parallel or at right angles to the first.

Y Dduallt
As farming became less prosperous, these farm houses were not replaced in Georgian or Victorian times. Minor improvements such as bathrooms were added, but it can still be possible to discover the earlier styles of 400 years ago.

The felling dates of original timbers in several local houses have been calculated using dendrochronology as part of the “Dating Old Welsh Houses” project run in partnership with the Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Wales. Local volunteers continue to research the histories of these houses, their families and communities.

If you would like to know more or get involved with the project further details are on the website

The contents of this blog are extracted from a leaflet prepared by Margaret Dunn for the Dating Old Welsh Houses Project and financed by a grant from the Friends of Plas Tan y Bwlch. It is available free from Plas Tan y Bwlch, Tourist Information Centres and other outlets.

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