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Monuments to our rural past - in stone, slate, heavy beams and thatch; For six centuries they have been hewn from the landscapes of Wales in the stone, slate and wood of the valleys where they stand. And now a new book traces the history of the homes of rural Wales and details the distinctive styles synonymous with the communities where they emerged. Darren Devine reports.

BUILT in 1402 Hafodygarreg is the earliest surviving home in Wales. Now functioning as a bed and breakfast hotel, the fascinating home retains much of the 15th-century detail which saw it function as the hunting lodge for the Lord of the Manor in Erwood, Breconshire.

The historic property is one of 36 chronicled in a new book Introducing Houses of the Welsh Countryside, which traces the distinctive styles of the homes of rural Wales - from labourers' mud-built cottages to the landowning class' roomy

The book, published by Y Lolfa and tying in with the S4C series Cartrefi Cefn Gwlad Cymru (Houses of the Welsh Countryside), charts the changes in Wales' rural properties from the Middle Ages to the Industrial Revolution.

Here we take a closer look at the distinct styles catalogued by architecture historian Greg Stevenson and conservationist Richard Suggett's book: 1. The Medieval Hall House As the name suggests, in these properties the main room was the hall, which would typically be a large area open to the roof, centrally- placed and heated by an open hearth.

Chimneys and beamed ceilings were part of the repertoire of medieval builders, but they declined to use them in hall houses, where large open spaces were the order of the day.

Though often viewed as an aristocratic indulgence, the properties were also favoured by farmers.

Usually timbered, the basic design of the properties would involve an open hall set between rooms divided into ground and first floors either side of the open space.

The arched timber supports, or cruck trusses, stretching from the floor to the apex of the roof, are a feature of these properties found typically in northern and eastern Wales.

The cruck trusses are found in the 1402 hunting lodge Hafodygarreg, near Builth Wells.

2. The Snowdonian House Hallhouses formed part of a nationally distributed house type - the open hall with high and low ends was essentially the same throughout Wales.

But in the 16th and 17th centuries, Welsh housing began to develop a regional accent - with several distinctive types of storeyed properties around the country.

The Snowdonian House may claim to be the first regionally distinctive property in Wales as they were concentrated in the historic counties of Merioneth and Caernarvonshire.

The properties tend to be stone-built and spread over two floors - there are no surviving timber-built Snowdonia properties.

The houses are usually two-unit dwellings, with the ground floor divided into two parts on either side of the entrance passage.

Typically there would be a large hall or kitchen and two small screened outer rooms on one side of the entrance with a parlour and dairy or pantry on the other side.

Also, a winding stone stair would be found on one side of the fireplace, which would have been the focus of the room.

The first floor is divided into two bedrooms, with the smaller one at the head of the stair and the principal room beyond.

Stone walling and robust interior carpentry is one of the characteristic features of these houses.

3. The Longhouse Historians say the Dream of Rhonabwy in the Mabinogion, - the Welsh fantasy tales written as early as the second half of the 11th century - contains the earliest known reference to a longhouse where man and beast shared the same roof.

Some regard these properties, defined by the shared roof space, as authentically Welsh or Celtic with origins lost in time.

In traditional longhouses it is only possible to reach the house from the cowhouse passage.

These properties are much more likely to be found in South and Mid Wales than in the North.

Experts now divide these properties into "pure" and "derived" longhouses, ie those originally built together and others where the cowshed could be considered an addition to the original dwelling.

Fieldwork in Powys has demonstrated many longhouses were actually converted medieval properties that still showed cruck trusses in the cowsheds.

4. Houses of the Welsh Border These are usually elaborately timber-framed smaller gentry or farmhouse properties, with most examples found in Montgomeryshire, Radnorshire and Denbighshire.

Their defining feature is an unusual lobby entry plan whereby the chimney is located in the middle of the property with no cross passage.

The main door opens onto a small lobby to the side of the great chimney, which generally stands between the kitchen and parlour.

A key feature of these properties is the emphasis on the parlour.

Though there are variations to the plan, with smaller lobby-entry houses having end chimneys, mapping shows the central stack is emphatically a feature of Welsh border properties.

There are scattered examples along the length of the border and in the historical county of Glamorgan, but the homes cannot be found in West and North-West Wales where other styles are dominant.

5. Cottages Chroniclers of 18th and 19th-century Welsh life often referred to the dilapidated state of the cottages which were frequently mud-walled and thatched with makeshift chimneys. Internally, the cottages were often dark and squalid.

But this picture of ramshackle accommodation amidst rural poverty has been overplayed because the properties could also be strong with carefully detailed interiors.

Famously described as home-made homes, they were often constructed by the people who lived in them using traditionally-learnt craftsmanship.

In 19th-century Wales there were often tensions between cottagers and officials, who condemned the living quarters as unsanitary.

However, they were frequently inhabited by day labourers, masons, carpenters, weavers, stocking-makers, cobblers and clogmakers, who made important contributions to the local economy.

The buildings tended to be concentrated in West Wales, particularly on marginal land - commons, wasteland or roadside verges.

But there was great variety in the types of cottages erected, from one-night mud huts and summer dairies to the permanent estate cottages with thatched roofs and dressed-stone detail. Introducing Houses of the Welsh Countryside is from Y Lolfa, pounds 14.95


Engine Row cottages, Blaenavon Ironworks, Blaenavon, Monmouthshire Coed Weddus longhouse, Llangadog, Carmarthenshire Rhiwson-Uchaf, Llanwenog, Cardiganshire - a 17th-century longhouse retaining the entry from the cowhouse Hendre'rywydd-uchaf Medieval Hall from Llangynhafal, Denbighshire - now at St Fagans National History Museum Ty Mawr Medieval Hall, Castle Caereinion, Montgomeryshire, the restored interior looking towards
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 1, 2010
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