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Glas-hirfryn: Archaeological excavation




Aims and objectives

Archaeological excavation of the ground floor was undertaken in September 2012 after the collapsed remains of the building had been removed.

Archaeological excavation can potentially provide valuable information about a house, even where the plan is reasonably well known. Excavation might, for example, provide evidence of earlier activity or about the context in which the house was built. It might provide evidence of the way that the site was prepared and about the nature of the foundations. There might be evidence of alterations, about partitions or about where hearths and fireplaces were sited. Early floors may have survived later alterations. And there may even be surviving evidence of earlier roofing materials where these have fallen down or been reused.

From the earliest times people have tended to keep the places they are living in fairly clean. Finds contemporary with the use of a building are therefore often fairly few and far between, especially those belonging to the earliest phases of occupation.



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Later slate and quarry tile floors at the eastern end of the house.

Later slate and quarry tile floors

Once the later debris had been cleared away what survived of the latest floors in the house were revealed. The floor in the easternmost bay was of large slate slabs, probably obtained from local slate quarries, such as those at Llangynog, and likely to be of eighteenth or nineteenth-century date. The floor of the central bay was of black and red quarry tiles and probably of nineteenth-century date which has probably replaced an earlier slate floor. The westernmost bay had had a boarded wooden floor which again may have replaced an earlier slate floor.



Surface of the early earthen floor (scale 0.5m).

Early earthen floors

The earliest floors in each of the bays had been of beaten earth, as shown in the accompanying photograph. The floor was fairly uneven and sloped quite markedly from the eastern end of the house towards the west. A distinct hollow in the floor corresponded to the original postion of the door at the south-west corner. It may seem surprising that even a reasonably high-status house such as this only had an earth floor, but if kept dry floors of this kind, simply made of rammed earth, clay and pebble, are very practical and require relatively little maintenance.



Sill wall and sole plates

Partial remains of the original stone sill walls or plinth supporting the timber-frame were found on all four sides of the building. Variations in the height of the sill wall clearly showed that the house had been built on ground which sloped downwards from the back to front as well as from side to side. The sill wall and the foundations for the chimney were largely composed of rounded and weathered boulders probably collected from field clearance and were simply bonded with clay with no trace of mortar. The upper courses of the chimney, however, were of angular quarried stone and had been bonded with lime mortar.

The ground floor wall at the east end of the building still survived, so the sole plate here was fairly well preserved. The remains of the sole plate on the south side of the building were found during excavation, buried below stone walling which had been built to replace the bottoms of the walls, up to mid-rail level.

The upper photo shows the sole plate at the east end of the building overlying the original sill wall, with the scale resting on the original ground surface outside the house. The lower photo shows the sole plate on the south side of the building (scale 0.5m).



Chimneys and fireplaces

The stone chimney on the back wall of the house lay to one side of the original two-bay ground floor hall. A second much smaller chimney and fireplace had also been added to the western bay of the house.

The main fireplace had undergone various changes and at a late stage had been slightly widened to accommodate a cast-iron range with slate shelves to either side. The particular model of range can be found in the Coalbrookdale Company's 1875 catalogue, where it is advertised as a 'Yorkshire Range no. 9A' which was available in different sizes and with a variety of different features! The range was probably installed in the kitchen by Richard Jones and his wife Sarah who lived in the house at this time, after it had ceased to be used as a Methodist meeting-room (see secton on 'Later history of the house')

By removing the Victorian cast-iron range it was possible to determine the size and shape of the Elizabethan chimney, but little remained of the original hearth.

The upper photo shows the Victorian cast-iron range made in Ironbridge. Below, the outlines of the original Elizabethan chimney and fireplace.



Earlier roofing materials

Graded stone roofing tiles, probably from a local, though as yet unidentified quarry, were found reused in various parts of the building. More recently, the house has been roofed in slate, but it seems likely that these stone tiles represent the original Elizabethan roofing material.

The photo shows some of the more complete, graded stone roofing tiles from Glas-hirfryn.



Finds

As anticipated, relatively few finds contemporary with occupation of the house were discovered, though broken up fragments of glass and pottery had been used here and there to level irregularities below the tile floor.

Shown alongside is a cow from a salt pot lid found at Glas-hirfryn, possibly of late eighteenth or early nineteenth-century date, made in Staffordshire.

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