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Glas-hirfryn: Building recording

The importance of making a record

In addition to the work undertaken by CPAT, building recording at Glas-hirfryn has also been undertaken by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, by Tony Rowland, Architectural Services, and by the architect Graham Moss, Moss Co.

The objective at Glas-hirfryn was to reinstate as much as possible of the original timberwork. Some of the surviving material is in too poor a condition to reuse, however, and there was also the question of which phase or phases of the building's history are represented in the restoration. Compromises also had to be made in creating a building that will meet modern building standards, and be suitable to be lived in again. Since only part of the original building has survived the reconstruction, some elements of the building are speculative.

The aim of building recording is therefore to ensure that a definitive record is made of the original form of the building, how it was adapted, what it looked like, and how it was constructed.

At Glas-hirfrn, what survived of the building was taken down entirely and then rebuilt, revealing detail which often remains hidden. This provided a rare opportunity to study in close detail how the building had been constructed.

© Crown Copyright, RCAHMW

Using historical photography

Historical records of what a building used to be like are often an important source of information about a building, especially in the case of one that has collapsed! At Glas-hirfryn we are fortunate that photographic and drawn records of the building have been made by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales since the mid 1950s, recording much detail that has now disappeared.

Alongside, is a photograph by the Royal Commission, taken when the house was still inhabited, which shows the arrangement of moulded ceiling joists. One of the pictures on the wall is a montage of portraits, perhaps of Welsh Wesleyan ministers.

Architectural recording

Fortunately, a thorough survey of the surviving elements of the building was made by Tony Rowland in 2008 on behalf of the architect Graham Moss, Moss Co., when parts of the building remained standing.

This has been invaluable in determining where some of the fallen timbers came from and has recorded details which are now missing.

Drawing © Graham Moss, Moss Co.

Left Wattle and daub in the gaps between the wall studs held by wooden slats (arrowed). At the top can be seen some of the peg-holes for the pegs which held the wall studs and the wall-plate together. Middle Holes (arrowed) for the slats on one side of the wall studs. Right Grooves (arrowed) cut into the sides of the wall studs for holding the other ends of the slats.

Some basic clues

Trying to work out what a timber-framed building originally looked like is often quite difficult, particularly if only parts of the building have survived or if major alterations have taken place. Key evidence is provided by mortises and tenons and by peg-holes, and grooves for wattle and daub infill.

The positions of windows and doors may have changed during the life of a building, but tell-tale evidence of whether timbers have been removed may be indicated by mortises and peg-holes. Likewise, the presence of grooves and notches for wattle and daub infill, shows whether a panel in the timber-framing was originally open or closed.

Complex joints

In the case of a standing timber building it is often difficult to fully appreciated how the various timbers fit together. In the case of Glas-hirfryn the building was totally demolished, revealing detailed information about complex joinery.

The photo alongside shows the top of the south-east ground floor corner post. The complex joinery was necessitated by the fact that the post held jetty brackets which held jetty plates for the jetties on both the south and east side of the building.

Decorative detail

The outer surfaces of many of the timbers is highly weathered, but careful study of the surviving timbers has revealed that many of them were elaborately decorated.

The upper photo alongside shows a pilaster with vine leaf trail decoration on the outer face of the south-east wall post. The decoration here had been protected from the weather behind later stone walling. From this evidence it is now possible to see that many, if not all, of the wall-posts on the ground and first floors were also similarly decorated.

The lower photo alongside shows one of the mid-rails on the first floor of the east elevation which shows similar vine leaf decoration. This was the only surviving piece of this kind. The mortise at the top supported coving splaying upwards to the second storey.

Puzzling pieces

These two photographs illustrate the importance of recording where pieces of timber came from in the building and what their purpose was.

It took a little time to work it out, but the jumble of pieces of wood in the upper photograph actually all fit together and were cut out of a single block of wood. It was a vital piece of timber which with the help of slip tenons locked together the jetty plate and the bressumer beam at the base of the eastern jetty at the south-east corner of the building.

For the record

The end result of the building recording is a better understanding of the original form of the timber-framed building at Glas-hirfryn and a definitive record of how it was built, recording detail which will again become hidden from view when the building is re-erected.

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