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Glas-hirfryn: Later history of the house




The house in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries

Like many similar early houses in the region, the social status of the house appears to have declined during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and little is known of its history during this period. According to an old tradition the house was once used as a Catholic chapel ‘before the Protestant Reformation in Wales’ (‘Yn ol hen draddodiad, bu yn gapel y Pabyddion cyn dechreu y diwygiad Protestanaidd yng Nghymru’). This is not improbable but if the tradition has any substance the dating of the house suggests that this is more likely to have been used for this purpose after rather than before the Reformation. There were strong Catholic sympathies in this borderland region in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but for this usage to have been common knowledge it is more likely to have taken place following the repeal of the Catholic Recusancy Acts in 1650.

By the second half of the eighteenth century, if not sooner, Glas-hirfryn had become a tenanted farm. One of the few known occupants of the house during this period was the yeoman farmer Richard Edwards, whose will places him at the farm in 1761, It is interesting that apart from cash bequests, the only item specifically mentioned in his will, proved in 1764, was a cupboard, bequeathed to his daughter Elizabeth. The farm was subsequently occupied by his son Hugh Edwards Richards who died in 1777.



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Cover of the memoir Cofiant y Tri Brawd, published in 1906, about the three brothers, Richard, William and John Jones who were brought up at Glas-hirfryn in the nineteenth century.

New tenants in the nineteenth century

A further chapter in the history of the house began when Richard Jones (1783–1849) of Glyndyfrdwy moved to Glas-hirfryn as tenant farmer in 1827 with his wife Ann and six children (they had a seventh child at Glas-hirfryn). Something of the social and economic history of the house and farm at Glas-hirfryn in the nineteenth century is given in the memoir by the Revd O. Madoc Roberts, Cofiant y Tri Brawd (‘Memoir of the Three Brothers’), published in 1906 about the lives of the Jones's three sons, Richard (born in 1820), William (born in 1822) and John (born in 1828).

The family were staunch Wesleyan Methodists and well connected in the Nonconformist community. The Wesleyan Church at Cymdu had moved from farm to farm for many years. Richard and Ann Jones took on the responsibility of establishing a meeting-house at Glas-hirfryn in 1837 when, in the words of the memoir, the ‘arch’ (the ‘ark of Methodism’) was brought to Glas-hirfryn.

Ann was an ardent supporter of the movement and a great deal of the responsibility evidently fell upon her shoulders (‘Nid yw yn anodd meddwl fod ei wraig hygar wedi bod yn gefnogydd eiddgar i’r symudiad, ac fod rhan lled dda o’r cyfrifoldeb ar ei hysgwyddau hi’). Hosting the meeting-house was considered no small matter, especially since the owner of the farm was a clergyman (‘Nid peth bychan ydoedd croesawu achos Ymneillduol i’w dŷ yn yr oes hono, yn enwedig pan gofir fod perchennog y ffarm yn glerigwr). The clergyman is not named in the book but from other sources it is known that their landlord was the Revd J. C. Phillips, an Anglican clergyman living across the border into England.



Photograph of Glas-hirfryn farm viewed from the south, from Cofiant y Tri Brawd, published in 1906. The setting of the farmhouse is described in the first verse of the poem ‘Teyrnged yr Awen’ (‘The Tribute of the Muse’), below, by John Cadvan Davies (Archdruid of the National Eisteddfod in 1923), published in the preface to the book. (‘If you’ve never seen a peaceful spot,/Under the shadow of a big mountain,/With a breeze packed with balm,/And ground adorned in greenness;/And, like Eden of the eastern world,/Peace still the gatekeeper;/Then spend some time in Glashirfryn – /It’s all there to be seen.)

Os na welaist fangre dawel,
Dan gysgodfa’r mynydd mawr,
Gyda balm yn llwytho’r awel,
A gwyrddlesni’n harddu'r llawr;
Ac, fel Eden y dwyreinfyd,
Hedd yn cadw’r porth o hyd;
I’r Glashirfryn dos am enyd —
Gweli’r cyfan yno’n nghyd.

'A hotbed of Methodism'

Glas-hirfryn at this time was perceived as being ‘blessed in a special way’ (‘felly y gellir dywedyd fod bendith Duw mewn modd neillduol wedi gorphwys ar dylwyth y tŷ hwn’).

Sunday services took place in the kitchen (‘i’r hen gegin fawr ar y Sul’), the former hall of the sixteenth-century house, with its fireplace and elaborately carved oak beams forming its ceiling (‘oblegid fel welir yn awr ar y “distiau derw” uwchben y gegin, &c., gerfiadau cywrain ac arwyddocäol’), said to be divided into three rooms (‘gegin er hynny wedi ei ffurfio yn dair ystafell’). The irony that what was thought to have once been a papist chapel (see above) had now become ‘a hotbed of Methodism’ (‘ond yn awr dyma fangre’r Babaeth yn fagwrfa Wesleyaeth’) was certainly not missed by those present.

Madoc Robert’s memoir alludes to the numerous improvement that were made at the tenant’s expense both inside and outside at Glas-hirfryn during the latter half of the nineteenth century by John Jones: ‘Glashirfryn was brought to an excellent condition. He renovated the house, and made a number of improvements to it inside and out. The buildings were put in order, and new ones built’ ('dygwyd Glashirfryn i gyflwr rhagorol. Adgyweiriodd y tŷ, a gwnaed amryw welliantau arno i mewn ac allan. Dygwyd yr adeiladau i drefn, codwyd rhai newydd')’.

Fields were drained and hedges and wire fences were improved, the latter alone costing 8s a rood (a quarter of an acre).



Mrs Jones and Mr John Jones of Glas-hirfryn.

Landlords and tenants

The two elder sons moved away, leaving John, then in his early twenties, in charge of the farm on the death of his father Richard in January 1849. This was a bleak time for the family and there was heartfelt resentment when the landlord, on Richard’s death, raised the annual rent by £22. This was all the more galling in view of all the improvements that had been made at the tenant’s expense: ‘Glashirfryn’s youngest son was not the first to pay a foreigner for his father’s labour; and Glashirfryn’s widow was not the last to feel the unjust tyranny of some of Wales’s greedy landowners’ (‘Nid bachgen iengaf Glashirfryn oedd y cyntaf i dalu i estron am lafur tad; ac nid gweddw Glashirfryn oedd yr olaf i deimlo oddiwrth ormes anghyfiawn rhai o dir-feddiannwyr rheibus Cymru’). The landlord subsequently decided to put the farm on the market. A new survey of the farm was commissioned, but offers for the farm were not up to expectation. ‘Many a sombre evening was spent in the kitchen of Glashirfryn under the large chimney. One side of the fire sat the son in his father’s chair; while the mother sat opposite on the settle, with the two daughters’ ('Treuliwyd aml i noswaith ddigon prudd yng nghegin Glashirfryn o dan y simdde fawr. Un ochr i’r tân eisteddai y mab yng nghadair ei dad; tra yr eisteddai ei fam gyferbyn, ar y settle gyda’r ddwy ferch’). In 1854, after much deliberation, the family were persuaded by advice from friends and other members of the family to purchase the farm themselves.



Later alterations to the house

Among the changes made to the house during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was the addition of stone-built extensions at the eastern end. On the ground floor these included a bakehouse and laundry probably with additional bedrooms on the first floor.

Several servants were employed to work on the farm and although some were lazy they were mostly hard-working. The Jones were held to be good employers, unlike some other farmers who showed more respect to their horses and dogs (‘Gallai ambell was a morwyn warafun y cysuron a’r ymgeledd roddid yn ewyllysgar i’r meirch a’r cŵn, ond a warafunid iddynt hwy’) or considered them to be more machine than animal (‘ac yn wir ofnaf fod ambell un wedi edrych arno yn fwy o beiriant hyd yn oed nag anifail’).

The upper photo shows the stone-built extensions to the east of the house as they were in the 1950s and 60s. Below, is a subsidiary cast-iron range in the extension, as recorded in September 2013.



Capel Moriah, Cwmdy, the small and remote Wesleyan Methodist chapel just to the south of Glas-hirfryn.

Capel Moriah, Cwmdy

Capel Moriah, Cwmdy, was built in 1851, a short distance to the south of Glas-hirfryn. Prior to this the meeting-house had been at Berthlwyd (about 1.2km east of Glas-hirfryn) in 1831, Pant-y-maen (0.8km to the north) in 1833 and then at ‘yr hen felin’ (probably the now ruinous mill 200m to the west). A plaque on the chapel says that the chapel was built in 1851 and extended in 1873 (‘Adeiladwyd 1851, Helaethwyd 1873’).

According to an article in the Methodist periodical Yr Eurgrawn Wesleyaidd, published in 1852, ‘Mr Jones of Glashirfryn had his mind set, for years before his death, on having a small Chapel in the neighbourhood; but despite every effort they completely failed to acquire land to build it. It was planned in many places; but there were obstacles that frustrated their plans, so much so that they began to believe that they would never have a Chapel there. However, a “Valley of Acor” was found in the region of Cymdu, and after much despondency, the door of hope was opened for a new Chapel. Mr. Thomas Jones, a respectable man in the area, had come to own a small farm that bordered Glashirfryn’s land. We approached him to ask if he had land to build a small Chapel. He was very kind, and joyfully promised what we were seeking; he came with us to the end of the land, and we decided on the most beautiful spot in the whole area’. (‘Bu yn bwnc mawr ar feddwl Mr. Jones, Glashirfryn, am flynyddoedd cyn marw, i gael Capel bychan yn y gymdogaeth; ond er pob ymdrechion yr oeddynt yn methu yn gwbl â chael tir i’w adeiladu. Fe’i planiwyd ef mewn llawer man; ond yr oedd rhwystrau yn codi heb yn waethaf iddynt, ac yn dyrysu eu cynlluniau, hyd onid oeddynt bron wedi myned i feddwl na chaent Gapel byth yno. Modd bynag fe gafwyd “Dyffryn Acor” yn nghymydogaeth y Cymdu, ac ar ol hir ddigalondid agorwyd drws gobaith am Gapel newydd. Fe ddaeth Mr. Thomas Jones, gŵr parchus yn yr ardal, i feddiant o ffarm fechan, yn terfynu ar dir Glashirfryn. Aethom ato i ofyn ei ffafr am le i adeiladu Capel bychan. Cawsom bob caredigrwydd ganddo, ac addewid siriol o’r hyn yr oeddym yn ei geisio; a daeth gyda ni i benu y llecyn, a phenodwyd ar y llanerch brydferthaf yn yr holl ardal’).



Bundle of 1907 newspapers found hidden behind the wainscoting shown in the top photo.

'Time capsule' hidden by Mary Ann Jones in 1907

On John Jones’s death in 1904 his son William and daughter, Miss Mary Ann Jones, carried on the family traditions by keeping the door open to the cause. Miss Jones is said to have ‘taken her mother’s place on the old cosy hearth in Glashirfryn’ (‘a chymer Miss Jones le ei mham ar yr hen aelwyd glyd yn Glashirfryn’).

An intriguing link with the last generation of the Jones family to live at Glas-hirfryn was discovered when the house was being dismantled in 2012. Behind the later wainscoting on the east wall of the house was a neatly tied bundle of newspapers including the Oswestry and Border Counties Advertiser of 9 October 1907 and a copy of Y Gwyliedydd (the Welsh Wesleyan Methodist newspaper) of 3 October 1907. The bundle had been signed by Mary Ann Jones, and by William Williams, ‘Carpenter’, and Margaret Jane Williams.



Abandonment of the house

The architectural importance of the house first began to be appreciated in the 1950s and it was designated a Grade II Listed Building in 1966. Due to its deteriorating condition a new farmhouse was built in the mid 1950s closer to the road, about 150m to the east, but the house continued to be used for housing stock and for storage. This and many of the attached range of stone farm buildings became unsuited to modern farming methods and gradually became redundant, being largely replaced by a complex of steel-framed buildings built further to the west.

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