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July 2012

Glas-hirfryn Project Diary

Please note that the site lies on private land and that permission to visit should be obtained from the owners. Get in touch with me (tel. 01938 553670) for contact details.

Architect's drawing of the east elevation ('golwg ddwryreiniol') of the house before more recent collapse ( Graham Moss, Architect: drawing by Tony Rowlands).

Background to the Glas-hirfryn Project

Glas-hirfryn is a late medieval timber-framed listed building at Cwmdu, in the parish of Llansilin in northern Powys, formerly southern Denbighshire. It lies on the southern side of the Berwyn mountains with views looking southwards towards the Tanat valley. Over the years the condition of the house has gradually deteriorated, but now there are moves to restore it to something approaching its former condition so that it can be lived in once again. In this project diary we are hoping over the course of perhaps the next couple of years to follow the progress of the taking down of the original builing, building recording work, archaeological excavation, timber repair and eventual reconstruction. On the way we will also be covering continuing research into what the the original looked like, how it developed over time and the people that lived it.

View from the front of the house, looking out onto the neighbouring hills.

Glas-hirfryn is particularly interesting because it is one of the earliest timber-framed storied houses known in mid-Wales, thought to date from perhaps the first half of the 16th century. Medieval timber houses built in the region in the preceding century or so were generally cruck-built hallhouses with an central hall open to the roof and with a hearth at the middle, though often with upper storeys at each end. At about the beginning of the 16th century floors were often being inserted above these open halls in order to create more sleeping accommodation on the upper floor. Stone or timber-framed chimneys were also built for the first time. Glas-hirfryn was once of the earliest known houses in the region to have been built from the outset with upper storeys and with a stone chimney built onto the side of the house. The general layout of the house is likely to have reflected that of the earlier medieval hallhouses, however, with a central ground-floor hall and more private rooms to either side. Like the earlier medieval hallhouses, most of the cooking probably continued to be carried out on the hearth in the central hall. Like other early storied houses in the region, the upper floor of the house was jettied, jutting out above the lower floor on at least two sides.

Building restoration work and recording is being grant-aided by Cadw and Powys County Council.

Please do get in touch if you have further information about the house or its inhabitants.

Bill Britnell, CPAT

Part of the collapsed north wall of the timber-framed house

July 2012

Bringing the house down

Until recent years parts of the second storey and roof of the building were still standing (see architect's drawing above) but by the time site clearance by the buildings (Manor Joinery of Pontesbury) helped by the owners began in July 2012 much this had been brought down in winter gales. The long and slow process of carefully removing and numbering the fallen timberwork and trying to work out where it belonged had begun.

Collapsed timbers from the eastern gable wall of the timber-framed house

Where whole sections of walling had fallen down is was easy to see where they belonged, but many of the timbers had become jumbled up it proved more difficult to work out where they had come from.

Individual pieces of timber were carefully marked with plasic tags and their position, where known, annotated on the architect's drawing before being taken off site for safe storage.

Where possible other building materials such as slates and ridge tiles were also salvaged so that they could be used in the eventual rebuilding work.

One of the elaborately moulded joists from one of the ground-floor ceilings

Both the quantity of oak timber and the quality of the craftsmanship were readily apparent, indicating that this had clearly been a dwelling of high status upon which considerable resources had been expended.

The walls of the house were closely-studded, with only narrow infilled wattle-and-daub panels, which meant that a lot of timber had been used. Much time and effort had been spent in carving all the ground-floor ceiling beams and joists with a moulding plane.

Carved boss which had originally been at the centre of the ground-floor hall ceiling

The carved boss which had originally been at the centre of the ground-floor hall ceiling was elaborately carved with stylized leaves with a rose at the centre.

The form of the building, the quantity of oak that had been used, and the elaborate carving would provided a clear indication of the wealth and status of the owner to anyone visiting the house.

Taking down the building provided an opportunity to study in greater detail the way in which it had been put together, which will be the subject of the next section of the diary.

The ground-floor wall at the eastern end of the house was still standing and showed how the house had been put together

Finding out how the house had been put together

Some sections of walling still remained standing below all the tumble. Here it was possible to get an idea of how the house had been built.

There were much larger posts ('wall-posts') at the corners of the building which sat on top of a horizontal beam at the bottom ('sole-plate') and which supported a large beam along the top of the wall ('wall-plate'). The walls themselves were made of upper and lower rows of oak studs with horizontal bars ('mid rails') about halfway up.

All the timbers were held together with mortises and tenons secured with wooden pegs (sometimes called 'treenails') hammered into holes that had been drilled through the timbers.

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.

The gaps between the wall studs were infilled with 'wattle and daub' which here was composed of hazel twigs that had been woven vertically beween slats set into the sides of the wall studs. The slats holding the wattle and daub had been fixed by putting one side into holes cut into the sides of the studs and then sliding the other end into a grooves in the opposite wall stud. At first the twigs were probably covered with mud mixed with chopped straw (as in the photo above showing part of the collapsed north wall of the house). Later on, the twigs in some of the panels (as in this photo) were repaired with lime plaster mixed with horse hair.

Later on, the presence or absence of these holes and grooves holding the wattle and daub proved vital in working out the layout of the building, since where the absence of holes and grooves suggested where some of the original windows and doors had been.

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Bill Britnell, CPAT

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