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MEDIEVAL HOUSE, DYSERTH,
BY DR. ROBERT COCHRANE, I.S.O., F.R.I.B.A., F.S. A.
I HAVE pleasure in complying with the request of the editor to furnish a short note on the remains of this interesting mediaval house, which appears to have excited a good deal of interest, partly on account of its having been mistaken for an ecclesiastical structure, and chiefly because of the paucity in this part of Wales of remains of a similar nature with which it would be possible to institute a comparison.
Such houses are more frequently met with in the southern counties, where they are for the most part found as half timbered structures, especially in Kent, where they developed into the well-known type of yeoman's house in one direction, and in another merged into the ordinary plan of the smaller fifteenth-century house of the hall type, and later in the Elizabethan period into the manor house. This traditional plan is one which has the simplest arrangement of rooms possible, and comprises the three usual apartments—the hall, solar, and kitchen. Such structures have not attracted so much attention as the more imposing edifices, and are not often met with now in their primitive condition. In the majority of cases they were half-timbered houses and not of the most solid construction. Some surviving examples have been added to and altered to such an extent as to considerably deprive them of their original simplicity of arrangement, and in this way the earlier work has passed unnoticed, but to anyone acquainted with mediæval house planning there is no difficulty in distinguishing the hall, solar, and kitchen type, however disguised by additions and reconstruction or where only the
6TH SER., VOL. XII.
ruined walls are left standing, as in the case of houses built of masonry.1
The plan herewith is based on the measurements given at p. 56 of Arch. Camb., 1911, and on it is indicated the division by the usual timber partitions into hall, solar, and kitchen. The hall, or " houseplace," occupied the central portion and was approached from "the screens" or wooden partitions forming the passage between the two external doors. The hall was the principal apartment, and is in one story lighted by two windows of a larger size than for any of the other
Ground Plan of Medieval House near Dyserth, Flintshire, known locally as
apartments. The fire was originally on the hearth, about the middle of the room, which necessitated a louvre in the roof for the exit of smoke.2
1 There is a good example of a half-timbered house of this type at Shorne, near Gravesend, in parallelogram form, measuring about 46 ft. by 21 ft. It is described in Archæologia Cantiana, vol. xxvii. Other examples in Kent are to be found at Pattenden, Smarden, Biddenden, and Loddenden, all are rectangular in plan except the latter, which has a return; but all are altered internally and have had a cross wall and fireplace inserted in each. The best-known example is the house at Alfriston in Sussex.
2 In the story of the Nun's Priest, Canterbury Tales, the line "Full Sooty was hire bour and eke hire halle," shows contemporary appreciation of the discomforts of such a fire. Chaucer was clerk of the works at Westminster and Windsor, 1389-1391.
The apartment at the right hand or east end of the building is the solar or retiring room, also partitioned off. The floor here was probably higher than the body of the hall, and the partition was movable, to connect it with the hall so that the end could be used as a dais or place of honour at the "high table" on special occasions. The space at the west or left hand on plan contained the kitchen department occupied by the servants. This portion was, like the solar, in two storeys, and the upper apartment or sleeping room was approached by a circular stone stairs formed in the thickness of the gable wall, in the position shown on the plan. A quoin of the jamb and one step still in situ indicate clearly the position and structure of the stairs. The end or gable wall at this portion was made of greater thickness (about 4 ft.) so as to afford space in it for the circular stairs leading to the upper apartment, and in order to reduce this thickness, where not required for structural purposes, a recess was formed in the wall which also added to the internal space of the kitchen. The bulk of masonry was still further reduced at the angles, where, having the support of the end walls, a mass was not required, and there the masonry above the foundations was broached in the form of low buttresses in the position indicated on the plan. This gable shows considerable skill in its design, judging from what remains of it. There was no appearance of a well within the building at the time of the Society's visit, but there was a small pit in the centre of the floor a few feet in depth.
There was an upper floor over the solar approached by a separate stairs or timber steps. The apartments over the solar were occupied by the family, and those over the kitchen were used by the servants. Each had their own stairs, and they were separated by the upper portion of the hall, so that there was no con
1 The possibility of a later fireplace and oven having been built into the gable arises, but though not negatived is not supported by existing conditions.
nection between these subsidiary rooms at each end. In the east wall there is a projection which might have been made for the purpose of a fireplace or an oriel window, either of which would have been introduced about the middle of the fifteenth century.
The solar was probably lighted by windows in the east wall as well, but there are now no traces indicative of such openings. The arrow slits commanding both the entrances are clearly discernible.
In some of the earlier houses of this type the entrance door opens directly into the hall, and it is just possible this may have been the arrangement here, in which case the division between the hall and kitchen would have been nearer the west gable, as at A, and the hall would have been larger and the kitchen smaller. It is difficult to locate precisely the position of the timber work or indicate the divisions of the kitchen department, which would contain a pantry for food and a buttery where drink was served usually through a hatch in the partition. The solar also had a space partitioned off near the stairs enclosure for such small stores as were too large for the wooden chest. At the rear of the house there was a small enclosure and some less permanent building or outhouse, frequently an occasional kitchen, called "outshuts," where rougher cooking with larger fires was done, but of this there appears to be no trace at present.
The latest examples of remains of this kind that I have had an opportunity of investigating is at Rathumney, County Wexford, where, during the present year, the building has been offered for vesting under the Ancient Monuments Protection Acts. The plan herewith will assist in showing the great similarity in the general design of the two structures, with, of course, the necessary variations in detail.
The Rathumney house has the hall, solar, and kitchen as at Dyserth. It has a circular stairs leading from the solar to the family sleeping apartments above, while the access to the servants' rooms
was by means of a ladder stairs. There is a small store, where indicated, beside the stairs. The solar is the same width as the hall, 21 ft. 3 in., the width of the hall at Dyserth being 21 ft. The length over all of hall and kitchen at Rathumney is 54 ft. 6 in., and the similar dimensions of Dyserth are 53 ft. 6 in. The floor space within the walls of Rathumney is 1572 ft. super. The floor space of Dyserth is 1588 ft. super., and though the practical equality of space in the two houses may be accidental, it is possible there may have been a recognised standard of accommodation
Ground Plan of Medieval House at Rathumney, County Wexford,
for dwellings of this class. At Rathumney, which in many respects is of the better construction of the two, fireplaces have been introduced in the solar and the room above it, and the windows of the hall were reconstructed at a later date.
I assign the foundation of Rathumney to the early thirteenth century, and its occupation may have continued over the sixteenth century. Dyserth would appear to be of later foundation, and fell into disuse earlier. A fairly approximate period may be taken as beginning at the end of the thirteenth century or a little later, and continuing until the end of the fifteenth; and though it does not exhibit any con