Saved from Destruction: The Story of Tyn y Simdde.
Ty’n Y Simdde is short for Tyddyn Y Simdde – “the Chimney smallholding”. The name probably comes from the fact that the house had two chimneys, one of them built in a very unusual way. If you stand at the gable (valley side) end of the house and look up at the chimney you will see that it is built directly above the window which means that the chimney pipe has to go round the side of the window instead of straight down.
It is believed that Ty’n Y Simdde was built in the late 17th Century as part of the Nannau Estate. It was most likely one of 3 farms in the valley, the other two being Buathre and Dolfrwynog. The method of building into the hillside is a classic feature of houses of this type built in the 17th Century, although many of the architectural details also relate to the early 18th Century. An exact date may never be established. The house is featured on the earliest OS map, produced in 1823.
The location was probably chosen because of the spring above the cottage, which gives a constant supply of fresh water. The well is still used as the water supply for Ty’n Y Simdde today, giving you fresh spring water straight from the tap.
The outbuildings are thought to be contemporary with farmhouse and comprise of a pigsty (with attached store) and a small barn. The extension to the valley side of the cottage appears to be a later addition, possibly in the 19th century.
The tree growing next to the pigsty is a hazelnut tree, the nuts are known colloquially as ‘pignuts’ and may well have been grown either to feed the pigs or from feed given to the pigs. The main farming would have been sheep farming, with grazing on the hillside below the cottage.
During the Second World War, wheat was apparently grown in the nearby fields where the sheep had been kept.
The Forestry Commission leased the land from the Nannau estate on a 999 year lease in the early 50s and planting of trees around the cottage was done around this time.
The two wooden houses on the road below were built in the 1960s by the Forestry Commission for the 2 farms in the valley at which time the old stone cottages were sold. These have since been renovated and used as family homes.
After the Second World War, the house became unoccupied and fell into disrepair. The then owner, The Forestry Commission, had a policy of demolishing unoccupied and unsafe housing in the area. You can sometimes see these when walking in the forestry as piles of stones, in amongst other houses that were allowed to fall to ruin.
In the 1950s Geoff and Audrey Greenwood, visiting from the Midlands, were walking into the HermonValley, saw T’yn y Simdde, and fell in love with it. They tried to persuade the Forestry Commission to rent it to them, but they originally refused to rent it out as the roof was unsafe and it was scheduled for demolition.
In order to raise funds, The Forestry Commission later changed their policy and began selling 25 year leaseholds allowing some of the stone cottages to be used as holiday cottages instead of demolishing them. Ty’n y Simdde became one of these holiday cottages, allowing Geoff and Audrey’s dream to come true.
The Greenwoods spent most of their weekends and holidays in the cottage with their children. There was no electricity and only one cold tap by the stone sink in the kitchen. The toilet was a chemical toilet in the outhouse attached to the pigsty. The cottage roof constantly leaked and had to be repaired. Before the electricity came the only lighting was by paraffin lamps and candles.
There was a large hallway and 3 rooms downstairs. In the 1950s, the dividing wall between the kitchen and dining room area was taken down to make a kitchen/dining area.
A Victorian cast iron range and bread oven stood where the wood burner now stands. It included an oven and a water heater.
At the end of the 25 year lease in the early 1980s the Greenwoods were allowed to purchase the cottage as permanent accommodation. They paid £4,500 and began to modernise it. Electricity came to the valley in 1976 and was connected to Ty’n y Simdde in 1985. The two bedrooms were then partitioned to make 3 bedrooms.
In addition, a bathroom, with a flushing toilet, septic tank, and hot water was also installed and a new roof finally put in place. Geoff moved out of the cottage in 2004 at 89 years of age, after which the house again became empty until the restoration began in 2009. Ownership of the cottage passed to his children, Mike and Juliet Greenwood as well as Mike’s partner, Märit Olsson.
The floor joists and floor boards were badly deteriorated so the first job was restore the upstairs floor. The house was stripped back to 4 walls and a roof, with no wiring, no plumbing, no internal walls, and a lot of mess.
The old floor joists were replaced with local green oak, the floor boards upstairs are reclaimed pitch pine from Barmouth. Pitch pine is a common material in this area used in houses and for furniture made locally during the height of the slate industry in the 19th and early 20th Century. An interesting feature is that the original lintels and big beams show evidence of earlier use, with tab holes and other marks, showing that they were reclaimed for use in building the cottage, most likely from a ship.
March 2010 – Internal partitions downstairs where the hallway was were removed. Originally, the plan had been to replace the original tongue and groove walls with oak framed partitions, but without the internal walls the open plan design was we decided not to put them back up. Removing the partitions also revealed interesting features in the floor. The partition between the hallway and the living room had clearly been put down after the tile floor, and the mark where it was is still clearly visible. The partition between the hallway and dining room however predated the floor as the tiles were lain up to it. Replacement reclaimed floor tiles were purchased to cover the resulting hole.
A crack in the kitchen floor suggests a possible earlier position for the partition between what is now the dining area and kitchen. The later partition, removed in the 50s, was in line with the large beam running parallel to it. If there was an earlier wall there it could have been moved when the creamery/sink area was enlarged to become a more modern kitchen area.
Prior to the clay tiles the floor of the cottage would most likely have been a dirt floor. Although a slate floor is possible no evidence of surviving slate tiles were found underneath the existing floor.
During work to replace the Victorian range, corroded beyond use, the workmen by accident ‘destroyed’ the bread oven. However, on reporting it they delivered the positive news that behind it, they had discovered the intact, original, bread oven. The fireplace was dug out and the fireplace you see today is roughly as it would have appeared when the cottage was originally built, with a brick lined bread oven to the right. The metal arm resting in the back of the fireplace is the cooking arm from the Victorian range.[
With the upstairs floor finished, work started on putting extra insulation into the roof before the plasterboard went back up.
April 2010 – Internal partitions were put in returning the upstairs to its 1950’s layout with 2 bedrooms and an open space on the landing but with the addition of a new shower and toilet room.
May 2010 – Sadly, the original windows were rotten beyond repair. New wood windows were ordered and arrived in May 2010 from Denmark. The design was chosen to reflect the original shape and type of the pre-existing windows.
June 2010 – The existing plaster was stripped and replaced. A lime plaster was chosen in keeping with the age of the house and to allow the walls to breath, important in the wet Welsh weather. As part of the work, original features including the lintels and stonework were left exposed, as well as the wall around the chimney to show the original rubble slate construction. By October, 3 months later the plaster was ready to paint. The colour you see is eco-friendly lime paint, maintaining the breathable nature of the lime plaster.
For most of the restoration the plumbing and wiring were in progress, and the intrepid painters got their cuppas from a kitchen sink in the garden, and had to make do with no toilet. Tea was rationed but chocolate cake was in great supply.
In November 2010 the kitchen was installed and the second fix of the electrics was done finally restoring heating and lighting to the cottage.
April 2011 – After 50 years of having to reverse down the drive because there was nowhere to turn round at the bottom, diggers arrived to dig out the bank and form the parking and turning area in front of the house. The side of the hill was straightened to create more space. The side effect of the parking rebuild was an increase of light into the cottage itself as the self-seeded trees no longer overshadowed it.
The hill side end of the house sits roughly 4 feet below ground level. In order to keep moisture from seeping into the walls during heavy wet weather, a ditch was dug around the house, allowing the walls below ground level to be repointed and a French drain to be installed.
Oct 2011 – The shed roof was deteriorating, and there were still problems with water getting in to the chimney, so off came the shed roof, the chimney came down, then the end wall as far as the window lintel, it was all rebuilt with lead flashing to keep the water out, and some of the roof timbers were replaced. The stone steps from the parking area to the house were completed after we all got fed up of climbing the bank.
In December 2011 the cottage was in a sufficiently finished state to allow for a family Christmas to be celebrated, with 8 people and one dog filling the cottage with life.
January 2012 – A large rock that had always made the driveway difficult to navigate got ‘pecked’ away and the drive was widened to further improve access. At that point, outside there was just lots of mud and piles of stones to tidy up. By April 2012 lots of hard work (including digging a mine’s worth of coal out of the pig sty) and grass seed later, it resembled a proper garden.