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Upper Dyffryn House, Near Grosmont

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Map ReferenceSO42SW
Grid ReferenceSO4218223413
Unitary (Local) AuthorityMonmouthshire
Old CountyMonmouthshire
Type Of SiteHOUSE
Period17th Century
Upper Dyffryn is a well preserved early seventeenth-century house with an important Renaissance plan and exceptionally fine interior.

A fine early C17 Rennaissance farmhouse. Two unit plan, with stair housed in projecting rear wing. Lower Dyffryn, like Kingsfield in Grosmont, represents a considerable advance in layout with chimneystacks placed laterally against the long back wall and the staircase housed in a specially designed stair wing at the back. The stair, accessible from the cross passage, gave independent access to the upper rooms and thus more privacy. Repositioning the chimneystacks laterally, freed space in the gables which meant much wider mullion windows could be inserted, creating a much brighter cross-lit interior. The interior at Lower Dyffryn survives remarkably unaltered. In the C19 the first floor bedrooms were partitioned, and a small rear outshut added, but since there have been few changes. Upper Dyffryn is said to have been built by John Gainsford, Sheriff of Monmouthshire in 1604, whose will was proved in 1635.
Source: Cadw Listed Buildings: ALH 27/09/2012

Upper Dyffryn is an important house of `Renaissance? type, first described by Cyril Fox and Lord Raglan in Part III of Monmouthshire Houses (1954). Renaissance in this context means a storeyed house that is broadly symmetrical rather than having the long and low elevation of the medieval or sub-medieval house. The dominant moulding is the ovolo or quarter-round moulding, used particularly for the door-frames and windows, characteristic of the first half of the seventeenth century. Fox and Raglan suggest that Upper Dyffryn was built by Thomas Gainsford (d. 1635) in the first quarter of the seventeenth century.
Fox and Raglan highlight Upper Dyffryn as a two-room (unit) house with wings, i.e. projections. Indeed, they regard it as the only house of this type. The house is more or less centrally entered from a porch flanked by the windows of hall (left) and parlour (right). An original partition divides hall from parlour but an additional partition has been inserted to give a screened passage to the stair. It is clear that originally the hall fireplace was centrally placed within the undivided hall and passage bay. The passage leads to the stair which is centrally placed in a projection between the two lateral fireplaces. Versions of this type of high-status two-unit plan, which place the parlour at the entry, are widely distributed (cf. Houses of the Welsh Countryside, Map 28). In the Snowdonian version parlour and services are placed side-by-side. At Upper Dyffryn an ingenious solution has been found for the placing of the service rooms. The ground falls away steeply at the parlour end and the service-rooms have been built under the parlour allowing the parlour to occupy a full bay and giving it a suspended floor. The services, cellar and dairy, are reached from the stair projection. The stair projection at this period is an innovation.
The lower service area is of great interest. Adjacent to the cellar is a flagged court that includes a water spout, which must have been a focus for many activities from washing to cleaning dairy vessels. On the NW side of the court is an ancillary building which functioned as an outside kitchen/secondary domestic unit. This outside kitchen is probably broadly contemporary with the house (though much altered) and retains a shaped doorhead over the yard doorway. This is an unusually complete complex with the ancillary buildings.
The placing of the fireplaces in the lateral wall allows symmetry on both the front and gable elevations. The front elevation is dignified by the storeyed porch. The side elevations, freed from the gable-end fireplaces, display three tiers of windows. The gable-end elevation seen from the road with the eye-catching diagonally-set chimneys is intended to be particularly striking.
R.F. Suggett/RCAHMW/November 2012