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Esgair Llewelyn

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Map ReferenceSH80NW
Grid ReferenceSH8000008876
Unitary (Local) AuthorityPowys
Old CountyMontgomeryshire
PeriodPost Medieval
Esgair Llewelyn is a late medieval cruck-framed hall-house, with well preserved detail from the fifteenth to eighteenth century including at least three cupboard beds.
S.L. Evans RCAHMW 2008


Esgair Llywelyn, Llanwrin, Monts. NPRN 29163.
Esgair Llywelyn is a remote upland farmhouse of considerable historic interest. The house has not been lived in since 1909, and it preserves the plan and architectural detail of a late-medieval hall-house modified with the insertion of fireplaces. The origin of the house as an early/mid-sixteenth-century cruck-framed tyddyn is clear enough but the later sixteenth-century development of the house is puzzling. It is difficult to know if the inserted chimney and `parlour? are contemporary, and indeed what the original function of the west end was.
There are three principal architectural phases:
1. c. 1500+. An early sixteenth-century hall-house with crucks. Esgair Llywelyn is a classic platform sited medieval hallhouse with crucks defining the baying and plan of the house. Esgair Llywelyn belongs to a fairly recently identified type of hall-house: the four-bay peasant hallhouse with the hall or main living-room having a single bay. Tree-ring dating has established a date range in the first half of the sixteenth century for houses of this type. The baying of the medieval house was: OUTER BAY(S) (usually a cow-house) ? PASSAGE - HALL (a single bay) ? INNER ROOM. At Esgair Llywelyn passage, hall and inner-room survive but the outer bay has been rebuilt as a parlour. The cruck at the lower end (in front of the parlour fireplace) may mark the end of the medieval house. The crucks at the upper end of the house are smoke-blackened ? proof that this was a late medieval open hall with a fire on the floor. The crucks have lapped tie-beams and collars with the apex butted. The upper end cruck blades are boxed whole trees rather than paired (halved) blades, a possible indication of a relatively late date (indicating the difficulty of finding suitable trees for crucks) . The back of the cruck blade visible on the external wall has a peg-hole with `socket? below. The peg probably originally secured the wallpost of a timber-framed wall to the back of the cruck.
2. c. 1575+. Modernisation. In a second phase a fireplace was inserted and the timber walls replaced in stone, possibly in several phases. The chimney was inserted in the passage (the usual pattern) preserving the single-bay hall and creating a lobby entrance. The prominent chimney shaft is a status marker. The present ceiling appears to be C19th and one wonders if the hall remained open to the roof until then.
3. c. 1575. Creation of parlour? The modification of the lower (West) end of the house is a further distinct architectural phase but it may be broadly contemporary with the modernisation of the hall. Outer parlours are a feature of later C16th planning but it is by no means certain that this was the original function of the reconstructed west end, especially as the fireplace is probably an addition and the end cruck was rather awkwardly retained. However, the timber detail is notable for the bold broach stops at the ends of the beams. The beams act as tie-beams for two collar-beam trusses with doorways under the morticed collars. Broach stops are undoubtedly a C16th timber detail; a precisely dated example occur at Old Impton (1542d; NPRN81445). This beamed wing is unusually early and may be contemporary with the hall fireplace in its present form. Perhaps tree-ring dating can help resolve the dating of these different phases. It should be mentioned that the parlour wing may have been used as a `retirement? wing or dower house.
4. C17th dower-house. It seems likely that the west end was adapted as a separate domestic unit, probably a dower house, in the C17th. Developments of this type are well defined in north-west Wales (cf. Vernacular Architecture 38 [2007]). The ogee profile of the `kneeler? at the SW corner indicates that the West end was reconstructed in the C17th, probably with the building of the gable-end parlour fireplace (which does not have a broach stop) against the surviving end cruck. A separate entrance was constructed in the west wall alongside the lobby-entry doorway. This created a self-contained unit with service-room at the entry (a feature of C17th planning) and parlour beyond. (or, possibly, parlour-bedroom with kitchen beyond).
5. C19th. The farmhouse as it survives to day retains evidence for C19th modernisation and room use. The present hall ceiling appears C19th as does the in-and-out partition between hall and inner-room. The windows were mostly replaced with C19th casements, although two earlier mullioned windows survive in the north wall. C19th timber detail includes a C19th `spill-box? nailed to the inside chamfer of the fireplace beam and a mantel-shelf. The stairs in the passage and in the inner-room are C19th in their present form. The first-floor chambers still retain their built-in beds, a remarkable feature, and there is evidence for a fourth cupboard bed in the inner-room. (The graffiti on the lobby entrance side of the fireplace made by C20th visitors to Esgair Llywelyn is an interesting feature of the house. The family of Elinor Bennett, the harpist, is associated with the house.)
Visited with Judith Alfrey (Cadw) and Philip Brebner (Historic Buildings Consultant), 15 April 2019.
Richard Suggett, RCAHMW.