The Original C17th building
The Quit Claim of 1507 indicates that Llys Nini had at least one dwelling or “tenement” on the property and that the owner Willian ap Jeuan ap William Thuy (Gwilym ap Ieuan ap Gwilym Ddu) was not resident but rented the property to others.
However, there is no evidence of that Tudor structure nor of the Cabin, which was presumably in Cae Cabin (Cabin Field). The C17th farm house was still in existence in 1994 but was in a poor state of repair.
A condition of the planning permission for the Administration Block was that it had to be on the footprint of the existing C17th farmstead, which necessitated the demolition of the old house. The new build is an authentic copy of the shape of that building.
Llys Nini House was probably built in the C17th which makes it post medieval. It is recorded by the Royal Commission as a “long house with additions”. The original house comprised just the main living area or hall and the cowshed or byre.
Floor plan of the original house shows it to be a cross passage hearth long house.
A Long House is a homestead where the living accommodation and the byre are joined and connected by a door or doors on the inside of the building.
The C17th Longhouse farmstead at St Fagans is similar but not exactly the same as Llys Nini.
Unlike the longhouse pictured, Llys Nini was a Hearth-passage House Longhouse. The major difference from the longhouse (left) was that the hearth was in the middle of the house, on the wall separating the hall from the passage, so the chimney would have been in the centre of the roof. The front door led into a passage between the byre and the hall and was opposite the back door. This is known as a cross entry, where the front and back doors are opposite each other and linked by a cross passage.
At Llys Nini there was a doorway in the wall on the East of the fireplace, leading from the hall to the cross passage.
Llys Nini belonged to the storeyed phase of hearth passage longhouse as it had a half storey or loft.
The farmstead was built of local pennant sandstone, on a slightly North West sloping platform of land facing North towards what was to become the A48 Swansea to Carmarthen Road. Due to the slope the cowhouse was slightly lower than the living accommodation.
The building had quite a high pitched roof above the southern end of the cowshed and above the fire place, which accommodated a partial first floor, originally more of a loft than an extra storey.
Note the central chimney, the hall or living accommodation (one big room serving as a kitchen and possibly sleeping areas) on the right of the picture, with a west-facing window and the byre to the left. The original doorway into the hearth passage is just visible to the left of the pillar.
Like many other Glamorgan long-houses Llys Nini had separate entrances for the humans and the animals (although the position of the original doorway into the cowshed was not known).
Some longhouses were built on flat land, so the cowshed and hall were on the same level, however those built on a slope had either the byre or the hall at a higher level than the other. The usual arrangement was to build the cowshed on the slope downhill from the house, thereby draining away from it. This was the case at Llys Nini, as the ground falls to the North West towards the Afon Lliw, so the cross passage entry to the house, stood above the level of the cowshed, hence the term “raised passage” house.
This picture of the Llys Nini barn appears to show the raised passage behind the breeze block wall and one of the original entrances into the hearth passage on the right.
Llys Nini was one of the smaller types of long houses, the house being a single unit – the hall only with adjoining cow house. Over the years, there was a need to enlarge and extend the house, but the lay of the land necessitated an extension sideways. It was first extended to the East in the C18th and then to the South possibly in the 1950s or 60s. (Most recent additions shown in light blue of the floor plan).
The main entry, in the “modernized C18th house”, was in the extension, while the original doorway, a rounded voussoir arched door was in the cowshed. This door entered the cross passage below the dividing chimney wall of the house. The East door led into the passage, this was also a voussoir arched doorway, at the side of a large fireplace. This entrance was latterly blocked and a bed cupboard formed in the recess beside the chimney. This position near the fire possibly made this bed cupboard one of the warmest places in the old house.
A Voussoir is a wedge-shaped element, typically a stone used to build an arch, as at the top of a doorway or window. Doorways with Voussoirs were built in areas that did not have much good free stone. Gower has a concentration of houses with this kind of construction, most of which were built in the 16th - 17th Centuries. All the recorded examples have semicircular heads with rebates on the inside often provided with drawbar holes in the jambs.
Llys Nini is recorded as having Voussoirs however there would have been plenty of local stone from local quarries such as that at Bolgoed, which was less than 2 miles from Llys Nini.
The Fire Place
On the West of the fireplace another door led from the hall onto the stone stairs. The stairs were built into a large projecting recess, the winding stairs had a cross slab roof over with some timbers. This arrangement is known as a lateral-entry stone stairs, they are always built within an outshut (roofed protuberances from a wall). The cross-slab roof is mainly confined to the Vales of Glamorgan and Border Vale, which made the feature at Llys Nini unusual locally.
The door at the base of the stairs was a square headed doorway. These became more popular in the C17th, possibly because they could be easily fitted with a draught-free door. The square-headed stone types survive in numbers in external walls, while the timber forms are mostly internal.
Llys Nini is recorded as having timber square headed doors
but not stone ones.
Llys Nini timber square headed door to stairs
The stone stairs led to a loft above the upper bays of the cowhouse and abreast of the large chimney from the fireplace below. This room had a ceiling over it carried by board chamfered beams with curved fillet stops and plain square joists.
The fact that the upper floor only covered part of the original downstairs caused it to be classified as a 11/2 storey building. The extent of the original upper floor or loft can be seen in the diagram above.
In 1966, when the Royal Commission recorded the detail of the house, the fire place was blocked. However it was opened in later years and a stove installed.
The remains of the warming and bread ovens were still visible in the back of the fireplace, but none of the ironwork for holding pot, spits for meat etc survived. Photographic evidence indicates that the main beam above the fireplace had also been replaced or restored.
Llys Nini fireplace Circa 1994
How the fireplace would have looked without the stove
The ceiling over the hall was supported on beams which
were boxes and on joists which were plastered on their underside.
Hall ceiling at Cynghordy
Bed outshuts are characteristic of Gower, mainly in C16th century cottages and farms. Many outshuts had a bed in a cupboard, hence the name bed outshut. The cupboard bed in a wide internal recess is also a feature of Gower houses, as with Llys Nini, situated at the side of the hall fireplace.
Llys Nini outshut
In the East of the hall, the door led to the C18th extension, while to the South there is a single storied modern extension. The “later parlour” and additional floor above the hall was probably added to the building in the 1700s. It is possible that the extension to the original building indicates a time of prosperity and expansion of the farm; possibly sometime between 1699 and 1750 by the Nydfwch or by Gryffydd Price of the Penllergare Estate between 1750 and 1784 or soon after 1804 by David Jones who purchased the farm in that year. a
The first floor level over the hall was part of the C18th extension, the main chamber was entered through a plain square-headed doorway from the stairs; a similar doorway led into to the floored bay over the cow-house on the east side of the chimney but at the time of recording was sealed off.
Llys Nini – Royal Commission Survey recorded that the central truss over the upper chamber, was mainly visible above a boarded ceiling, has a morticed collar and a saddle. The mortice collar was a way of fitting one beam to another; one beam has a slot cut into it, while the other has its end shaped so as to fit into the aforementioned slot and can be fixed with a peg. The base of the chamfered principal rafters is hidden by boarding, but each support two purlins which are pegged to the top of the surface as there is a square-set ridge-beam. The Royal Commission also records the presence of Hollow Stops on Ceiling Timbers. These were mainly found in houses of the later C17th and C18th, in both beams and joist-beams.
The saddle was at the apex of the roof truss, which may have been hidden behind a plaster ceiling in Llys Nini. (We believe that Cynhordy - a local house of a similar period, was constructed in the same way.)
There is no evidence that Llys Nini had wall-plate tiebeams. The south end of the roof was now ‘hipped’ to line up with the roof-slope of the addition; the main timber of the hipped roof, supported on the main truss, appeared to have been a re-used collar having a notched end for a lapped joint.
From the C16th, the traditional Glamorgan thatching material was long wheat straw, however this material was not readily available and so over the years there had been a move away from thatch to stone and slate roofs. Locally there are records of other materials being used as well as the traditional straw such as belis, bundles of helm, reeds, rushes, ferns and broom.
The Royal Commission’s survey of Glamorgan Farmhouses records Llys Nini as having been thatched but goes on to say that in general the “Northern limit of thatch coincides roughly with the southern limit of the Coal Measures, over which lies Pennant Sandstone that was quarried for stone tiles.” As Llys Nini is at the very edge of the Coal Measures it is likely that stone tiles were used latterly to replace the thatch. The Bolgoed Quarry would have been a source of such stone.
The C18th Extension to the house
The East addition comprised a single room, the “later parlour” with passage and stair on the West of the ground floor. The door in the extension, facing North, became the new front door; it led into the passage and was externally covered by a small porch and round voussoir stone arched entrance, a construction authentically recreated in the rebuild.
Llys Nini C18th extension from the East showing voussoir arched porch (circa 1995)
Llys Nini modern reproduction of C18th extension from the East showing replica arched porch 2011
The main room, or parlour, has a large North window and a small South window. The large chimney on the East wall was externally projecting but had been blocked up by the 1960s.
At first floor level there are three roof trusses again mainly conceded by the ceiling. The trusses had rough principal rafters lapped at the apex and with a half lapped collar. They support two purlins each side and a ridge-beam; the rafters were pegged to the upper purlin. In the east wall there is a single window to the main room and a small fireplace; above the ceiling there are also two small blocked lights, one each side of the chimney.
The modern extension off the parlour had a sloping roof and was converted into a contemporary kitchen area.
“Modern” Kitchen extension 1995
The cow-house had been much altered, the wall being of various thicknesses, and the upper half of the north gable had been rebuilt. There was no clear evidence of the cattle tethering, but two cross-beams were missing. Apart from the cross-passage the only other entrance to the cow-house was a modern or altered doorway in the north gable. The roof over the building is modern and from the picture it looks as if it had been extended west at some stage.
Llys Nini Cowhouse or byre behind the C18th stable extension from the
North West about 1994
Morgan David was the tenant farmer in 1764 and by 1784 John Davies had taken over the farm. He died soon after that date but was survived by his wife Jane who took over the tenancy but acquired debts and was forced to leave Llys Nini in 1804.
It is likely that the farm was productive under both Morgan David and John Davies but not so under Jane, therefore investment by the owner into the farm to extend the buildings would have been unlikely between 1784 and selling it in 1804.
Llys Nini House could have been extended by either the Nydfwch Estate between 1699 and 1750 or by Gryffydd Price of the Penllergare Estate between 1750 and 1784 or perhaps the Llewellyns of Penllergare when they re-acquired it after 1803/4, however this is unlikely as the Estate sold the farm almost immediately in 1804 for £500 to David Jones, a farmer of Ystradfellte, who was probably responsible for the work.