databas cerddi guto'r glyn


The interior plan of a fifteenth-century hall-house was very similar to that of a church. The house was supported by a timber-frame comprising a number of trusses or couples (cwpl, cyplau) that extended from the walls to the ceiling (see carpentry). Halls might have one, two or three bays, depending on the number of trusses. Two opposing doors opened onto a cross-passage at one end of the hall and at the other end was the high table, which was often raised on a low platform known as a dais. Many houses were built down the slope of a hill, generally with the cross-passage at the downhill end.[1]

In Guto’r Glyn’s poem to mark the rebuilding of Hywel ab Ieuan Fychan’s house in Moeliwrch, the house’s position on a hillside reflects the patron’s generous nature:

Hywel, ystoria Selyf, 
A wnaeth hwn yn blas crwn, cryf, 
Myn y nef, nid mewn un nant 
Mal cybydd ym moly ceubant, 
Ond ar fryn, rhôi lyn i lu, 
A lle uchel rhag llechu. 
it was Hywel, Solomon’s story,
who made it a complete, sturdy palace,
by heaven, not in any valley
in the middle of a deep hollow like a miser,
but on a hill and a high place so as not to be hidden,
he would give drink to a host.

(poem 90.13-18)

Later in the same passage, Guto notes that the steep climb to Hywel’s house is hard work, but well worth the effort (poem 90.23-30)!

A drawing of the original plan of Hen-blas, home of Huw Buckley.
The plan of Hen-blas
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Though hall-houses probably originated as single-room buildings, in the later Middle Ages they were generally subdivided by partitions. Some houses had just a single room at the passage end, but it became more common to have rooms at both the passage and dais ends of the hall.[2] The partitions were made of wooden frames with panels made either of wood or of plastered wattle panels; all-wood partitions were considered to be more prestigious and were often used behind the dais.[3] In some houses projecting wings were added at either end: Hen-blas, for example, had a classic H-plan: a hall with balancing wings.[4]

The hall
The main room of the house was the hall where the feast would take place. In most fifteenth-century houses, the hall was a rectangular room, open to the roof, although in some houses it was on the first floor (see The hall-house and Tower-houses and first-floor halls). Guto’r Glyn described the hall at Llandrinio as a neuadd hir (‘long hall’, poem 85.21), and the hall at Vaynor as neuadd fawr, newydd, firain (‘a grand hall, new and beautiful’, poem 38.27).

Plan of Bryndraenog, a 15th century hall house.
Plan of Bryndraenog
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At the upper end of the hall was the high table, often raised on a dais, where the patron and his family would sit facing the rest of the guests (see Furniture). A further feature in grand hall-houses was the dais canopy: a piece of wood (sometimes coved) extending from the dais partition behind the high table and above the platform to create a small roof above the high table. It is still present at Cochwillan and there was also a canopy at Hen-blas and at Lleweni before these hall-houses were demolished.[5] The purpose of the dais canopy was to create a structure similar to a throne for the nobleman and his wife. Windows were usually situated at this end of the hall to illuminate the dais area, some as elaborate as church windows (see Stained-glass).

At the dais end an oriel was constructed in some houses. This was a recess with a window, providing a more private space within the hall. Great halls such as Tretower and Raglan had oriels, but they were also built in lesser houses as well. According to tradition, the poets and musicians would sit in the oriel in the great hall at Nannau.[6]

Other rooms
Bishop's Palace
Bishop's Palace
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By Guto’r Glyn’s day, the original plan of the hall-house had been extended with other rooms being added to the hall itself. Indeed, the poets often refer to their patrons’ new homes as nawty (‘nine houses’), meaning that they had all the essential rooms under one roof (not ‘nine rooms’ necessarily). Guto, for example, describes Sir Siôn Mechain’s new house as having nawty’n un ‘nine buildings in one’ (poem 85.22), whilst Edward ap Hywel and his wife Gwenllïan are praised for ‘making nine houses into one’ at Vaynor, Berriew (poem 38.57-8). In the earlier Middle Ages, naw tŷ had a particular significance since, according to the Welsh laws, nine houses were built for the king’s court, namely the hall, bedroom, kitchen, chapel, barn, kiln, stable, gate-house and ‘toilet’. In the large houses of the fifteenth century, it was possible for several of these units to be included under one roof.

One added unit or wing was at the upper end of the hall. It was a two-storey unit that provided a private space for the family: a parlour and a bedroom (sometimes called a siambr ‘chamber’). Cochwillan has retained its original fifteenth-century layout and Guto describes several of its features, including its ‘fair chamber’ (siambr deg) and the bed with rich arras tapestry (gwely ares) that have been prepared for him (poem 55.11-12). Guto also notes that there is a chapel and an altar at Cochwillan, which could possibly refer to a small part of the hall which was used for worship (this was quite common in houses that were some distance away from the parish church).[7] Alternatively, Guto may simply be likening the high table on its dais to the altar of a church.

The added unit at the lower end of the hall provided a room to store and to prepare some of the food: a kitchen. It was sometimes divided further into sub-units to create a pantry (to store bread) and a buttery. This was also a two-storey unit, with the upper floor providing a bedroom for guests. To access these sub-units from the hall there would be two or three doors in the partition wall at the lower end of the hall (which can still be seen at Tŷ Draw, Llanarmon Mynydd Mawr). According to Enid Roberts, the poets would usually sleep in a room above the pantry and the buttery and the family in a room above the parlour.[8]

At Llandrinio there was a parlour, a pantry and a kitchen for Sir Siôn Mechain and Guto describes the building by using the number ‘three’ to highlight its perfection. This could also mean that it was a three-unit house:

Parlwr i’r gŵr a rôi’r gwin, 
Punt i’r cog, pantri cegin. 
Pont i’r dŵr, pentwr o dai, 
Plas teils, pa lys a’i talai? 
Tri bwrdd a bair troi i’w borth, 
Tair siambr yn trwsio ymborth. 
A parlour for the man who gave the wine,
a pound for the chef, a kitchen pantry.
A bridge for the water, a heap of buildings,
a palace with tiles, what court could bear comparison with it?
Coming through the entrance presents us with three tables,
three rooms providing victuals.

(poem 85.27-32)

Guto also mentions a croeslofft deg, which suggests that the house at Llandrinio had an added cross-wing (poem 85.26). His description of a purse in another poem as a croes adail ‘cross-shaped building’ (poem 87.58) suggests a similar form, though he may have had a church in mind rather than a secular home. He also describes the purse as having three ‘lofts’:

O fewn hwn, efô yw ’nhai, 
Y mae annedd fy mwnai, 
Tŷ’r gild a’r tyrau goldwir, 
Tair llofft o’r tu arall hir. 
Inside it is my money’s home,
it’s my houses,
the gilding’s house and the towers of golden thread,
three lofts on the other long side.

(poem 87.51-54)

There were even more rooms in the house at Moeliwrch according to another of Guto’s poems, though there is no need to interpret literally his mention of its ‘twenty rooms’ (ugeinllofft, poem 90.56): he may simply have intended to praise its ‘many rooms’. Numerous rooms are also suggested by Guto’s reference to Coldbrook as a ‘great town’ and a ‘house pregnant with little houses’:

Mae fry ganty ac untwr, 
Tref fawr mewn pentwr o fain, 
Tŷ beichiog o’r tai bychain. 
Ei gaerau yw’r graig eurin, 
there are a hundred houses up there and one tower,
a great town in a mass of stones,
a house pregnant with little houses.
Its walls are golden stone,

(poem 22.36-9)

Grand houses often had large cellars to store wine and other drinks. The poets refer to the wine cellar at Raglan castle which was full of wines imported from France and beyond during the time of Sir William Herbert, first earl of Pembroke (see poem 20a.29-30). The large wine cellar is still there today.[9]


[1]: P. Smith, Houses of the Welsh Countryside (London, 1975 and 1988), 40-7, 65.
[2]: P. Smith, Houses of the Welsh Countryside (London, 1975 and 1988), 41.
[3]: P. Smith, Houses of the Welsh Countryside (London, 1975 and 1988), 77.
[4]: P. Smith, Houses of the Welsh Countryside (London, 1975 and 1988), 42, 97.
[5]: P. Smith, Houses of the Welsh Countryside (London, 1975 and 1988), 97.
[6]: R. Suggett, ‘Creating the Architecture of Happiness in Late-medieval Wales’. See also N. Cooper, Houses of the Gentry, 1480-1680 (New Haven and London, 1999), 198-9.
[7]: E. Roberts, Tai Uchelwyr y Beirdd 1350-1650 (Cyhoeddiadau Barddas, 1986), 38
[8]: E. Roberts, Tai Uchelwyr y Beirdd 1350-1650 (Cyhoeddiadau Barddas, 1986), 32.
[9]: J.R. Keynon, Raglan Castle (Cadw, 2003).
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