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Glas-hirfryn: When was the house built?

Tree-ring dating of Glas-hirfryn

Fortunately we now have a fairly precise date for when the house was built. Tree-ring dating, or dendrochronological dating, has shown that the main phases of construction of the house took place during 1559 or shortly afterwards - the year after Elizabeth I came to the throne. Dating was undertaken by Dan Miles of the Oxford Dendrochronological Laboratory (, from which many of the following details are taken). Twelve different pieces of timber from the original building were sampled, including an axial beams, rails, a wall-post, jetty plate and panelling. One piece of timber, clearly belonging to a later alteration, has been dated to 1826/27.

Section of a newly-felled oak tree.

How tree-ring dating works

The way dendrochronology works is relatively simple. As a tree grows, it puts on a new growth or tree-ring every year, just under the bark. Trees grow, and put on tree-rings, at different rates according to the weather in any given year: a wider ring in a favourable year and a narrower ring in an unfavourable year. Thus, over a long period of time (say 60 years or more) there will be a corresponding sequence of tree-rings giving a pattern of wider and narrower rings which reflect droughts, cold summers, etc. In effect, the span of years during which a tree has lived will be represented by a unique fingerprint, which can be detected in other geographically-similar tree-ring chronologies. To obtain this fingerprint, a radial section of timber from the pith or centre of the tree out to the bark edge is required.

Selecting suitable timbers from Glas-hirfryn to be used for dating.

Selecting the pieces of timber to date

Glas-hirfryn at this time was perceived as being ‘blessed in a special way’ (‘felly y gellir dywedyd fod bendith Duw mewn modd neillduol wedi gorphwys ar dylwyth y tŷ hwn’).

Sunday services took place in the kitchen (‘i’r hen gegin fawr ar y Sul’), the former hall of the sixteenth-century house, with its fireplace and elaborately carved oak beams forming its ceiling (‘oblegid fel welir yn awr ar y “distiau derw” uwchben y gegin, &c., gerfiadau cywrain ac arwyddocäol’), said to be divided into three rooms (‘gegin er hynny wedi ei ffurfio yn dair ystafell’). The irony that what was thought to have once been a papist chapel (see above) had now become ‘a nursery of Methodism’ (‘ond yn awr dyma fangre’r Babaeth yn fagwrfa Wesleyaeth’) was certainly not missed by those present.

Madoc Robert’s memoir alludes to the numerous improvement that were made at the tenant’s expense both inside and outside at Glas-hirfryn during the latter half of the nineteenth century by John Jones: ‘Glashirfryn was brought to an excellent condition. He renovated the house, and made a number of improvements to it inside and out. The buildings were put in order, and new ones built’ ('dygwyd Glashirfryn i gyflwr rhagorol. Adgyweiriodd y tŷ, a gwnaed amryw welliantau arno i mewn ac allan. Dygwyd yr adeiladau i drefn, codwyd rhai newydd')’.

Fields were drained and hedges and wire fences were improved, the latter alone costing 8s a rood (a quarter of an acre).

Several servants were employed to work on the farm and although some were lazy they were mostly hard-working. The Jones were held to be good employers, unlike some other farmers who showed more respect to their horses and dogs (‘Gallai ambell was a morwyn warafun y cysuron a’r ymgeledd roddid yn ewyllysgar i’r meirch a’r cŵn, ond a warafunid iddynt hwy’) or considered them to be more machine than animal (‘ac yn wir ofnaf fod ambell un wedi edrych arno yn fwy o beiriant hyd yn oed nag anifail’).

Sampling one of the timbers from Glas-hirfryn.

Taking the samples

The two elder sons moved away, leaving John, then in his early twenties, in charge of the farm on the death of his father Richard in January 1849. This was a bleak time for the family and there was heartfelt resentment when the landlord, on Richard’s death, raised the annual rent by £22. This was all the more galling in view of all the improvements that had been made at the tenant’s expense: ‘Glashirfryn’s youngest son was not the first to pay a foreigner for his father’s labour; and Glashirfryn’s widow was not the last to feel the unjust tyranny of some of Wales’s greedy landowners’ (‘Nid bachgen iengaf Glashirfryn oedd y cyntaf i dalu i estron am lafur tad; ac nid gweddw Glashirfryn oedd yr olaf i deimlo oddiwrth ormes anghyfiawn rhai o dir-feddiannwyr rheibus Cymru’). The landlord subsequently decided to put the farm on the market. A new survey of the farm was commissioned, but offers for the farm were not up to expectation. ‘Many a sombre evening was spent in the kitchen of Glashirfryn under the large chimney. One side of the fire sat the son in his father’s chair; while the mother sat opposite on the settle, with the two daughters’ ('Treuliwyd aml i noswaith ddigon prudd yng nghegin Glashirfryn o dan y simdde fawr. Un ochr i’r tân eisteddai y mab yng nghadair ei dad; tra yr eisteddai ei fam gyferbyn, ar y settle gyda’r ddwy ferch’). In 1854, after much deliberation, the family were persuaded by advice from friends and other members of the family to purchase the farm themselves.

Above, the hollow drills used for taking the samples. Below, the cores from Glas-hirfryn used for dating.

Measuring the rings and interpreting the results

Capel Moriah, Cwmdy, replaced was built in 1851, a short distance to the south. The meeting-house had been at Berthlwyd (about 1.2km to the east of Glas-hirfryn) in 1831, Pant-y-maen (0.8km to the north) in 1833 and then at ‘yr hen felin’ (probably the now ruinous mill 200m to the west). A plaque on the chapel says that the chapel was built in 1851 and extended in 1873 (‘Adeiladwyd 1851, Helaethwyd 1873’).

According to an article in the Methodist periodical Yr Eurgrawn Wesleyaidd, published in 1852, ‘Mr Jones of Glashirfryn had his mind set, for years before his death, on having a small Chapel in the neighbourhood; but despite every effort they completely failed to acquire land to build it. It was planned in many places; but there were obstacles that frustrated their plans, so much so that they began to believe that they would never have a Chapel there. However, a “Valley of Acor” was found in the region of Cymdu, and after much despondency, the door of hope was opened for a new Chapel. Mr. Thomas Jones, a respectable man in the area, had come to own a small farm that bordered Glashirfryn’s land. We approached him to ask if he had land to build a small Chapel. He was very kind, and joyfully promised what we were seeking; he came with us to the end of the land, and we decided on the most beautiful spot in the whole area’. (‘Bu yn bwnc mawr ar feddwl Mr. Jones, Galshirfryn, am flynyddoedd cyn marw, i gael Capel bychan yn y gymdogaeth; ond er pob ymdrechion yr oeddynt yn methu yn gwbl â chael tir i’w adeiladu. Fe’i planiwyd ef mewn llawer man; ond yr oedd rhwystrau yn codi heb yn waethaf iddynt, ac yn dyrysu eu cynlluniau, hyd onid oeddynt bron wedi myned i feddwl na chaent Gapel byth yno. Modd bynag fe gafwyd “Dyffryn Acor” yn nghymydogaeth y Cymdu, ac ar ol hir ddigalondid agorwyd drws gobaith am Gapel newydd. Fe ddaeth Mr. Thomas Jones, gŵr parchus yn yr ardal, i feddiant o ffarm fechan, yn terfynu ar dir Glashirfryn. Aethom ato i ofyn ei ffafr am le i adeiladu Capel bychan. Cawsom bob caredigrwydd ganddo, ac addewid siriol o’r hyn yr oeddym yn ei geisio; a daeth gyda ni i ben y llecyn, a phenodwyd ar y llanerch brydferthaf yn yr holl ardal’).

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