Two Houses in Machynlleth
Left: Royal House - the draper's shop front on Penrallt. © CPAT 1611-15.
The restoration of Royal House afforded an opportunity for building recording and small-scale excavation to be undertaken on one of the oldest buildings in Machynlleth. The archaeological works were undertaken by CPAT on behalf of the Machynlleth Tabernacle Trust, who are undertaking the restoration with grant aid from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The building has seen extensive modifications both internally and externally, most notably with the conversion of the end bay fronting onto Heol Penrallt into a drapers shop and the partition of the remainder into a number of separate properties.
The building had been unoccupied for some period and extensive remedial works were required to make the building safe before any recording could proceed. The restoration of the building continues and further work is likely to be undertaken as the project progresses during 2005.
A programme of building recording was undertaken comprising an internal and external photographic survey, together with a detailed digital survey to produce an accurate plan of the cellar, ground and first floors, as well as each external elevation. The survey employed a combination of digital and traditional surveying due to the accessibility and inter-visibility of the various rooms. A further stage of recording may be envisaged at a later date to provide an accurate record of the roof trusses and other main timbers, prior to any reconsolidation.
Right: Royal House side elevation along Garsiwn. © CPAT 1611-17.
A programme of sampling was undertaken in April 2004 by Dan Miles and Michael Worthington, Oxford Dendrochronology Laboratory, to establish construction dates and phasing for Royal House within the constraints of the contingency budget. The results indicate that the main roof timbers were felled in 1560/61, while those in an extension along Garsiwn, the lane running off Heol Penrallt, date from 1576.
Left: Royal House - one of the attic rooms. © CPAT 1611-07.
Trial excavations were undertaken in one of the ground floor rooms to investigate a surviving cobbled floor and in particular, it was hoped that surfaces might be identified which were contemporary with the original threshold for the voussoir-headed doorway.
The results revealed that the cobbles had been tightly packed into a layer of clay forming a levelling and bedding layer. Pottery recovered from between the cobbles and within the clay layer indicates that the floor was probably laided during the late 19th century. The surface of the cobbles was also cleaned around a stone-built boiler with a cast iron pan in the south-east corner of the room, clearly demostrating that the two were contemporary. A small collection of coins was found on the surface of the cobbles in front of the boiler, comprising three florins and three silver sixpences, ranging in date between 1921 and 1936. It would seem likely that the coins fell from a garment about to be washed in the boiler, suggesting that this was still in use at least as later as 1936.
Left: Royal House - the main entrance was along Garsiwn through this vousoir-headed doorway. © CPAT 1611-27.
A layer of flat stones was revealed beneath the clay bedding layer, set against the inside of the south wall and sloping slightly away from it. Removal of the stones revealed a pit which appeared to extend beneath the rear wall of the building. The pit, which was not investigated further, contained a quantity of animal bone and pottery of 18th- or early 19th-century date. The pit had been cut through a stoney layer up to 0.12m thick which, together with two other thin deposits, had the appearance of dumped material, rather than floor surfaces. Each of these deposits lay on top of a gravelly floor, which was the earliest floor surface revealed during the excavation. It was evident, however, that earlier floor surfaces survive.
Close to the main doorway the excavations revealed part of a flagstone floor which may have been laid within a former lobby immediately inside the doorway.
Right: Royal House - excavations through the cobbled floor.
© CPAT 1665-19.
In an adjacent room, forming part of the later extension, the floor surfaces within the western half of the room were relatively undisturbed, while in the eastern half the floor had been heavily disturbed by excavations relating to a sewage drain cut through the rear wall of the building, the floor and the doorway. Modern deposits were removed from the surviving floor, revealing a an area of substantial flagstones, several of which appeared to be voided beneath, possibly as a result of rodent burrowing, and there are worn hollows evident between the stones. In general, these have been repaired with a compacted layer of clay and lime which partly overlay the stones. Patches of organic material were evident on top of this surface which had the appearance of straw or bracken and may be the remains of a floor covering. These were sealed by a late floor surface, again filling worn hollows, comprising a compacted layer of soil with crushed pottery and small stones.
During the reduction of levels to the rear of the building a well was revealed close to the south-west corner. This was rapidly cleaned and recorded at ground level, before being secured as a mechanical excavator was used to remove modern deposits surrounding the well down to the surface of the natural river gravels. The shaft was c. 5.8m deep, lined with randow slate forming alternating squares 0.6m across. The upper 1.3m may have been relined as late 19th-century brick is included within the lining. Insitu pipes suggest that water was being extracted from the well until relatively recently. The well was capped with a slate slab measuring 0.86 x 0.37m, which lay directly below a path.
Left: Front elevation of Parliament House along Heol Maengwyn. © CPAT 1694-01.
A programme of evaluation, building recording and documentary research was undertaken by CPAT on behalf of the Owain Glyndwr Institute. The building lies on the north side of Heol Maengwyn, Machynlleth, and is currently afforded statutory protected as a Grade I Listed Building. It has been considerably altered during its history, having been a row of cottages during the 19th century prior to extensive restoration works during the early 20th century. The importance of the building lies in its alleged association with Owain Glyndwr and the claims that this was the site of the building where Glyndwr held the first Welsh Parliament in 1404.
A programme of dendrochronological sampling, undertaken by the Oxford Dendrochronology Laboratory, provided an interesting set of results which indicate that the surviving roof timbers were felled in the summer of 1470. This clearly suggests that the present building, although an important late medieval house, cannot be the Parliament House of Owain Glyndwr.
Right: Decorative ogee roof bracing above the main hall. © CPAT 1694-50
The programme of building recording involved a detailed survey of the main external elevations, together with ground and first-floor plans and elevations of the internal trusses and partitions. The survey was largely conducted using digital total station surveying equipment, with additional hand measurement and rectified photography for external architectural details. The interior of the building is divided into four unequal bays, the central bays being open to the roof, while the end two bays are both lofted. All of the visible roof trusses are arched collar trusses typical of the 15th century, with through purlins. The three principal trusses also each have a tie beam with a king strut rising to the collar. The present floor level has been raised and it is possible that at least some of the original floors survive.
Small-scale trail excavations were undertaken to the rear of the building, comprising a machine-excavated trench across a raised lawn area and a hand-excavated trench against the rear wall of the building. The results suggest that the majority of the rear area was heavily disturbed during the renovation work in the early 20th century, and unfortunately no earlier features were identified. However, a small rubbish or latrine pit was revealed against the rear wall, the fill containing a single sherd of late 15th or early 16th-century pottery, together with a quantity of stone roofing tile and ceramic ridge tile. Other sherds of 15th or 16th-century pottery were recovered from later contexts.
Right: Rear elevation of Parliament House. A trial trench was excavated across the lawned area, with an additional trench against the building.© CPAT 1611-31.