Friday, April 17, 2009

Ty Unnos: the house in one night.

One of my great grandparents was born in a Ty Unnos (literally - 'house one-night') - a house built in one night. You had to start at sunset, you had to gather everyone you knew around to help you. The walls would have to be of wood or turf, and the roof maybe of metal or more turf - everything prepared in advance and hidden around the place half-formed. The chimney would be the difficult part - it would have to be substantial enough to withstand the heat. That was the important thing - there had to be smoke coming through the chimney before sunrise.

I imagine the planning, the hints and rumours passed over the pews in chapel and the bar of the local inn. I imagined the time and place settled with a nod or a word in Welsh. It was important that the English landowners didn't find out. This house would be built on common land, and once that smoke was coming through the chimney, once the occupant had stood by each corner and thrown a mallet, then that would be the builder's land, and his children's land, and their children's..and so, I suppose, part of it should be mine.

It isn't of course. I've heard since that a lot of this was wishful thinking, not legal at all, and anyway, in the mid-nineteenth century when there were land clearances, the English landowners somehow took the common land back. * They evicted the people living in the Ty Unnos, as well as those in more conventionally acquired cottages, and enclosed their land to establish their own great farms. This, of course, happened everywhere, but it hurt more in some places than others.

The reason I'm thinking of all this tonight is that because today I read about a modern-day Ty Unnos being exported to the Smithsonian Folk Festival in Washington DC this July, and it reminded me of this story I heard from one of my grandmothers. It is a story I have incorporated into my Patagonia novel at a pivotal point. This house, this Ty Unnos, it turned out, explained everything...

* Added later. After doing a little more research I found out that many of the Ty Unnos were built as a result of earlier land clearances in the late eighteenth/ early nineteenth centuries. The people were evicted from their cottages then, and so forced to build on pieces of scrub that was infertile and no one else wanted - the common land.

But the clearances went on into the nineteenth century, and so did the building of the Ty Unnos, and some of these were cleared away too, as the landowners extended what was theirs.

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Blogger Kay Cooke said...

That's so interesting.
It's great isn't it when a symbiosis occurs? The law of the universe somehow ... not that I understand physics ... just feel it.
Looking forward so much to your novel.

Sat Apr 18, 07:35:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Yes, Kay - that's exactly what it feels like - symbiosis! And it seems to happen so often.

Sat Apr 18, 10:09:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This lovely post reminds me of the film "Witness", which if you haven't seen, I highly recommend. Lyrical Amish thriller directed by Peter Weir. Featuing a very young Viggo Mortensen in an early, brief role.
I have a recollection that possibly there might have been a similar house in "Cold Mountain" (the movie not the far superior book), but my memory might be at fault here.
I also think it may have been described in one of those "judge deborah knott" books by a rather good American author whose name escapes me - Margaret someone, maybe?
I did not realise that this type of building was also done in the UK but of course if you stop to think about it, it makes sense that the US were following on traditions established elsewhere, back in their home countries.

Sat Apr 18, 06:21:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Thank Maxine, and thank you for the recommendation. I'm always on the look-out for new film recommendations. I have a vague recollection of house building in Cold Mountain too...

Sat Apr 18, 09:11:00 pm  
Blogger jem said...

I read this article on the BBC site, and thought it was interesting, so good to read a bit more about it.

Was just about to mention the scene in Witness too, but saw that Maxine had already. Very thrilling scene. I also like the house dragging scene in The Shipping News, although not quite the same as house building.

Mon Apr 20, 01:51:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Ah, I'm definitely going to have to get that film now! Thanks Jem.

Wed Apr 22, 12:30:00 pm  
Anonymous marly said...

Interesting, Clare. Pre-fab, I see, is not ancient.

The house I live in was a "temporary" house, built to live in while the grand house next door was built. The trailer of 1808 lasts a bit better than the contemporary one...

Thu Apr 23, 08:25:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Wow, what an interesting place to live! Yes, prefabs can sometimes be more impressive than the permanent. I know people that were given prefabs after the war and they loved them more than the houses they'd lost.

Mon Apr 27, 09:47:00 am  

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