Friday, January 23, 2009

Tŷ Unnos

Folk history is not something you come across very often today, education and the mass media have seen to that. An example you still sometimes hear in Radnorshire is a memory of the tai unnos - the houses built by landless families on commons. Build a house in a single night, throw an axe from the doorway and the building and the land as far as the axe fell was yours.

Radnorians believed that this right was enshrined in the Laws Of Hywel Dda, and by the early Nineteenth Century many hundreds of such homes existed on common land across the county. Of course incoming purchasers of these old manor lands, such as James Watt, had more faith in the laws of England, especially since at a local level they were in the hands of chaps just like himself. In 1827 Watt started destroying the homes of the squatters. Surprisingly their cause was taken up by a Presteigne solicitor, Cecil Parsons, and the Whig MP Walter Wilkins, and in 1835 they managed to have the squatters rights recognized and the evictions overturned.

The tai unnos were initially built of clods, later being replaced with more permanent rubble walls and thatch roofs. as at Great Maens, Llanbadarn Fynydd (see picture). Heaven help anyone who tried to build such a house today, alien planning authorities, far more draconian than Mr Watt, would soon put a stop to that. A planning system to meet local needs is as far away as ever.

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