Villagers are battling to save a 200-year-old cottage which has stood frozen in time for half a century, after it was last owned by two elderly sisters.
The historic home near Llanycefn, Pembrokeshire dates back to 1800 when it was was built using the ancient Welsh tradition of tŷ unnos – meaning ‘one night house’ in English.
The old tradition ruled that if someone could build a house between dusk and dawn on common land, it then belonged to them as a freehold.
Siblings Maria and Rachel Williams lived in the thatched cottage until 1968 when Rachel died at the age of 82. Maria, a midwife, moved to a nearby village following her sister’s death – and the house has remained empty ever since.
Villagers have now set up a campaign group to attract volunteers and funding to repair the home after it was bought by the council in the 1970s. They also hope to open it as a museum in future.
The historic cottage near Llanycefn, Pembrokeshire dates back to 1800 when it was was built using the ancient Welsh tradition of tŷ unnos – meaning ‘house one night’ in English
The last people to live in the cottage were siblings Maria and Rachel Williams, they stayed at Penrhos Cottage until 1968
Penrhos Cottage in Pembrokeshire has stood frozen in time for half a century
Penrhos Cottage, where the sisters lived a simple life, still features a Welsh dresser filled with china cups and plates along with the kitchen range used by the pair to cook.
How old Welsh tradition allowed locals to ‘legally own’ a house if it was built between dawn and dusk
The folklore, which was commonly-held across Wales between the 17th and 19th centuries, ruled that if someone could build a house on common land between dusk and dawn then it belonged to them as a freehold.
Some believe the person had to have a fire lit in the hearth by first light for the property to be legally theirs, while others said – particularly in Denbighshire – the occupier would own all the land within an axe throw of the front door.
Tŷ unnos has no basis in either English common law – to which Wales has been subject since 1536 – or medieval Welsh laws, such as those set out by Welsh prince Hywel Dda.
Finding examples of genuine tai unnos is ‘virtually impossible’ according to historians at St Fagans National Museum of History in Cardiff.
After it was built in one night, the cottage was later refurbished in 1849 using stone and clom – a mixture of clay, mud and straw.
Eifion Evans, 67, who lived next door, said: ‘I have great memories from when we were little kids.
‘We used the catch the bus outside and come up here beforehand to say hello to Maria and Rachel.
‘In the afternoon when we came from school they’d have a big box of sweets and there’d be a sweet for each of us, or a little biscuit or chocolate.
‘They had chickens and a little garden in which to grow vegetables. It was a very simple life.
‘They were two very kind sisters and very fond of children – I consider myself to be one of Penrhos’ children.’
The cottage was once home to a family as large as 12 even though it started out with just two rooms – the kitchen and sleeping quarters.
It was opened as a museum in 1972 but is now only accessible by appointment via the council.
Mr Evans, a community councillor, said: ‘It would be nice to open it up again as a museum so people can come and visit.
‘I think it’s the only “ty unnos” in Pembrokeshire and it’s something very close to my heart.’
Campaigner Hefin Wyn added: ‘It was built originally as a “one night house'” and that suggests that things were pretty poor in the area in those days, around the time of the Rebecca Riots.
Siblings Maria and Rachel Williams lived in the thatched cottage until 1968 when Rachel died at the age of 82. Maria, a midwife, moved to a nearby village following her sister’s death – and the house has remained empty ever since
Penrhos Cottage was built using the ancient Welsh tradition of tŷ unnos – meaning ‘house one night’ in English
The cottage is owned by the council and camapigners hope to re-open it to the public as a museum
Some locals believe it is the only tŷ unnos – an old Welsh tradition of building a house in one night – in Pembrokeshire and want to preserve it
Villagers have set up a campaign group to attract volunteers and funding to repair the home after it was bought by the council in the 1970s
‘Lots of people are interested and there are lots of volunteers ready.
‘We’ll have to look for money from some other institutions to get it up to scratch so we can invite people to visit the place.
‘I’m sure after we’ve done the work, we can have volunteers here at certain times of the week to welcome people and tell them the old story about the place and who lived there.’
A new group, called Friends of Penrhos, is being set up ahead of a village hall meeting to discuss the future of the cottage.
Pembrokeshire Council said it was ‘open to working with a constituted working group to preserve this important building and make it more accessible’.