Tri brwyd a weuwyd o wŷdd,
Spectacular timberwork was characteristic of gentry houses, from the humblest rural house to the more elaborate hall-house. In the east and the north-east most houses were timber-framed on a foundation of stone. References in Guto’r Glyn’s poems suggest that Vaynor (‘made of timber and stones’, poem 38.33), Moeliwrch (‘the best wood on work-stones’, poem 90.55) and possibly Sir Siôn Mechain’s new house at Llandrinio (which is described as derwgwrt ‘oaken court’, poem 85.11) were constructed in this manner. The new house at Henllan (for which Guto requested roof slates) was made of timber (poem 61, see lines 6, 42 and 62), but with stone also being used on the walls (y mur main ‘the stone wall’ poem 61.45).
Even in stone houses timber frames were needed to support the roof, whilst in the case of timber-built houses similar frames supported roof and walls alike. These frames are known as ‘trusses’ and one important variety was the ‘cruck-truss’, made from curved trees (sourced locally) which were cut in half to form two identical cruck blades. Other types of construction used a greater number of separate pieces of wood, for example the box-truss, the aisle-truss and the hammer-beam roof, of which a fine example survives at Cochwillan.
Additional, horizontal timbers linked the trusses together, with diagonal windbraces often being used to strengthen the roof, particularly in north Wales. The windbraces, and the upper, central part of the roof trusses, were often carved in decorative shapes, with the result that the woodwork of the hall formed an attractive, elaborate open space, as at Cochwillan (see Recreating Cochwillan). The carving of small arcs within the timber-frame, called cusping, was one way of creating an ornamental pattern, used at Cochwillan, Hen-blas and possibly at Lleweni. At the apex of the central trusses at Cochwillan the cusping forms an attractive four-lobed or quatrefoil design, whilst at Bryndraenog, a house described by Ieuan ap Hywel Swrdwal, one of Guto’s contemporaries, has a trefoiled ogee tracery within its roof which is a design resembling a leaf with three leaflets (like a clover).
Although the woodwork at Moeliwrch has not survived, Guto implies that it was quite elaborate, referring to the ‘best wood’ (gorau coed) and ‘moonlit rooms of verdant wood’ (Lloergan ystefyll irgoed), and asserting that ‘Never was there better wood in rooms’ (Ni bu mewn llofftydd wŷdd well) (poem 90.55, 52, 57). Guto also seems to have been impressed by the roof at Sir Siôn Mechain’s house in Llandrinio, apparently likening the pattern of its framing to embroidery work:
Tri brwyd a weuwyd o wŷdd,
Troi’n gwlm bob tri ’n ei gilydd.
Three embroideries woven on a loom,
every three yarns bonding with each other.
Guto refers not only to Coldbrook’s ‘golden stone’ (poem 22.39) but also to its timber, comparing the carving to the work of a goldsmith:
Cerfiwyd a grafiwyd yn grych
Cyrff y derw fal crefft eurych,
The oak timbers, like the workmanship of the goldsmith,
have been carved and engraved in rippling patterns,
Windows and doors were fitted within elaborate frames and carved door-heads with heraldic figures, as at Cochwillan. These features became increasingly popular and have survived in early sixteenth-century houses like Newcourt, Bacton and possibly at Pen-rhos, Caerleon.
Carpentry provided late medieval poets with some useful metaphors. Dafydd ap Gwilym compared the poets’ craft to that of a carpenter and envisaged them sourcing the raw materials for their poems from a forest, as does Guto in his poem to Dafydd Llwyd of Newtown:
Mae deufin i’r mau dafawd
A dyr gwŷdd, seilderi gwawd.
Naddu mae’r awenyddion
Eu gwawd fry o goed y fron
Fal na ellir heb hiroed
Gael deunydd cywydd o’r coed.
Aeth y gwŷdd i’th gywyddau,
Y ffridd ni wedd ei pharhau.
There are two edges to my tongue
which cut timber, beams of song.
The poets are hewing
their song above from the timber of the hill-side
so that it is impossible without long delay
to obtain material for a cywydd from the wood.
The timber was used in your cywyddau,
it is improper to continue the woodland.
In the same poem, Guto develops the metaphor further by describing Dafydd himself as ‘the timber for houses of song’:
Dechrau gwawd, diochri gwŷdd,
Eto’dd wyf iti, Ddafydd.
O derfydd coedydd ceudawd,
Dafydd, ti yw gwŷdd tai gwawd.
Gorau deunydd, Ddafydd, wyd,
Gwŷdd awdl neu gywydd ydwyd.
Ti yw trefn iawngefn angerdd,
Ti yw coed deunydd tŷ cerdd.
Trawst ein iaith trosti a’i nen,
A’i chanbost a gwych winben;
Post union, ŵyr Einion rym,
A cholon wych o Wilym.
Caterwen Ceri wen ŵyl,
Coed nen Cydewain annwyl.
I am again, Dafydd, beginning a song,
squaring timber, for you.
If the woods of the heart perish,
you, Dafydd, are the timber for houses of song.
You are the best material, Dafydd,
timber for an awdl or cywydd.
You are the chamber of the straight back of craft,
you are the wood of material for a house of song.
Beam over our people and their roof,
and their post and splendid wind-beam;
a straight pillar, grandson of powerful Einion,
and a splendid column descended from Gwilym.
Great oak of lovely, gentle Ceri,
roof wood of dear Cedewain.
For further discussion of the tradition of comparing the work of a poet with that of the house-builder see M.T. Davies, ‘Aed i’r coed i dorri cof’: Dafydd ap Gwilym and the Metaphorics of Carpentry, Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies, 30 (1995), 67-85; A. Parry Owen, ‘Gramadeg Gwysanau (Archifdy Sir y Fflint, D/GW 2082)’, Llên Cymru, 33 (2010), especially 11-12, 17, and R.Suggett, ‘Creating the Architecture of Happiness in Late Medieval Wales’, in B.J. Lewis, A. Parry Owen and D.F. Evans (eds), ‘Gwalch Cywyddau Gwŷr’: Essays on Guto’r Glyn and Fifteenth-century Wales (Aberystwyth, 2013), 393-428.
Bibliography: For Moeliwrch see B.O. Huws, ‘Y Bardd a’i Noddwr yn yr Oesoedd Canol Diweddar: Guto’r Glyn a Hywel ab Ieuan Fychan o Foeliwrch’, G.H. Jenkins (gol.), Cof Cenedl XVI (Llandysul, 2001), 1-32.
: P. Smith, Houses of the Welsh Countryside (London, 1975 & 1988), 77-82, 94-105.
: P. Smith, Houses of the Welsh Countryside (London, 1975 & 1988), 412-3.
: R. Suggett, Houses and History in the March of Wales: Radnorshire 1400-1800 (Aberystwyth, 2005), 144.
: ‘Dafydd ap Gwilym.net’, 24.43-8n.
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