The very first Landmark
Built in the late 1850s, Church Cottage housed a caretaker and sexton for the nearby St Tygwydd's Church. Church Cottage was the very first building that the Landmark Trust restored. In 1965 John Smith had the idea of setting up a charitable trust, rescuing buildings and then offering them to people for holidays to pay for their maintenance. When it was bought from the Representative Body for the Church in Wales, Church Cottage was empty and derelict. But it has gone on to last longer than the church that it was built to serve. The demolition of St Tygwydd's Church in 2000 has served as melancholy reminder of the significance of John Smith's work and the legacy that started right here at Church Cottage.
Your own cottage in this charming part of Wales
Tucked against a hillside, the cottage looks out over the site of its former church and the pretty village of Llandygwydd. Located nearly half a mile from the main Newcastle Emlyn to Cardigan road, Llandygwydd is a quiet village surrounded by well-wooded countryside and small farms. The south sweep of Cardigan Bay is under 10 minutes away. Local attractions include the nearby National Wool Museum, Castell Henllys Iron Age Fort as well as the beautiful Cenarth Falls. However there is as much pleasure to be taken in simply staying in Church Cottage in this delightful part of Wales.
‘We brought our dinghy and sailed on most days in Cardigan Estuary.’
‘It was a joy to see hart’s tongue ferns growing in the bank outside the bathroom window.’
From the logbook
A special place in Landmark's history
Church Cottage has a special place in the history of the Landmark Trust as well as Llandygwydd’s, as it was the very first building Landmark restored. In 1965, John Smith had the idea of setting up a charitable trust to rescue buildings in distress and then offering them for holidays to secure their future maintenance. He discussed his idea with architect Leonard Bedall Smith of Llangoedmon, who was able to suggest some candidates from his own local patch.
One of them was the abandoned cottage beside the church at Llandygwydd, and from here sprang the Landmark Trust which, more than forty years on, has almost 200 buildings in its care across England, Scotland and Wales.
The cottage was built in the late 1850s to house a caretaker and sexton for the imposing St Tygwydd’s Church, designed by R J Withers in 1857 (Withers also designed the two school houses in the village). John Smith’s prescience in stepping in to ensure the cottage’s survival was emphasised in melancholy fashion in 2000, when the church itself was demolished. It was at least the third church on the site and the dedication to the Celtic St Tygwydd suggests that Christianity took root here in the earliest times and before St Augustine’s mission from Rome in AD 597. Historians disagree about St Tygwydd’s exact identity and even whether s/he was male or female. Tygwydd was either the daughter of Tegyd and the wife of St Cunedda Wledyg, (chroniclers tell us that she lived in the early 5th century and was killed in Gwent by the Saxons) – or he was St Tyfrïog’s brother, with nothing else known except that his feast was variously placed on 13th or 18th January. (St Tyfrïog has left traces in both Brittany and Cornwall and may have had Romano-British, pagan origins).
So we may probably imagine a small, barn-like church in Llandygwydd from very early times. Certainly there was a church here in the years before the Reformation, since a mediaeval calling bell has survived until the present day. The font, too, is unusual in being a fine example of 15th-century stonemason’s craft (in Cardiganshire, almost all early fonts are of Norman origin). According to Meyrick, a new church had also been built as recently as 1803 “in a neat, elegant manner for the small sum of three hundred pounds.” This was not considered good enough by the evangelical Ecclesiologists, a group of earnest mid-Victorian Anglicans whose mission was to ‘improve’ both the architecture and seating capacity of the Established Church after a long period of neglect that had seen the rise of Nonconformity in Wales and elsewhere. Their aim was to reintroduce the Gothic architecture of the Middle Ages as the only fit architectural style for ecclesiastical buildings. This Gothic Revival was one of the most important movements in Victorian architecture and religious life, and soon spread to buildings of all kinds, even finding echoes in the little caretaker’s cottage and schoolhouses at Llandygwydd.
From an early illustration, the church built in1803 was a modest chapel and porch, well built of the local stone with a turret to house the calling bell and font. Sixty years later, The Church Builder described it as having been ‘if not waste and desolate, at least mean, neglected and unsightly…All within and without seemed to say it was the least cared for house in the village.’ Money was raised, and Somerset-born Robert Jewell Withers was brought in to design a replacement in the Early English style of the 13th century. Withers was to design many such Gothic churches and municipal buildings. For St Tygwydd’s, he designed a tower with a 130 foot wooden spire covered in lead, which local anecdote says was deliberately built to be of a height to be seen from the seats of the four local landowners who were the main subscribers. A peel of six bells was also installed, but this tower and its spire were to prove the church’s undoing.
By 1913, the spire was so unstable that it had to be taken down, and the tower was given crenellations instead. The stone tower survived until 1981, but its weight so de-stablised the corner of the church that in due course it too had to be taken down. Structural problems continued however, and in 1996 the church, faced with a repairs bill of some £300,000, also had to be closed. It was finally demolished in 2000, its footprint and lonely font the only remains of the ecclesiologists’ ambitious project. The faithful mediaeval calling bell now hangs outside ‘new’ St Tygwydd’s at the bottom of the lane, where the best of the Victorian glass has also been moved. To all this Church Cottage has born silent witness, its own future secure. For all the Victorians’ overweening confidence, it is perhaps ironic that Established worship in Llandygwydd today continues quietly in a building of a scale and form much closer to its earlier churches.
To read more about the history of Church Cottage please click here.
Empty and derelict for years
When Landmark bought Church Cottage from the Representative Body for the Church in Wales, it had stood empty and derelict for a number of years. It was then a very dilapidated two-up, two-down cottage with a rickety staircase and no bathroom. The kitchen and a lavatory were in lean-to sheds at the back.
It was virtually built into the bank at the rear, which was causing serious damp problems especially on the west wall. Surrounded by glebe land, access to the cottage was then across the stream beyond the present garden.
First the site was cleared and the lean-tos demolished. The same team excavated the bank at the back (a laborious process once they hit rock within) and lowered the ground level inside and outside the cottage. They also stripped the plaster from the walls and ceilings and mostly demolished the chimney stack and end wall. In March 1966, builders Messrs. Rown of Cilgerran started work. An extension was added in local materials, which now houses the kitchen, stairs and bathroom. The west wall and chimney stack were rebuilt, the chimney stack and front of the kitchen being refaced with sawn stone rejected from the Cilgerran quarry, thrown aside a great many years ago when the quarry was working. Such thrift informed much of the work done on the cottage: the stone for the repairs to the rear wall came from Mr Beddall Smith’s own stables, which he was in the process of demolishing.
Preseli slates from the architect’s stables were also used for the front roof slopes, while slates salvaged from Blaen Pant were used at the back, bought for 2s 6d each from Mrs James of Blaen Pant. After stripping, sorting and carriage to Church Cottage, ‘the total cost comes to much the same as buying new,’ reported the architect, ‘but the old slates look nicer.’ New window and door frames were put in and floors, beams and staircase renewed in oak. Leonard Beddall Smith designed the quatrefoil device for the window heads, writing that ‘The joiners in these parts are accustomed to carving elaborate chairs for the bards for the eisteddfoddau and carving will be no problem.’ Suitable mantelpieces were installed in sitting room and bedroom; a larder was made under the stairs and a back porch built up to and incorporating the outbuilding. The suitably Gothic front door was added. A paved space was laid between the cottage and outbuilding, with terrace and ha-ha beyond and the vicar agreed to a new access off the main road. After an advert in the Sunday Times and the first visitors began their holiday in Church Cottage on May 27th, 1967. It has been a popular Landmark ever since, and from these modest beginnings, the Landmark Trust was duly launched.
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