Surveying an immense expanse of country
We acquired this building as part of a joint scheme with the National Trust to preserve Paxton’s Tower and its surroundings. It is an early 19th-century cottage of well above average quality, built for the Tower’s caretaker, looking over an immense expanse of country. It is difficult to imagine a finer view than from its south-facing slope. If, however, you walk a hundred yards or so up the small green hill behind, to the foot of the Tower, there, in the opposite direction, is the finer view. Surely one of the best in Britain, a prospect extensive and rich, it embraces the whole vale of the Tywi, whose green windings your eye can follow for 30 miles or more.
Paxton’s Tower, which attracts its share of summertime visitors, was built in about 1811, as a memorial to Nelson but also as an eye-catcher for Middleton Hall. The hall is long since demolished, but its footprint is now preserved at the heart of the National Botanic Gardens of Wales. Our cottage has an interesting arrangement inside, partly due to remodelling by us, and a handsome, very low-beamed attic.
An ideal base to explore South Wales
There is much to do within a day trip from the cottage. Walking in the Black Mountains or on the Gower, surfing at Rhossili, the Gothic fantasy of Burges’s Castell Coch – all are within easy reach. But you may find it just as pleasant to stay put, and reacquaint yourselves with the pleasure of reading, jigsaws and conversation beside an open fire within solid old walls, whatever the weather outside.
‘Our camera memory cards are as full as our hearts of breathtaking views.’
‘On Wednesday morning nine deer were in the wood next to the cottage.’
From the logbook
A good example of the type of cottages being built in West Wales
In the middle of the 18th century the rural population began to increase quite rapidly. At the same time a new approach to the housing of this population began to take tangible shape. The result was the kind of cottage of which Paxton's Tower Lodge is a very good example, whose brothers and sisters were built in great numbers in the later 18th century, and throughout the 19th century, in the counties of West Wales.
The change was not absolute, of course, and in the poorer and more remote areas of Carmarthenshire, for example, the older vernacular tradition continued well into the 19th century. Smallholders building a house and byre for themselves would still use the thatch, wattle chimneys and rounded quoins which had been characteristic of the area for centuries. But closer to the industrial centres and on the estates of improving landlords, especially those who had undergone an education in Classical architecture, a more progressive attitude towards cottage building prevailed.
In this change we can see the result of two rather different forces. The first of these was the natural and eventual effect of improvements in the planning of houses for the gentry two centuries earlier, when symmetrical designs with end chimneys and central doorways, and evenly-spaced windows, became popular, and these had gradually worked their way down through society. The second force was that of the Industrial Revolution, seen in new materials such as finely-worked slates, and the use of iron bolts rather than oak pegs in the construction of roofs. Sawn slates and iron bolts are both found at Tower Hill Lodge, which was built in the first half of the 19th century, and is not unlike the lower half of an urban house, transported and given some saving rural touches.
The comparative modernity and generous proportions of these buildings also reflects a conscious desire for more permanent structures, for greater security and comfort. This is born out by the fact that there survive almost none of the traditional peasant dwellings, whereas the countryside is heavily populated with the square, solid, stuccoed farmhouses and cottages of the 19th century, still agreeable to live in a century or more later. The continued use of stucco, with the glazing bars found in the windows of Tower Hill Lodge, is particularly characteristic of West Wales where late 18th-century fashions lasted well into the following century, until they almost constituted a revival.
It seems reasonably certain that the main purpose for building the Lodge was to house a caretaker for Paxton's Tower. This could have been done by Sir William Paxton who built the tower; or by his successor at Middleton Hall, Edwin Adams, whom we know to have employed 70 to 80 carpenters in 1841, and to have built a large number of new houses on the estate. It probably went with a small tenant farm or smallholding, but continued to house the custodian as well, as is shown by the following letter from Dorothy Stroud to Country Life attention to Paxton's Tower in 1954 on the bicentenary of the birth of its architect, S. P. Cockerell. She describes the approach to it thus:
'After climbing a steep lane the visitor stops just short of a farmhouse by a notice which reads "To Trespass 3d". Having settled this little matter at the farm, or by perching coins on the gate-post, a further climb of a hundred yards or so brings him to the tower and the magnificent vews by which it truly earns its original title (The Prospect House).'
Helping to preserve Paxton's Tower and its surroundings
The Landmark Trust bought Paxton's Tower Lodge in 1966 as part of a scheme with the National Trust to preserve Paxton's Tower and its surroundings. It was then in a very dilapidated state, with a corrugated-iron lean-to against one end and a tatty porch. These were taken down, so that only the original structure was left.
This was probably much as it had always been, with two rooms on the ground floor (kitchen/living room and parlour, but in reverse order to the present arrangement), divided by a central passage with board partitions. Above was the single loft bedroom, reached by a ladderlike stair and lit by one small window which, as can be seen on the plan, we enlarged. The wing running out behind was added by Landmark to increase accommodation and fit in the necessary services.
The walls of the cottage are built of rubble masonry with a lot of clay, which is easily washed away in bad weather. To prevent this happening, and in accordance with local tradition, the exterior has to be lime-washed. In spite of this the west gable still let in the wet, and a solution was only found in another local practice, that of slate-hanging which, although it had not actually been done on the Lodge before, we felt to be in sympathy with it.
The fireplace also presented problems. This originally had a wide opening under an oak lintel with an oven tucked in one side, as one would expect to find in an old cottage or farmhouse. Later a range had been inserted, and the intention was to remove this and have once again a large open fire. Unfortunately this turned out to smoke so badly that it could not be left; instead the small fireplace there now was fitted, and this has proved more successful. The slate flagstones making up the hearth are also new, but like much else in the house, are similar to what might originally have been there.
The new floorboards in the sitting room are of Cilgerran oak, replacing the tiles that were there before.
The most endearing characteristic of Paxton's Tower Lodge is its straightforwardness, its Industrial Revolution lack of fuss; and it is this quality that we have tried to honour in the methods and materials used for its repair.
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