The site was occupied by two tiny cottages
In 1965 the present building did not exist and the site was occupied by two tiny cottages in an extreme state of dilapidation. Even though the Trust’s policy has always emphasised the pre-eminent importance of conservation, in this case no restoration was possible. The architect Leonard Beddell-Smith reported that the cottages were hopelessly decayed and so ruinous as to be beyond saving; he gave his opinion that the only appropriate way to preserve the integrity of the site was to demolish them and to rebuild. 15 Tower Hill is thus unique among Landmark Trust properties for its relative youth.
Two decisions were taken at this point: firstly to rebuild as a single property, not two, and secondly to raise the new buildings some five feet higher than the old in order to exploit fully the view from the front windows. Mr Beddell-Smith designed the new building to blend in with the older stone buildings of the city in its style, following John Smith’s instructions that ‘the job must look like ordinary local work of the old type’ and specifying to the builder that the masonry was to be ‘equal in quality to the general walling of the Cathedral’. Leslie and Idris Evans of St David’s, trading as Evans Brothers, were awarded the contract and Mr Maurice Riley, a local mason and an outstandingly fine craftsman, took on the preparation and laying of the stonework. The restoration was hindered by an extreme shortage of local labour due at least in part to the simultaneous construction of the new oil refinery at Milford: workmen were unenthusiastic about taking a few weeks’ employment on one small contract when two or three years of continuous employment were available within a short drive.
Mr Beddell-Smith specified that should any materials from the demolished cottages prove appropriate for re-use they should be set aside for that purpose, but in fact relatively little seems to have been found suitable.
The design provided for grey stone rubblestone facings with dressings in a contrasting colour. Many of the older St David’s buildings were built of sea-washed stone, but this was no longer available. The grey limestone chosen is not native to the district but came from some old stables that had recently been demolished at Mr Beddell-Smith’s home, Pantgwyn Mansion, Llangoedmor, together with the remains of a cottage on his neighbour’s land, which had been built of the same stone.
The purple stone for the window dressings and quoins is of a type seen in many of the older buildings in the city, although where it had been used for an entire building the effect is thought to be somewhat grim. It formed part of the Caerbwdy Sandstone which forms a layer up to 500 feet thick beneath the peninsula and outcrops in the cliffs at Caerbwdy Bay about two miles south-east of the city. It is an unusually hard stone and difficult to cut and was only obtained with some difficulty, having to be levered out from the cliff face on a rope and then collected from sea level at low tide. Until the National Trust gave the Landmark Trust permission to carry out a limited amount of quarrying none had been extracted within living memory. The same stone appears in Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s west front of the Cathedral, built in 1863, which was probably the last time it had been used. At some stage during the restoration the Dean of St David’s offered the Trust some surplus blocks of this stone from the Cathedral’s own masons’ yard, but it is not clear whether these blocks were ever used.
The roof slates were specially quarried at Precelly Quarry, Clynderwen, Pembrokeshire.
The enormous stone slab on the terrace was a gift to the Trust from the owners of the site of the long-gone Pentre Manor, near Blaenpant, of which it once formed a part: it required a JCB to lift it on to the lorry that brought it to Tower Hill.
The pebble paving was laid by preparing a bed of mixed sand and dry cement powder, into which fist-sized stones (obtained from Caerbwdy beach) were pressed by hand. The whole was then well watered with an ordinary watering-can, a process that left the stones clean and free from adhering cement.