The bulk of West Wales cottages which still survive were built during the 18th and 19th century, in response to the demand for additional housing between the middle of the eighteenth and the middle of the nineteenth century. This put a lot of pressure on the land which was available at the time. Use of the common land by means of the famous tai unnos or "One Night" became widespread.
The origins of tai unnos were; the dwelling could be built on common land, the builder had to complete the dwelling overnight. Smoke had to rise from the chimney by the morning, the builder then threw an axe from the front door of the cottage, and the distance he could throw the axe determined the boundary of the property. The cottage dweller then had time to build a more permanent dwelling to replace the original turf and thatch dwelling.
Some north Pembrokeshire thatched cottages have survived almost unchanged since the 19th century. It was first built as a "ty unnos" in about 1800 and later rebuilt in stone.
The house was built with whatever materials were at hand. Turf was generally used for the walls and the roof would typically have been roughly thatched.
Once the cottager had staked his claim on the land and felt secure enough, he would have built a more permanent dwelling on the site.
The original cottages would have small windows these are still seen in many locations throughout Wales. Welsh cottages have evolved and developed becoming larger, often two stories.
Whether they originated as tai unnos or not, most of the permanent cottages put up during the great phase of cottage growth would have been homemade, built by the owners with the help of friends and neighbours using materials that were at hand or very close by. You will frequently pass small stone quarries along lanes in Wales, these would have been created when a need for stone was required for house building.
Age-old skills such as clay or cob walling and thatching were also used, but subtle changes were slowly taking place as a result of external influences.
Smallholdings were being swallowed up into large estates and pattern-book designs filtered down to even the smallest dwellings.
By the second half of the nineteenth century, a superior breed of cottage was appearing, two-storeyed throughout and luxurious compared to its predecessor. These were built, not by the cottagers, but by builders employed by the large estates or tenant farmers.
Better communications via the railways brought sawn timber, cement and good quality slates. Even small quantities of brick, mainly for chimneys, reached the less remote areas.
Pretty cottage gardens which now enhance the properties were originally cultivated for vegetables to sustain the family throughout the winter months.
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