Brynmill

Rhyddings House, Brynmill

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Rhyddings House, Brynmill

This is a strange rather ugly building. It’s pebble-dashed exterior is tinged grey with neglect. The front garden is unkempt and there’s a red boat in the far corner of the garden. I noticed this building ages ago and was intrigued by it. Why didn’t it look like the houses around it? It reminded me of a block of flats and it seemed out of place amongst the tight terraces.

 

I have discovered recently that it is, in fact, an old mansion house, originally built in the mid 18th century. If you walk around the back of the building it looks less like an ugly tenement as through a stone archway there is smaller stone building attached called “the cottage”.

Rhyddings House

Rear of Rhydding House with the “Cottage”

 

 

Further research reveals that when it was built in the mid-18th century, it was one of few big houses to the west of Swansea. It had 8 generously sized bedrooms, an orchard, walled garden, and farmland. The surrounding areas would have been hay fields, dotted with patches of trees.  It was located far away from the smoking chimneys of the industrial areas along the River Tawe. It had views of the burrows (sand dunes) at the bottom of the hill to the south and, weather permitting, across the bay to the distant shores of Devon. From 1837 onwards, you would have been able to see the new Brynmill Reservoir to the north-west. This lake later became the heart of Brynmill Park.

The name of Rhyddings is a bit of a mystery. I asked my Welsh-speaking facebook friend, Rhydian, his opinion on why “Rhyddings” is pronounced locally with a hard “d” sound instead of with a soft “f” sound. He said,  “short answer is that I don’t know. The word ‘Rhydd’ is Welsh for ‘Free’ but I’m not sure whether there’s any connection there to be honest because the word Rhydding isn’t used today if it was ever a word, and -ing isn’t a common suffix in Welsh.With regards to the pronunciation, it probably is being mispronounced technically but since it’s not, as far as I’m aware, an actual word then I don’t feel it matters.”

The house had many tenants over the years. Thomas Bowdler , was its most notable resident. He was an English doctor of medicine, philanthropist, and man of letters. He lived here in 1818, whilst he was carefully deleting all the unsuitable parts from the plays of Shakespeare ‘which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family’ to make them suitable for women and children to read:- this was his “The Family Shakespeare”. He died in 1825 at the age of 70 and was buried in nearby Oystermouth.  He left money to the poor of Swansea and his home parish of Box, in Somerset. Although the bulk of his large library was donated to the University of Wales, Lampeter, the remainder of his library and print collection were put up for sale along with his furniture.

The house was subject to a series of misfortune, not least of which was being struck by lightning during an autumn thunderstorm of 1831 and being bombed during the Second World War. Relations with the local community weren’t always easy – different tenants prosecuted local children for minor “crimes” on a more than one occasion. Once for a 12-year-old was prosecuted for “scrumping” (pinching apples) and a 14-year old for picking flowers. In 1873 a public right of way through the near-by Rhyddings Fields were closed off and this provoked an anonymous letter from the fictional  “Twm Sion Catti” (a Welsh version of Robin Hood) demanding to know who had done this. A later tenant, the Dutch South African farmer Richard White Beor, became a Justice of the Peace and no doubt helped keep law and order in this rural area.

The last decade of the 19th century saw the start of the terraces being built. In the 1880s Swansea was growing rapidly. Middle-class suburbs were spreading west. St Helen’s Avenue and King Edward’s Road had been built and houses were starting to climb up Rhyddings Park Road and Finsbury Terrace. By the start of the First World War, the farmland and the orchard was a dim and distant memory.

 

Map of Brynmill

Brynmill, Swansea

 

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7 replies »

  1. I’m sure that I read some years ago, that Rhyddings House was the oldest house in Brynmill. I remember it being full of squatters some years ago. Thanks for the history of it.

    • Yes, it certainly is the oldest house in Brynmill. On old maps of the area its the only house here! I find it strange when I pass it to think of how its surroundings have changed so much. I didn’t know there had been squatters in there (mind you, its hard to be squatter these days). Thank you for your comment Richie.

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  3. My father’s family had The Rhyddings at the end of the 19th-early 20th centuries. My great-grandfather, Rev Sam Owen, had married Mary Rosser, daughter of Captain George Rosser the Harbour Master, and my father, Haydn Owen, thought it was a Rosser possession. Anyway, come WW2 most of the family had married and moved away – and my widowed grandmother was living on and off at The Rhyddings and with her daughter Elizabeth on Eversley Road, Sketty. During the blitz an incendiary bomb hit a tree down the road a bit from the house, and blew out the windows and blew open the front door. My mother and Aunt Betty went there about mid0morning and found that the house had been looted – a copper chandelier had gone and the oak floorboards had been ripped up and stolen. The Council announced that it was ‘war damaged property’, and at the end of the War compulsorily purchased it from the family (they were given £400). According to my mother the house was actually structurally sound and there was little actual damage apart from the windows and the looted floorboards. The Council turned it into ‘social housing’ and failed to maintain it properly allowing it to become the wreck that it is today. I went and had a look at it this August (2019) – shameful.

    The name means a “a third” – as in the division of land for taxing – and there is a ‘Rhyddings something’ near to Neath Abbey. My father thought it was named after that.

    • Hello David. Thank you for this family history. It made fascinating reading. I always wondered how what had been such a grand house ended up they way it is now. I am amazed that they managed to steal the oak floor boards that quickly. Some one clearly has access to a truck with petrol, not that usual in World War 2! Yes, its a rather sorry looking building now. I have never seen a photo of it before the second world war and I wonder what it used to look like back when there was an orchard. I used to live in a flat on Sketty Road and look down on Brynmill and the distinctive red brick junior school and wonder about the large building down the road from it. I didn’t realise that there was another Rhyddings near Neath Abbey.

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