“Please sir, can I have some more… ?”
Charles Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist, or The Parish Boy’s Progress’ was published in 1837-39: the years when the Llanfyllin Poor Law Union was being established and its Workhouse planned. Y Dolydd, as it is known today, is thought to be the finest surviving example of a workhouse built under the New Poor Law. It touched the lives of many whose stories deserve to be told.
Workhouse trustees and volunteers have been researching the history of the Workhouse for many years and have built up a fascinating picture of the past: they have produced a Short History, a documentary film and a permanent display on what they have discovered so far. There is a growing interest in this uncelebrated area of our social history and the Workhouse receives many visitors from all walks of life who, whilst researching their own genealogy, have discovered family members who were inmates of the Llanfyllin Union Workhouse. It is very important to us here at the Dolydd to remember and celebrate those forgotten lives.
History of the Workhouse
The Llanfyllin Union Workhouse: A Short History
John Hainsworth has researched the origins and past of the building and has produced a booklet as part of the Workhouse History Project. A shortened version appears here or you can download the whole booklet at the top of the page.
THE POOR LAW
The Poor Law before 1834
Under a law dating from the reign of Elizabeth I paupers were to be looked after by their own parish. (Paupers were people who were too poor to care for themselves, or whose families were unable to look after them). Usually they were given ‘out-relief ’, an allowance to live in their own homes, sometimes they were sent to live in a poorhouse, or workhouse, maintained by the parish. Each parish appointed overseers of the poor and they collected the poor rate; a tax on the property of the more prosperous members of the community. This system continued to operate for over 200 years.
The former parish workhouse at Llanfyllin still exists, a small half-timbered cottage close to St Myllin’s Well and now known as Y Bwthyn. It became redundant when the new workhouse was built. Other local parishes, such as Llangynog, maintained cottages where some paupers could live.
By the early 19th Century paupers were increasingly regarded as a problem. With the onset of the Industrial Revolution traditional employment declined; agriculture suffered a depression and soldiers returned from the Napoleonic Wars looking for work. The poor became more mobile and more visible, and in some areas more numerous. Rate payers were being forced to pay more and many parishes were too small to cope. Reforms had been carried out piecemeal and in some areas bigger workhouses were seen as a solution: one was built towards the end of the 18th Century across the border at Oswestry and another to the south at Forden, covering Welshpool and Montgomery.
The Poor Law Amendment Act
Parliament set up a Commission of Inquiry, and its report led to the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. The Act authorised Unions of parishes, big enough to be viable, right across England and Wales. Each Union was governed by a Board of Guardians, elected by the parish rate payers, who organised relief for all paupers in the district and billed their parish for the cost. At a national level the Unions were overseen by the Poor Law Commissioners, who laid down strict guidelines to be followed. At the heart of the system was the Union Workhouse.
Paupers were no longer to be relieved at home: if they did not want to starve they had to enter the Workhouse. Conditions there would be grim enough to deter all but the desperate, and thus large savings could be made. Men, women and children were to be ‘classified’ and kept apart, and wherever possible able-bodied paupers, who were thought to be idle and undeserving, were to be separated from the more deserving poor. The object of the system was to make the able-bodied look elsewhere and seek work, and in this it was quite effective; most workhouse inmates turned out to be the old, the infirm or handicapped, and children. In practice some out-relief continued to be given, mainly for those suffering from illness or injury, but for many the Workhouse was a constant threat, and the ultimate disgrace.
Despite opposition the new system was rapidly established in most parts of England and Wales.
The New Workhouse
The new workhouses were designed to deter people from seeking relief unless there was absolutely no alternative. The buildings were often bleak and forbidding, cheaply built and prominently situated outside the town. The Poor Law Commissioners published specimen designs by the architect Sampson Kempthorne. They were influenced by Jeremy Bentham’s ‘Panopticon’, a prison or ‘House of Industry’ with blocks radiating from a central point from which inmates could be supervised. The published plans reflected the division of inmates into different classes, and the separate wings with their attendant yards for exercise allowed these to be strictly segregated.
THE LLANFYLLIN POOR LAW UNION
The Llanfyllin Union was made up of 23 parishes: Llanfyllin, Meifod, Llanfihangel, Llanwddyn, Llanfair Caereinion, Garthbeibio, Llanerfyl, Llangadfan, Llangyniew, Llandisilio, Llansantffraid (Pool and Deythur), Llanfechain, Llandrinio, Carreghofa, Hirnant, Pennant, Llangynog, Llanrhaeadr ym Mochnant (Montgomeryshire and Denbighshire), Llanarmon Mynydd Mawr and Llancawaladr. The combined population was nearly 20,000. The large parish of Guilsfield was added in 1856. The Union’s Board of Guardians consisted of elected members from each parish, along with local magistrates who were ex-officio members. In the early days these tended to play a leading role, though they could be outvoted.
Normally a Union Workhouse was placed fairly centrally, and people were not supposed to have more than ten miles walk to reach it. However, the Llanfyllin Union was thinly populated, with the larger settlements around the edge and some neighbouring parishes which had their own provision for paupers under separate acts of parliament refused to join. Politically Llanfyllin was a good choice; the local population were relatively docile, with the militants concentrated around Llanfair in the south.
The Llanfyllin Union was formed at a meeting at the Wynnstay Arms (now the Cain Valley Hotel) on February 16 1837. It was divided into four districts, each administered by a Relieving Officer who distributed relief to paupers and kept accounts. There were four medical officers whose responsibilities included vaccination against smallpox. The building of the new workhouse, to serve the whole area of the Union, was the Guardians’ top priority.
The first Chairman of the Llanfyllin Guardians was Martin Williams, Esq. a prominent magistrate and landowner. Born in Jamaica, where his family owned extensive sugar plantations, he had bought the Bryngwyn Estate, close to Llanfyllin, some years before. He seems to have been highly respected, and remained as Chairman until his death in 1856.
The Guardians kept minutes of their meetings, and the minute books from 1842 are preserved in the Powys County Archives.
Resistance to the new Unions in some parts of the country was bitter. In the Llanfyllin Union opposition was strongest in Llanfair Caereinion and culminated in the famous Llanfair riot of 13th April 1837. But ultimately people had little alternative but to accept the arrangements that had been forced upon them.
LLANFYLLIN UNION WORKHOUSE
At the second meeting of the Llanfyllin Guardians Thomas Penson was appointed as architect for the new Workhouse. Penson was a member of a distinguished family of architects. His father, also called Thomas, was County Surveyor for Flint and Denbighshire: Thomas the Younger became Surveyor for Montgomeryshire in 1817 and served for 42 years, building many of the County’s bridges. His own elder son, Thomas Mainwaring Penson, was responsible for numerous railway stations including that at Shrewsbury; his younger son, Richard Kyrke Penson, built many churches.
Thomas Penson was a prolific architect who designed buildings throughout the Welsh border counties in a variety of styles: they included the parish churches at Newtown and Llanymynech, the Butchers’ Market in Wrexham and the old Powis Hall Market in Oswestry. He trained under the neo-classical architect Thomas Harrison of Chester, and the Llanfyllin Union Workhouse shows that he could handle classical detail effectively. Based in Oswestry he must have been well known locally, and just before receiving the commission for Llanfyllin he had been asked to design the Newtown and Llanidloes Union Workhouse at Caersws
Penson was criticised for allowing the cost of the Llanfyllin Workhouse to overrun. He defended himself by pointing out the intractable nature of the stone he had to use, and the distance materials had to be transported.
Building the Workhouse
Thomas Penson had clearly studied the specimen designs provided by the Poor Law Commissioners. His plan, to accommodate 250 inmates, was for four two-storey blocks joined in the shape of a cross, creating four courtyards for men, women, boys and girls. At the centre was a three-story block where the Master and Matron lived, with diagonally-placed windows giving a clear view of each courtyard. Lower blocks originally enclosed all the courtyards on the outside. The entrance block, facing the town, housed the Guardians’ Board Room: behind were facilities where new inmates could be bathed and dressed in the workhouse uniform.
Whilst the design of most of the building is utilitarian, the main façade is surprisingly grand with Venetian windows at either end and two entrances, one apparently reserved for the Guardians. The ends of the two side wings are treated as flanking pavilions. The building has an inner core of bricks made, probably close by, by John Beard of Oswestry: the facing is of local stone with dressings brought from a quarry eleven miles away. The roofing came from the Rhiwarth Slate Quarry, Llangynog; the cast iron windows were made by John Onions of Newtown and by Gittins and Cartwright of Shrewsbury. Timber was brought by river and canal from Liverpool. The contractor was Hugh Morris. The total cost came to over £7,000.
After some difficulty in finding a site, land was acquired from the Rector of Llanfyllin who imposed two conditions: there was to be a consecrated burial gound for the paupers, and a Chaplain was to be appointed. Construction work was under way by 1838. In 1840 the workhouse is described as ‘rapidly filling up’.
LIFE IN THE WORKHOUSE
The Llanfyllin Union Workhouse was designed for a maximum of 250 inmates, though the average number seems to have been half this figure or less. The government and the Poor Law Commissioners were most concerned about able-bodied paupers, and the whole workhouse system was designed around their deterrence, yet in Llanfyllin, as in other parts of the country, the able-bodied were always in a minority.
A return of ‘Indoor Paupers’ from 1841 shows that, of 133 inmates, 87 were children while of the adults the 27 recorded as able-bodied included 11 single mothers. In the 1881 census, of 78 inmates 34 were children and 15 were over 60.
The only surviving photograph of the inmates, probably taken around 1900, shows a tea party in one of the courtyards: the occasion is unknown, though it may mark the retirement of the Master. At this time most of the residents seem to have been elderly, but there are still a number of children.
The Workhouse Regime
The Poor Law Commissioners provided rules on Discipline and Diet, to be observed throughout the country. Hours of rising and going to bed, mealtimes and working hours, were strictly laid down. The diet was prescribed in detail, and discipline was to be firmly maintained. In the old workhouses corporal punishment was used – at Forden, near Welshpool, earlier in the century inmates were often whipped – but under the new poor law offenders were confined in a cell, ‘the refractory ward’, and fed on bread and water. More serious cases were referred to the magistrates.
In the workhouses men, women and children were kept apart. In theory this rule could be relaxed for older couples, but in practice accommodation was rarely available and so far no reference to this has been found in the Llanfyllin minutes. Children under seven were allowed to see their mothers, but still had to live apart from them.
As the name ‘Workhouse’ suggests, able-bodied inmates were supposed to spend the day working. It was not always easy to find suitable work, as the production of goods would have led to unfair competition with local suppliers. In 1845 the Guardians addressed the problem by setting up a committee. Its report has not survived, but in most workhouses the inmates were set to grinding corn by hand, picking oakum (unravelling old ropes), gardening or stone-breaking. They also kept the house clean and prepared the food.
At Llanfyllin as elsewhere the Dietary of the inmates had to be approved by the Commissioners in London. A basic principle of workhouse life was that the standard of living should be lower than that of a labourer’s family outside. Nevertheless a basic level of nutrition had to be maintained.
In November 1840, not long after the opening of the Workhouse, the Guardians submitted their ‘Dietary as now Used’. It consisted largely of porridge or gruel, bread, soup and rice pudding, with boiled meat twice a week and a salt herring once. The Dietary has been preserved at the National Archives.
In 1843 the Llanfyllin Guardians discovered that the expense of feeding their paupers was two shillings and sevenpence halfpenny a week (13p), but at the Caersws Workhouse of the Newtown and Llanidloes Union it was only two shillings and twopence farthing (11p). They resolved:
‘That the Clerk write to the Poor Law Commissioners stating that the Guardians are desirous of adopting the Dietary of that Union as being more economical and better adapted for this part of the Principality.’
The Commissioners agreed, and a revised Dietary was duly printed, with meat served only once a week.
CHILDREN AND SCHOOL
During the 19th Century a high proportion of the workhouse inmates were children. Many were born in the Workhouse, often to unmarried mothers, or were taken there as infants, and no doubt grew up accustomed to the regime. For those entering at a later stage the change must have been traumatic. Not surprisingly, bed-wetting was a problem. When the Inspector, Andrew Doyle, called in 1857 he commented adversely on the state of the beds, and the Guardians wrote to defend themselves. Despite their protestations, it was hard to defend putting three or four bed-wetters in one bed.
Whilst the Guardians were always reluctant to spend the rate-payers’ money, they agreed in October, 1842, to purchase skipping ropes for the girls, and a swing for the boys’ court.
The Guardians were anxious to place children in employment as soon as possible, often at the age of twelve. Mostly this meant domestic service for the girls and farm work for the boys. The children were sent out in their workhouse uniform, (though with shoes rather than clogs), which must have exposed them to ridicule. In some cases the Guardians were able to find apprenticeships for the boys, though there was reluctance to pay the premium required. The minutes record a number of apprenticeship agreements, and also requests to the Guardians to advertise the availability of children for work. If a child proved unsatisfactory the employer could return him or her to the Workhouse and choose a replacement.
In view of the large number of children in the Workhouse it was necessary to make arrangements for their education, and the Guardians appointed a Schoolmaster and a Schoolmistress. During the 1840s educational provision in much of Wales was so poor – even in a relatively well endowed town like Llanfyllin – that for many children the rudimentary schooling provided in the Workhouse must have represented a real advance.
In 1846 the Inspector for the Board of Inquiry into the State of Education in Wales came to Llanfyllin. He visited the Vaughan’s charity schools, and also the Union School at the Workhouse. His report states:
‘Upon comparing the results of the examination of these charity school with the results of the children in the Union Workhouse, it appears, considering the disparity in numbers, that the paupers have made better progress in the subjects taught than the free scholars.’
Only the boys did arithmetic: of the girls the Inspector wrote: ‘A large part of their time is allotted to domestic industry.’
Inadequate books and equipment reflected the parsimony of the Guardians, and in 1841, when it was decided that ‘Instruction in Industry’ was needed – mainly gardening and sewing –, the teachers found themselves paying for materials themselves. Later the Guardians do seem to have appreciated the need for basic resources to be provided.
Master and Matron
The Master and Matron lived in the octagonal Master’s House at the heart of the workhouse complex. They were almost invariably man and wife. William Jones, the first Master of the Llanfyllin Workhouse, had been a solicitor’s clerk and was a Methodist lay preacher: he was threatened with dismissal when his wife died, though after much controversy he was allowed to substitute his sister.
The Master and Matron were not especially well paid, though they were entitled to free accommodation and ‘the rations of the house’: these cannot have been very appetising. Food for any children was deducted from their wages. The Master’s working day was 24 hours, and in the early days he was forbidden to leave the building without special permission. The Master and Matron had a porter to assist them, and were allowed to appoint nurses from among the female inmates, while the Schoolmaster and Mistress were expected to supervise the children in and out of school hours.
Several Llanfyllin Masters found it difficult to cope, especially with the burden of keeping the Workhouse accounts. Richard Edwards, formerly an innkeeper from Llanerfyl, absconded to Liverpool in 1847 after £74 was found to be unaccounted for in the provision book, and his successor Joseph Jones was soon in trouble for covering his accounts with ‘blots and erazures’ and slipping into town in the evenings for a drink.
Schoolmaster and Schoolmistress
In the early days trained teachers were almost impossible to find, especially as the Schoolmaster and Mistress were responsible for the children at all times. One man appointed had previously been a glazier, with no experience of teaching. In 1841 William Day, Assistant Poor Law Commissioner, wrote to his superiors as follows:
‘I transmit herewith a leathern strap used by the Schoolmaster of the Llanfyllin Union which I took out of his hand yesterday in that School and which he stated he used instead of a rod. I may add I think the Master stands six feet high.’
In vain the Schoolmaster, Thomas Owens, wrote protesting that:
‘every one of the Boys in my School would rather be punished with the little Strap than with a Birch Rod…. I have heard many times that my tenderness towards them is generally liked through the Union.’
The Commissioners told him to use the rod, and soon afterwards the Guardians dismissed him for inefficiency.
When an inspection took place in 1849 the Schoolmaster, David Rowlands, and the Schoolmistress, Jane Jones, were examined and their knowledge and competence assessed. Their certificates show that Mrs Jones’ results were less impressive than Mr Rowlands’ but her Industrial Skills – her ability to teach the girls to sew – were good.
The Master was assisted by a Porter who kept the keys, helped with the admission of inmates and supervised some of the work they performed. There was also a nurse or nurses, though in the early days these were appointed from among the female inmates and were unpaid: they had no special training. A Chaplain came to take services on Sundays and a Medical Officer visited the Workhouse regularly to look after the inmates’ health.
BASTARDS, LUNATICS AND IDIOTS
The Victorians often used words which shock us today. Thus the child of an unmarried mother was referred to as a ‘bastard’; someone with a mental illness was called a ‘lunatic’, and anyone born with a learning difficulties could be classified as an ‘idiot’ or an ‘imbecile’. These expressions were not thought to be particularly offensive at the time: they were the words everybody used.
Notice regarding ‘Bastardy’Bastardy
The birth of children to unmarried mothers – known as bastardy – was regarded as a major social problem in the 1840s. In their Reports the Poor Law Commissioners printed statistics and other evidence claiming that the new law had greatly reduced the number of illegitimate births. They were convinced that the threat of the workhouse acted as a deterrent to irresponsible women.
In December 1841 the Llanfyllin Union Workhouse housed 87 children, 40 of them illegitimate, and 11 unmarried mothers. In 1842 the Guardians issued an appeal to the Ratepayers asking farmers to take more responsibility for their female servants. However, by January 1843 the number of ‘bastards’ in the House had risen to 52.
The Guardians occasionally tried to pursue fathers in the courts for maintenance. But government policy at the time was to force mothers rather than fathers to take responsibility, and the recent legislation had made court action more difficult and expensive.
The National Archives at Kew hold a number of letters concerning Anne Lewis of Llanrhaeadr ym Mochnant, who had a child out of wedlock in August 1840. Anne had tried to persuade the Guardians to make the father, John Humphreys, pay her maintenance, expecting that she would then be able to live at home. The Guardians refused to comply, and when the child was almost a year old Anne wrote to the Poor Law Commissioners to complain.
The Commissioners asked the Guardians for their comments. The policy at Llanfyllin was to accommodate unmarried mothers and their children in the Workhouse, devoting any payments from the father to defraying their expenses. The Clerk to the Guardians, Humphrey Lloyd Williams, replied pointing out that Anne had left the Workhouse of her own accord, and they were not prepared to make any exception to the rule, ‘a principle which has been found to work well having a tendency to effect a considerable saving on the rates and to discourage bastardy.’
The Commissioners agreed with the Guardians: for Anne and her son it was the Workhouse or nothing.
Idiots and Lunatics
The Poor Law Unions were responsible for the care of people with learning difficulties (classified as ‘idiots’) and for the mentally ill (‘lunatics’), if their own families were unable to care for them.
Returns from 1844 and 1848, preserved in The National Archives, show that in the Llanfyllin Union many of these people were boarded out, though seven were living in the Workhouse. Three ‘lunatics’ were sent to the County Asylum at Shrewsbury, but in view of the cost (ten shillings and sixpence a week, as compared with two shillings and twopence elsewhere), the Guardians avoided this wherever possible.
The Reports of the Poor Law Commissioners have little to say about ‘lunatics and idiots’, perhaps because their focus was on the ‘idle and improvident’ able-bodied paupers. But nationally they formed quite a high proportion of inmates: in 1881 over 10,000 were accommodated in workhouses, and the constant obsession with economy must have meant inappropriate care for many.
VAGRANTS – AND THE DARTMOOR SHEPHERD
Tramps or vagrants were regarded with growing hostility during the 19th Century. They were seen as a threat to the social order and a potential source of contamination, though many were in fact unemployed men looking for work. Accommodation had to be provided for them, preferably away from the other inmates, but both this and the food supplied were made as unappealing as possible and they had to perform manual labour – usually breaking stones for road-mending – before being allowed to leave in the morning.
At Llanfyllin Workhouse a special block of cells was built in the 1880s to house vagrants, or ‘Casual Paupers’ each with a small working area for stone-breaking. The broken stones had to be small enough to pass through a metal grille built into the wall. The block has been demolished and no trace of it remains, but the plans survive in The National Archives at Kew.
Powys Archives have preserved a notice board removed from the Workhouse. It is a standard issue from the Local Government Board. Specific tasks of work were laid down for Casual Paupers remaining for one night. For men this meant breaking two hundredweight of stones, picking one pound of unbeaten or two pounds of beaten oakum, or three hours of digging, pumping, chopping wood or grinding corn. The women had to pick a smaller quantity of oakum or spend three hours in washing, scrubbing or cleaning. They were not allowed to leave until the work had been done.
Residents of Llangynog remember tramps arriving at the village shop during the 1950s with tokens given to them at Y Dolydd, as the Workhouse was then known. They were supposed to be exchanged for tea and sugar, but were usually spent on tobacco.
The Dartmoor Shepherd
The most famous inmate of the Llanfyllin Union Workhouse was David Davies, the Dartmoor Shepherd.
David Davies was born in 1849 at Llanfihangel, but when he was still a child his family moved to Rock Cottage, Llanfyllin, which stands just above the road not far from the Workhouse. Though he came of a respectable family, he soon became involved in petty crime. In his lifetime he was sentenced to over 60 years imprisonment, and he must have spent more than 50 years in prison. All the sentences were for minor burglaries or – his speciality – robbing church poor-boxes. He was only once convicted of violence: for throwing a work-basket at a policemen who had caught him red-handed.
David’s case received national publicity when an exasperated judge at Shrewsbury sentenced him to 13 years for stealing two shillings from an almsbox. He was sent to Dartmoor, where his agricultural background caused him to be given the job of looking after the prison’s flock of sheep. In 1910 he was visited in prison by Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George: Churchill, then Home Secretary, arranged for him to be released and sent to work on a farm near Rhuthun. He quickly absconded, and went back to his old ways.
In 1923, in court at Oswestry for robbing another poor box, David told a policeman: ‘I don’t want to die in prison. I want the magistrates to settle it, and send me to Llanfyllin Workhouse, my native place.’ Eventually, in May 1924 the Chairman of the Bench, Lord Harlech, arranged for him to go to the Workhouse: the following month he was caught breaking into Llandrinio Church and was returned to Llanfyllin.
The Master of the Workhouse, Captain Astley, arranged for David to receive an old age pension and found work for him on a nearby farm. However, he soon broke into the church at Llanfechain, and later absconded and was arrested at Congleton Church in Cheshire. He absconded so many times that his shoes were taken away and replaced with leather slippers.
In the night of April 2 1929, in his 80th year, David slipped out of the Workhouse in his leather slippers and set off along the lane towards Llanfechain. Near Bodynfoel he must have collapsed, for his body was found there next morning. David avoided a pauper’s grave: sympathisers made a collection, and his body was taken on a farm cart to be buried in Llanfyllin. A Wesleyan minister and three deacons saw him laid to rest.
In 1930 the Poor Law system ended and the workhouses – known officially by that time as Poor Law Institutions – were transferred to local authority control. The Workhouse became the Llanfyllin Public Assistance Institution, administered by the District Council and later by Montgomeryshire C.C. During the 1920’s it was given the name ‘The Meadows’ or ‘Y Dolydd’, which had a friendlier ring. But there was no sudden change in the establishment: since the beginning of the new century the workhouse regime had slowly become more benign, and the process continued. Captain Astley, appointed in 1909, stayed on as Master until 1936, and older residents called his successors ‘Master’ as late as 1969.
Master, staff and trustees of Llanfyllin Workhouse in 1930In 1948 the Council produced plans for a modernisation of the building, but in the end it was not till the 1960’s that a thorough re-modelling took place. Y Dolydd was to be an old people’s home serving much of the county, with residents from as far away as Newtown and Machynlleth. Externally there were changes: the tall chimneys disappeared, most of the cast-iron window frames were replaced by steel casements in larger openings. The building was re-roofed, and the interior transformed beyond recognition. Even now, not all the residents were elderly: mothers with children were still living in Y Dolydd in 1969, and tramps were being given lodging for the night into the 1970s. But a pattern for the future had been set, and it seemed as though the old Workhouse would continue to serve the community into the next century.
But with a new government, policy changed. Large institutions of any kind were frowned upon: the focus was now on smaller, local units or on private provision. Local authorities suffered cutbacks, and had to make savings. Despite all the investment that had taken place, Y Dolydd was suddenly earmarked for closure.
Ironically, the building which had once been so feared and reviled had now become a well-loved institution. The majority of the residents of Y Dolydd were happy and did not want to move, and locally the Home was held in real affection. A campaign against closure was mounted, and even its organisers must have been startled at the strength of the response. In 1981, after a public meeting and strong pressure on Powys County Council, Y Dolydd was reprieved for twelve months.
By 1982 further cuts forced the Council to re-table the closure proposal. Once again the campaigners took to the platform: a meeting attracted 250 people, and there was extensive publicity in the press. But financial pressures were inexorable, and the decision was made to close the home at the end of September 1982.
Y Dolydd was offered for sale, and bought by a group which planned to establish a centre for outdoor pursuits: the Challenge Centre. The scheme seemed full of promise. Sadly one of the partners suffered a fatal accident and the project ran into difficulties. Eventually the building had to be sold again.
Y Dolydd passed into the hands of property developers, and before long everything of value was ripped out. Fittings, fireplaces, even stairs and floorboards were removed until the building was empty and derelict. Vandals broke in, damp penetrated, the courtyards were overgrown with brambles and strewn with broken glass. One of Mid-Wales’s finest buildings seemed ready for the bulldozer.
In 2001 a local businesswoman, Hilary Collins, stepped in and bought Y Dolydd. Her plan was to restore the building and use it to house a National Antiques Centre for Wales along with a heritage centre, which would bring visitors and employment to the area. However, it became clear that grant aid would be needed to fund the restoration, and that this required the setting up of a charitable trust to own the building. Advice was given by the Architectural Heritage Fund, and this led to the formation of the Llanfyllin Dolydd Building Preservation Trust. The Trust finally bought the building, with a loan from the AHF, in November 2004. Earlier that year Y Dolydd had been chosen as one of three buildings to represent Wales in the BBC programme ‘Restoration’ and attracted more than 15,000 votes.