Porth y Dŵr and the Mill Street Area
Carol Smith February 2017
Carol is an owner of Porth-y- Dŵr, a 15th century building at the lower end of Clwyd Street, close to the Afon Clwyd bridge.
It has seen many uses - in recent times, an antique shop, a tea room, and now self-catering accommodation for holiday use. The current exterior hides a remarkable timber-framed building.
When we bought Porth y Dŵr, no one seemed to be able to tell us for sure what it was built for. We knew the available records - the listing description written by Cadw and a report produced by the RCAHMW - were incorrect because neither had really studied the building structure, so we began our own investigation. This was driven mainly by the need to determine how structurally sound it was, and what work was needed to ensure its long-term survival, but also just because it’s nice to know these things.
So what did we find out? The building was on the end of Porth y Dŵr, the town’s west gateway that stood beside the mill stream, but was otherwise detached. It was positioned a little to one side of the wider part of Clwyd Street (then called Mill Street), its main gable facing directly up the hill. This strategic position definitely suggested a building of some importance, as did the elaborate construction. Tree ring dating confirmed a felling date for the oak of 1455/6, and documentary evidence suggested a connection to the Lord’s Mill.
Our Porth y Dŵr is now only half of the original building. When constructed, it would have been four bays long, and two storey throughout; the roof timbers are decorative, so the first floor rooms would have been open to the rafters. At the east end was an arcaded area on the ground floor, the posts with arched braces standing on stone plinths. This took up the whole of the first bay, and was overlooked by a wide mullioned window from the room beyond. Above this was the two-bay main chamber, with a central projecting window looking up the street, and two more mullioned windows. These two bays are close-studded - more oak than wattle and daub infill, which is of hazel twigs woven around oak staves and covered in a mixture of clay, sand and straw.
Roof with cusped wind braces
The open bay, showing arched braces
Gothic arch - the original entrance facing the mill.
The main entrance was through the arched doorway, now internal, which faced towards the Lord’s Mill, and this was probably because the building had some connection with the operation of the mill. The west end of the building seems to have been two smaller rooms on the ground floor, with a second, but narrow, arcade with a wide arched opening, and probably two rooms above. It was box-framed with diagonal braces, but an exciting recent discovery is that this end of the building was jettied - the first floor extended beyond the ground floor.
Once the form of the building had been established, it was clear that there were some obvious similarities between Porth y Dŵr and many market halls in small towns and villages all over the country, yet the established view of Ruthin was that the market place had always been at the top of the hill. This prompted historical research in an attempt to find out more about the area at the lower end of Clwyd Street, and the building.
Little information seems to be available, but a number of documentary references do seem to confirm that Porth y Dŵr may have functioned as a market hall, possibly for the meat or corn markets that were held weekly, with rooms for storage and possibly the bailiff’s office - several members of the Moyle family, who later converted it to a house, served as bailiff in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Research is still ongoing - watch this space.