Starting the Cottage reveal

So, when I redesigned the blog I promised some more posts about the cottage.  Let’s start with some background about the house before I move on the details.

We don’t know exactly how old the cottage is, but neighbours tell us it was probably built sometime in the early nineteenth century so could be up to 200 years old.

Back then this valley was radically different to the quiet, peaceful place it is today. In the nineteenth century it would have been a hive of heavy industry, with quarries and mines fuelling the industrial revolution. These days, you can still see the remains of some of the old villages, the forges and tramways that were used to transport the iron to the outside world. This is the landscape where Alexander Cordell based his novel Rape of the Fair Country, charting the hardship of life in these communities and the increasing tensions between the ironmasters and trade unionists.

Keeper's Pond
‘The Tumble’ road to Blaenavon goes over the Blorenge or Iron Mountain – one of Wales’ steepest climbs and now a popular cyclist route
Keeper's Pond Blorenge
Keeper’s Pond on the very top of the Blorenge – built in the 19th century to provide water for Garnddyrys Forge
Gilwern quarries
Gilwern Hill limestone quarries

I talk about the ‘cottage’ in the singular, but actually the house started life as two small semi-detached cottages. You can just see in the picture that it looks like we have numerous front doors.

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View of the cottage from down in the garden
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One of the front doors from January 2014, by this time the door was so swollen and warped it was stuck fast and refused to open

The cottages had gardens to the front and shared a well for their water (which is still there although pretty silted up – take a look at the picture below – not sure I would have wanted to navigate those steps every day). At the back there were pig sties which still remain, although they’re in need of some restoration too. The cottages sat – and still sit – surrounded by fields, and were originally part of a larger neighbouring farm.

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Steps down to the ‘dip well’
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The back of the cottage 2014, after we’d chopped down a mass of blackthorn – the pig sties are down there somewhere…
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There they are! One of the two pig sties in a pretty bad way – but you can see the opening for the pigs and the outline of the stone walled open area

We know the cottages were occupied until the early twentieth century but then laid empty for some fifty years. In the early seventies the then owners the rescued them from near ruin and – turning them into a single cottage for the first time – renovated them with a pretty light touch. I think it would have been at this point that the cottage got its first electricity, but as there’s no gas main out here, heating came from a  solid fuel Rayburn installed into the kitchen. The same Rayburn that forty years later we’d come to battle with – unsuccessfully. Importantly though, they maintained the bones of the place – the flagstone floor in the dining room, the open beamed ceiling between the two floors, the tiny winding stone staircase that curves behind the fireplace.

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The Rayburn which we struggled with daily for six months
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The old stone staircase winds round the back of the fireplace – you can also just see the old bread oven in the side of the fire

When we bought the cottage two years ago, the time had come for a little updating. After forty years, the electricity needed rewiring and we decided to install some central heating. Both big jobs. We also wanted to install a kitchen as the previous one was freestanding and had been moved with the previous owners, leaving us with just a sink unit in the corner. The bathrooms also needed some updating.

So, now you’ve seen some of pictures from back when we moved in, let’s start on the before and afters! What would you like to see first?

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