A strange house, a Welsh lawyer and an Italian Contessa.
Graham Watkins - link here
Driving to the Secret Monitor Sunday Lunch in Crickhowell we passed the most strange house as we went through the village of Vaynor - we had decided to take a trip across country as the weather was fair and I was uncertain if we had tried the road before...
And so we looked it up - and found that there was some history to go with the house...
To the north of Merthyr Tydfil, near the railway viaduct at Pontsarn, stand
s a very peculiar house. The property has been known by a number of different names, over the years, including Hafod Cottage, Vaynor Cottage, The Old Spanish House and, more recently, Hy Brasail. At the time of writing, the house, a Grade II listed, stands empty, neglected and looking very sad. What makes the house unique is the style in which it was built.
Like its name, Hy Brasail, the house, is shrouded in mystery. Some commentators have suggested that the house was named after ‘Hy Brasail’ - also known as ‘Hy Brasil’ - a mythical island somewhere off the coast of Ireland.
According to legend, the island is hidden by an impenetrable mist except for one day every seven years. In the old Irish tongue the name of the island suggests beauty, great worth and might. In 1674, a Captain Nisbet was on a voyage from France to Ireland when he chanced upon the mysterious island. According to the Captain’s reports, a colony of enormous black rabbits inhabited the island together with a magician who lived alone in a castle. It’s an unlikely tale and a strange place after which to name a house near Merthyr Tydfil.
There are several opinions regarding the origins of the strange dwelling. Although there is no evidence to support the idea, some say it was built by an owner in the style of his wife’s Tuscan childhood home. It is known that a solicitor named Mr. James, whose law practice was in Merthyr, lived in the house in 1912. At the time the house, rather smaller than it is now, was known as ‘Vaynor Cottage.’ Each morning, Mr. James walked to Pontsarn Station to catch an early train to Merthyr. Each night he returned to his empty house. That summer, he went to Italy for a holiday where he met an Italian Countessa and immediately fell in love.
Thinking the holiday liaison was something more serious than a brief romance, Mr. James returned home and added an Italian style extension to his house with the hope that the Contessa would join him in Wales. To make the house more homely, he furnished it with fine furniture, porcelain and paintings and in the courtyard, at the front of the house, he placed a large statue of an eagle sat on a plinth. Sadly, the Contessa never came to Wales and Mr. James’ dream of love remained unfulfilled. The disappointed solicitor resumed his daily train rides to work and remained a bachelor for the rest of his life.
In 1948, a butcher by the name of Bowen bought Vaynor Cottage. Bowen’s Irish wife, a teacher, wanted a name for the house that was more in keeping with its size and quirky character. It was Mrs Bowen who renamed the house ‘Hy Brasail’ after the mythical island from Irish folklore.
The eagle was either sold or stolen in the 1980s and the railway station at Pontsarn has long since closed. Today, the old rail bed is part of the Taff Trail and walkers who enjoy the path pass close to Hy Brasail, a structurally odd derelict building and one of the strangest looking houses in Wales.
It is a grade II listed building ... and zoopla estimates that it is worth £254,000 - though it does not appear to be for sale at present ...
This photo is apparently from the John Owen Collection and is entitled Vaynor Cottage 1946
Vaynor cottage in the Snow -
Vaynor Cottage and Dolcoed, Pontsarn
(Postcard Courtesy of Gill Thomas, West Grove)
Oh well!! Maybe next time we go out I will have a little more time and can take some photos..
In the meantime I will leave Susie looking through the estate agents for other properties int he area - there are some phenomenal views ..