Tŷ Hyll history
Tŷ Hyll is a house full of history, legend and mystery; no one really knows who built the house, or when.
Legend says that the house was built in the 15th century overnight – a ‘tŷ unnos’ or ‘one night house’. According to tradition at that time, a house built during one night on common land, with a chimney smoking by dawn, could be claimed by the builders as their own property.
Other legends say it was built by robbers and thieves, taking advantage of travelers on the old main road as they journeyed through Snowdonia – ‘ugly’ people that gave the house a fearsome reputation.
Tŷ Hyll may have been a robbers’ hideout in the 15th century, and Irish labourers constructing Telford’s bridge over the Llugwy in 1820 could have used it for shelter. But Tŷ Hyll goes unmentioned by travel writers until 1853, so it might be a Victorian folly – a romantic attraction for the increasing numbers of visitors to Snowdonia.
It would have taken a lot of manpower to move the huge stones and put them in place. By the mid-19th century the skills to manoeuvre such large boulders would have been readily available among Welsh quarrymen, expertly tilting them out to stop rain entering the house and, with no mortar, plugging gaps in the thick walls with moss to block out the draught.
Why the ‘ugly’ house?
Some claim the name, Ugly House (Tŷ Hyll in Welsh), is a corruption of ‘Llugwy’, the name of the river burbling away on the other side of the road. Or maybe it’s the big, crude boulders that give the house its name; the word ‘hyll’ in Welsh can mean rough or crude, as well as ugly.
Who has lived at Tŷ Hyll?
The first person who we know lived here was local shepherd, John Roberts, in 1900. Within the thick dry stone walls his accommodation would have been basic: a single living room with the large fireplace for heat and cooking and a ladder up to a sleeping loft under the roof.
The people who lived here longest were the Rileys, from 1928 to 1961. Edward Riley worked at The Towers which is above our car park. He gradually ‘improved’ the Ugly House, installing an upstairs with bedrooms and a bathroom and a separate parlour and scullery downstairs. Edward and his wife Lilian welcomed visitors into the house over the years, entertaining them with tales and their pet cockatoo, starting a long tradition which you are now continuing as a visitor yourself!
A new era in the care of the Snowdonia Society
After the Rileys died, Tŷ Hyll passed through a number of different owners who ran it as a tea room, antiques shop and tourist attraction. It was near dereliction when bought by the Snowdonia Society in 1988, and the listed building was sensitively renovated by a band of dedicated volunteers to provide a small visitor centre and headquarters for the Society.
In 2010 the Snowdonia Society moved its offices to Caban in Brynrefail, near Llanberis. This allowed Tŷ Hyll to be refurbished by the Society, opening as a tearoom and honeybee exhibition in 2012. The garden and woodland are used as an educational resource, for the benefit of pollinators and other wildlife and providing pleasure to over 35,000 passing and local visitors each year.
Can you help fill in the gaps?
If you have any old stories or pictures of Tŷ Hyll we’d love to hear or see them. Or if you like nothing better than to delve into archives (much of which are now available on-line) you could help throw some light on Tŷ Hyll’s past.