The Ugly House – Ty Hyll

Not everyone would agree with the name given to this, shall we say, “rather unusual looking” Welsh cottage nestled into the woodland just off the main A5 road between Betws-y-coed and Capel Curig in Snowdonia, Wales, in the UK.

Ty Hyll is the Welsh name originally given to the cottage, Ty Hyll translated into English, means “ugly house”, although it is said that, course, rough or rugged rather than ugly is closer to the Welsh meaning.

Steeped In History, Legend, And Mystery

No one really knows the true story of The Ugly House, although there are lots of tales to tell about its history and how it came to be built at that location. Local legend tells of the house being built around about the 15th century. The landscape at that time would have looked very different than it does today. The house would have been quite remote, set in the mountains with just an overgrown dirt track as a means of passage from one village to the next.

So Who Built The Ugly House, And Why?

One tale tells of the house being built in 1475 by two local outlaws and used as their hideout, robbing anyone that was unfortunate enough to be passing by.

Another tale tells of a tradition at that time, which stated that any man who built a house on common land after the hours of sunset and which had smoke coming out of the chimney by first light, could stake a claim for the freehold. The total area claimed to be as far as he could throw an ax around the property.

Photo Credit: Rude Health via CC License.

More than likely, the house has changed in shape and size over the years from how it originally would have looked. But taking the tale of the tradition of being able to claim the freehold of the property if it was built overnight and had smoke coming out of its chimney by daybreak, then this would perhaps explain why the house has such a rough or rugged appearance. With so little time to spare on the aesthetics of an overnight build, you have to wonder just how did they manage to manoeuvre all those big heavy rocks and stones into position?

What’s Changed Over The Years?

Very little is known about who lived in, or in fact, if anyone actually resided in the ugly house leading up to the Victorian era. It wasn’t until 1900 that local shepherd, John Roberts was acknowledged as being the first person to have actually lived there. His accommodation was described as being very basic – just a single room containing a large fireplace which would act as his heating and cooking source. His sleeping area was accessed by a ladder to the loft space area under the roof.

In 1928 Edward Riley and his wife Lilian moved into the ugly house and decided to make living there more comfortable. Throughout their time there up until 1961, the Rileys made great improvements to the property. An upper floor was installed which contained bedrooms and a bathroom area. Downstairs was adapted to incorporate a parlor and a scullery, making the ugly house a much more comfortable home for themselves.

After 1961 when Edward and Lilian Riley had moved out of the property, it changed ownership many times during the next 27 years. It was used as an antique shop, tea room, and tourist attraction during this time. Unfortunately, its popularity eventually waned and by 1988 the house was nearly derelict and almost lost for good.

Saved By The Snowdonia Society

Bought by the Snowdonia Society in 1988, the listed building was slowly but surely brought back to life by a dedicated group of volunteers and made into a small visitor center, as well as the headquarters of the Snowdonia Society.

A Happy Ending for A Lovely House

From 2012 after the Snowdonia Society moved out to a new office near Llanberis, Ty Hyll (still owned by Snowdonia Society) was refurbished and now accommodates a tea room and honeybee exhibition area. The beautiful garden and woodland area that surrounds the property is used to encourage the local wildlife and also for educational purposes to the many thousands of visitors that visit each year.

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