Prize Fights, Ghosts and a Mouse's Tale; TYNLLAN: Village's Oldest House Is a Treasure Trove of History, Stories and Mementos of a Bygone Age

Article excerpt


IT'S not often that on answering the call of nature one sees a polite note on the toilet door informing the potential user that a mouse is in residence in the room!

But that's what happened to me during my visit to a fascinating house in the village of Llanelltyd near the Gwynedd town of Dolgellau.

Tynllan is the oldest house in the village, with parts of the house dating back to the 16th Century.

At one time it was an old tavern. Later, in the 19th Century it was the location for Sunday prize fights, with the contestants fighting with their bare fists. Taking part were many of the Cornishmen who had come to the Mawddach valley to mine for gold.

Back to the mouse, and luckily for me, the furry four-legged friend in question (a baby mouse abandoned by the road and rescued by house owner Sonja Benskin-Mesher) had decided the smallest room in the house wasn't a suitable residence for a mouse of his upbringing and stature, and had made a run for it, never to be seen again.

Although Sonja did tell me that she once saw a mouse in the kitchen, which seems to be a much more suitable lodging house for a hungry mouse.

Indeed, while wandering around this treasure trove, I saw many other mice, together with teddy bears, dolls, children's toys - you name it, it's here!

"It's stuff I've accumulated over the years, " explains Sonja, who shares the home with husband Philip.

"My mother was either a minimalist or we were poor! She didn't have many ornaments. But I've gathered things around me. I see things when I'm out and buy them! I'm fascinated by children's toys and childhood in general. I like old fashioned, useful toys."

She also likes old fashioned things around her - in the kitchen (where they cook on a 50s Belling cooker and use saucepans which our grandmothers used), the bathroom (hung with Mabel Lucie Atwell pictures of round faced children above the bath), the bedrooms (where old clothes, shoes, pictures and eiderdowns abound).

It's a bit like walking into a time capsule and rediscovering some of the pleasures of the past.

Since Tynllan reflects this charming couple's love for times gone by, it's no surprise to learn that in their previous life in Bournemouth, they were involved in antiques and were regulars at car boot sales.

Philip also worked as a musician while Sonja worked for BT, in the Accounts Department.

Since coming to Llanelltyd they've let their creative juices flow. Philip is interested in wood carving while Sonja has fulfilled a dream to follow an advanced GNVQ art course at nearby Coleg Meirion Dwyfor.

"It was wonderful. We had the best tutors - Cefyn Burgess, Catrin Williams, Mary Wells. …