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Vital repairs underway at Britain's best-preserved Victorian workhouse

By Sue Austin | Llanfyllin | News | Published:

Vital repairs are finally underway at Y Dolydd, the old Union Workhouse at Llanfyllin.

The courtyard after restoration

Work to re-roof the building has been taking place this winter while the resident colony of long-eared bats is not roosting and, by Easter, a 'cupola' should crown the roof.

The workhouse bell, stolen during years of dereliction, will ring out once more, a replacement donated by local resident Mrs Decia Blacker.

For more than a century Y Dolydd housed poor or homeless families and is now Britain's best-preserved example of the classic Victorian workhouse and the only one in Wales open to the public.

At its heart stands the Master’s House from which the Workhouse Master and his wife the Matron supervised up to 200 inmates. While the ground floor houses a café-bar, the first floor remained disused, and on the second ceilings were collapsing and the roof was leaking.

The courtyard before restoration

The Llanfyllin Dolydd Building Preservation Trust was formed to save it and took on the derelict and vandalised building in 2004.

John Hainsworth said the trust's first priority was to get the building back into use and it now houses 17 workshops and studios, a 24-bed bunkhouse, gallery, second-hand bookshop, an escape room, venue to hire, and the Workhouse History Centre - Wales’s first workhouse museum.

The grounds are used for small-scale music festivals, horse shows and ecological activities.

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"All this has been done with the help of volunteers or, when funds allowed, of local craftsmen," said John.

Sketch of the new cupola

He said the three-storey Master’s House with its complex roof structure posed a different challenge.

"Scaffolding alone would cost more than a year’s maintenance and grants would be needed," he added.

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"The cost of repairing the roof and reinstating its historic cupola was estimated at £40,000 to £50,000, with more needed for internal works."

Workers repairing the roof

Grants came from The Pilgrim Trust, Garfield Weston Foundation and Powys Community Regeneration Fund,while the Architectural Heritage Fund helped to pay for designs and consents.

"Over £8,000 was raised locally and online and the National Lottery Heritage Fund offered £31,000 on condition that the project incorporated educational and community activities," said John.

"Mid-winter isn’t the time most people would plan to remove a roof. But a colony of long- eared bats occupy the roof space during the summer and their needs had to be assessed over time and licences obtained before work could begin."

The leaking ceiling

Local companies involved in the work have included roofers Richard Stephenson from Llanrhaeadr whose team have stripped the roof, repaired rafters, repointed stonework and repaired windows. Re-slating will start soon.

"A fine classical cupola to crown the roof has been designed by architect Richard Payne from old photographs to replace a turret put up in the 1960s, built by local carpenter Andrew Dunn and part-funded by Cadw," added John.

"The visitor trail around the Workhouse building is closed while work is in progress, but the History Centre, the bunkhouse and escape room are open. The building will also be open this summer for weddings and other events.

"Restoration will remain ongoing and funds are still required to develop the upper floors and install modern services, including a lift to make the building fully accessible. More volunteers are always needed."

Sue Austin

By Sue Austin
Chief Reporter

Chief reporter of the Oswestry/Mid Wales office. Keen to hear your news.

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