Did you think tiny houses were a new idea? The current small-house movement began in the 1970s and is based on the idea of having only what you need and living in the smallest amount of space necessary. But apparently, the idea is not a new one. In Conwy, North Wales stands the smallest house in Britain – and it was built in the 16th century!
The Smallest House in Britain
We recently had a chance to visit this little house which faces the waterfront. It measures 6 ft. wide, 10 ft. deep, and 10 ft. high. But I don’t think this house was built for downsizing purposes nor for limiting consumption of resources. Those weren’t really problems faced by most people in the 16th century. This house was simply built to fill in a bit of empty space between two other houses.
It seems that the old city wall that ran along the harbour had 3 towers: one in the middle and one at each end. A row of houses was started from the tower on the right, and another row was started from the tower on the left. When they reached the center tower, there was a space left. Some enterprising 16th-century person looked at that space and said, “Hey, that’s almost a house. All it needs is a roof and a front wall.” The space was small, so the house was small.
As you would imagine, the interior is quite compact: just one room down and one room up. The downstairs room has a small fireplace for heating and cooking. A bench serves as seating, and the lid lifts to reveal a coal storage box. The only other furniture is a small table for eating. The walls are hung with pictures just like in any home.
At some point, running water was added, and a tap was tucked in behind the ladder which provides access to the upper room. To go to the bedroom, you would have to climb the ladder that goes up through a trap door in the ceiling. Once you were upstairs, you could close the trap door for extra floor space. The room holds a long single bed and a little dresser. And that’s all there is to this little house.
Who Lived Here?
So, who could have lived in this humble house? Since the 16th century, many people – even families with children have lived in this tiny space. It was inhabited up until 1900. At that time, a very tall fisherman was renting it. He was 6 ft. 3 in. tall, so he wouldn’t even have been able to stand up inside.
It’s Unfit – Tear it Down
In 1900 this house and a row of houses that stood to the left of it were declared unfit for habitation. When the inspector came to check whether the house was habitable, the tall occupant had to step outside so the inspector could go in.
Aside from being tiny, it was probably declared unfit because it had no toilet facilities. At one time, there was a row of houses to the left of this little house, and a communal toilet served them all. But the other houses and the lavatory facilities were demolished in 1900.
It’s the Smallest – Save It
After the house was condemned, it was supposed to be torn down. But the owner had a friend who was the editor of the local newspaper, and the editor had an idea. He suspected that this little place might just be the smallest house in Britain. So, he put an ad in the newspaper asking people to inform him of the smallest houses they knew about.
Then the two men (the newspaper editor and the owner of the little house) travelled around the country with their measuring tapes to measure them all. According to their measurements, the Conwy house was indeed the smallest. It was even recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records. And so, being a world record holder saved Britain’s smallest house from destruction… or was it something else?
The little house in Conwy has a chimney with a bar built across the top of it. It’s what is known as a witch chimney. According to superstition, these chimneys were built so that witches passing by on their brooms would have a place to land and catch a breather. Houses that provided a resting place for the witches were supposed to have good fortune and never be torn down. So perhaps that’s why the little house is still standing.
Today it’s a Tourist Attraction
Today the enchanting little house is painted an eye-catching, bright red. The house has been in the same family at least since the 1800s. It has been passed down through the female line, and the ladies run it as a business. During opening hours, there is usually a woman dressed in old-fashioned costume standing outside waiting for tourists. People are asked to pay the grand sum of £1.50 as an entrance fee. For that you get to go inside and have a look around while a short, recorded history of the house plays. If you are brave enough, you can climb the ladder and peek through the trap door to have a look upstairs.
You’ll wonder how anyone could live in such a small space. It might make you appreciate your own home more, or it might make you think you could live with less space. Either way, I’m pretty sure you’ll want to have your photo taken in front of Britain’s smallest house.
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