Compact and Bijou
The Smallest House in Great Britain (Conwy, North Wales)
Member Name: IainWear
The Smallest House in Great Britain (Conwy, North Wales)
Advantages: Fascinating to look around and very cheap
Disadvantages: Not suitable for those with disabilities or mobility issues
Whilst souvenir shopping on Anglesey recently, my girlfriend spotted a Lilliput Lane model of the Smallest House in Great Britain. As her brother is a huge fan of Lilliput Lane models, she picked it up as a gift, wondering aloud whether the real thing was close enough to make a visit possible. It was an attractive little model and she thought it would be a nice touch to also present him with a photo of it so he could see how accurate the model was.
Fortunately, it was, with the Smallest House in Great Britain being on the quay side in the town of Conwy, on the North Wales coast. Conwy is easily reached by road, being on the A55 which runs pretty much the whole way across the North Wales coast, or not far from the A470, which runs the whole length of Wales. This was perfect for us, as we were on the A55 on Anglesey and we were staying in Betws-Y-Coed, which is on the A470.
Whilst it's in a beautiful location, Conwy Quay is not an area you get to see on your way into the town, so you don't get the chance to see it and get your bearings on the way in. Fortunately, being a town very much set up for the tourist trade, there is ample parking, although most of it is on the opposite side of town from the Smallest House. Still, Conwy is only a small town, so very little of this parking is going to be much more than a 10-15 minute walk from the quayside.
Despite its size, you certainly don't miss the Smallest House as you walking down the quayside. It may be tiny, but it's painted bright red. It's attached to the end of a terrace of houses, the last of which is a cottage which has been converted into a shop. The house is smaller than the cottage next to it, but behind it, the town wall towers over it, making it seem even smaller. On the left is a large space which was another terrace of houses until they were demolished, but you can see in old pictures how miniscule it looked in comparison and very much as if the house were originally forced into the gap when it was built. Somewhat amusingly, the chimney of the house is much taller than you would expect, almost the same size as one of the storey's of the house and seems totally out of proportion. I can only assume it was built this way to extend above the roof of the house next door and allow the smoke to disperse when the house was in use.
The house certainly seems to be well cared for, as the brightness of the paint suggests it's touched up fairly frequently. It has two windows on the front, one tiny one next to the door and one upstairs. Various websites suggest that the guide there would be a lady in traditional Welsh costume, but she wasn't there when she visited. I'm not sure if this is because the websites were out of date, or if it was her day off as we visited on a Sunday, but the gentleman who was there was certainly very knowledgeable about the history of the house. Perhaps the most remarkable piece of which is that someone lived there until 1900 and he was 6' 3" tall. Given that the doorway wasn't even tall enough for my 5' 4" girlfriend to walk through without having to mind her head, this tells you the difficulties he must have had.
As pretty as the house looks from the outside, you get to go inside for £1 apiece and this is where it becomes even more remarkable. Unsurprisingly, the house was never connected to main electricity, so it's quite dark and dingy inside, with the only light coming in through the tiny window under the stairs and around the edges of the curtain over the door. As the house can only fit 4 or 5 people at once, you may have to wait to get in, but the gentleman outside was controlling the entrance very well while we were there and was more than happy to answer any number of questions about the house to any and all of us standing and waiting.
Downstairs is what could be called the living room in most houses, but there's not much room to do an awful lot of living in it. As we noticed quite quickly when with 5 people standing inside, there was precious little space to move around in. Down the left hand side are some wooden boxes that double as storage chests and seating and the mantelpiece above the fire and a very small cupboard next to it only just large enough to contain plates is about the only other storage space available. In a world full of gas cookers and microwaves, it seems strange to see a place where the only cooking could have taken place over the fire. That said, modern technology would be helpful in one regard - although the house was last inhabited before the invention of TV, a modern plasma screen would be far more effective here than the old style CRT televisions, for reasons of space.
There are some old pictures of the house on the walls and this is where you can see what the house looked like before the neighbouring terrace was knocked down. This is fascinating as whilst it looks very small now, when you see the house hemmed in on both sides by other houses, it seems even smaller. There are other pictures and a couple of pieces of information about the house and the last inhabitant on the walls here, but in the dim light they can be tough to read and the gentleman outside seemed to have more information and plenty of willingness to share what he knew and it was possible to stand in the sunshine to get this.
Upstairs seems even more remarkable. The "stairs" are effectively just a stepladder and you have to ascend and then turn around, which can be a little tricky, as you're not allowed in the upstairs room. Exactly how you would get in there, though, I'm not entirely sure. My head was virtually touching the ceiling with my feet still 2 or 3 steps below floor level. Once again, the room has been left as it would have been in 1900 or so, with a single bed against one wall and precious little room for anything else. There's no toilet in the house, so an old bed pan can be seen and I couldn't help but wonder how anyone could have lived in this space, but maybe that's a reflection of how much we own these days as much as it is a comment on the cramped conditions. Descending the stairs is another tricky experience, as they are very steep, so coming down face out requires as much care as turning around and coming down backwards would.
As fascinating as the place is to see, it's something of a relief to leave into the wide world. I didn't feel claustrophobic as such, although I can see how it would be possible, but it does make you feel a little hemmed in, especially going back to a hotel room that was bigger than the house. But it's on leaving that you can understand why someone would want to live in the location, if not in the house itself, as the quayside is a beautiful place. Admittedly, much of the view may not have been available in 1900, particularly the part that immediately caught my girlfriend's attention - the ice cream stall. But the view over the river may not have changed an awful lot and that's a lovely view in the sunshine and I would imagine would look even better at sunrise or sunset.
In a world where we live in a way that a lot of importance is placed on the acquisition of "stuff", it's remarkable to be able to witness how little people could actually live with. Although small, it's fascinating to have a look around the house and even though you're only liable to be inside for 10 minutes at most, for only £1, it's well worth a quick look around. Because of the layout and the size, it's not suitable for wheelchair users and anyone with mobility difficulties is going to struggle and will never manage to look at the upper storey, but for anyone else it's a tiny glimpse at a completely different age. If you're not near Conwy, on its own it isn't really worth a detour, but if you happen to be visiting the town - and there are many reasons why you may want to - it shouldn't be missed out of your tour.
Summary: A tiny house, at a tiny price, but a lot of interest