Tŷ Unnos: The One Night House

 In south-west Wales, in Pembrokeshire, near the village of Llanisefan, there is a small stone cottage. Legend has it that the hut was built in a single night in the tradition of tŷ unnos, which translates to "house in one night" in English. According to this centuries-old tradition, anyone who could build a dwelling on common land between dusk and dawn could claim the land and the house. Variations on the tradition hold that a fire should light at the first light in the hearth, and smoke should rise from the chimney. It is quoted that the occupier could also extend the land around the house to the distance of an ax throw from the four corners of the house.

Although tŷ unnos has no legal basis, it was common in Wales and Britain between the 17th and 19th centuries. During this period, many landowners annexed their properties into large, privately owned farms, displacing the people who lived and earned their livelihood on that land. Pushed to the margins, many farmers adopted the tradition of building homes under the cover of darkness in hopes of outwitting their greedy overlords.

There are many villages in rural Britain where you will find houses built overnight, which according to local folklore are identified as squatters' huts. The house would originally have been built from a mixture of mud, clay, turf and straw. Any other material will require more effort and more time.

The process would have begun with the squatter's family and their friends gathering construction materials and bringing them to the site, ready to begin as soon as the sun dipped below the horizon. Working through the night, they erected four simple walls and a thatched roof. Non-essential elements such as windows would be added later, but a door was needed to secure the entrance. Then, as dawn was breaking, a fire was lit on the hearth, and the smoke rising from the chimney was evidence that the work was completed and a new house had been established.

Once the family's claim to the land was established, the house would be gradually rebuilt from stronger materials such as stone and slate. So while there are many cottages that were built according to the tŷ unnos tradition, there are no surviving original examples.

Penrhos Cottage in Pembrokeshire is an example of a tŷ unnos building. This two-room house once served as home to generations of families, before being abandoned. It was purchased by the local authority in the 1970s and converted into a museum. Llanfaddin Cottage, built in 1762 at Rostryfan, Gwynedd, is another example of T Unnos. It has been functioning as a museum since 1962. The last known tŷ unnos was built in Flintshire in 1882 by four brothers from Lancashire. A fictional account of their adventure appears in Oliver Onions's 1914 novel Mushroom Town.

The concept of the One Night House is not limited to Wales. Similar customs and folklore exist in Ireland, Italy, France and Turkey. For example, in eastern France, it was generally understood that everyone had the right to expropriate a portion of the commune's land to build a house between sunset and sunrise. Young members of poor families would sometimes spend the whole winter with their family and friends in preparing the woodwork of their house, and then one fine night when everything was ready, the family would set off with great haste into the wasteland. Used to be assembled on a piece of. The entire house will be erected from the wooden threshold to the thatched roof.

A similar tradition also exists in Türkiye. In the capital city Istanbul, about half the population lives in a gessekondu – a temporary dwelling built quickly, usually in a single night. Author Robert Neuwirth details in his book "Shadow Cities" how these illegal settlers take advantage of legal loopholes, stating that if construction begins after dusk, illegal occupation occurs before dawn the next day. When the builders move into the finished house without attracting the attention of the authorities, the authorities are prevented from demolishing the building the next day. Instead, they should initiate legal proceedings in court, which would make encroachers more likely to retain possession.

The origins of this remarkably widespread folktale are difficult to trace. There is a Welsh tribal law that states that every free man has the right to "cultivate several pieces of land" upon his marriage, and a tie-unnos is created when a young person marries. Similarly, Old Norse laws provided that each man had the right to build for himself a skete (dwelling on upland ground for summer use), and to take up land as far as he could throw his knife. .

According to various scholars, this tradition may have originated from old Germanic law, or Roman law, or Ottoman law, or even Indo European law. In fact, no one knows clearly where this ancient subversive legend came from.

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