Tan House Farm, Mill Street, Caerleon

Mill Street has probably seen more changes in the last century than any other part of 'Old Caerleon'. Unfortunately several interesting buildings have been demolished, which, had they been preserved, would have made walking or driving the complete circuit of the village more rewarding. Among these are Cambria House and Tanhouse Farm.

Top left, photo of Tanhouse Farm taken some time around 1958. Jennette Davies, stands by the gateway in the 'new wall'.

Above, impression by local artist, Wilfred Wilson, of how the farm appeared when it had a large front garden as in the 1920 plan, left. This could explain why John Jenkins had to build the big bow in the Mynde wall opposite the farm.

We spoke to Molly Davies about her memories of the Farm. Molly was born in Dowlais and moved to Tanhouse at the age of two when her father, Morgan Davies, took it over from her grandfather, John Williams.

In her younger years Molly helped with the housework. However, later, when the family grew up and moved away, she became more involved with the farm work. She well remembers milking the cows in the morning and then driving them, single-handed, through the middle of Caerleon and down the Broadway to Broadway Farm and the racecourse to graze. Then, at the end of the day, she would bring them back to the farm for milking. The racecourse, the fields adjacent to Broadway and Tanhouse Farm were all part of the Mackworth estate rented by Mr Morgan Davies. "I can remember the names of everybody in Mill Street," Molly said, "I used to sell them milk. They would bring a jug and I would fill it with a ladle."

Before the War, Mill Street was very quiet; nearly all of the traffic travelled through High Street, which was then 'two way'. During the War, there was a lot of military activity in Caerleon. Soldiers were stationed here which meant the 'toing and froing' of many vehicles - including ones for producing a smokescreen. These were driven to Newport every evening to throw up a thick dark cloud - Molly thinks the smoke was produced by burning oil.

In 1943 a tragic accident occurred in the congested High Street. A teacher from Dover High School for Girls, who was evacuated to Caerleon along with her pupils, was knocked from her cycle and killed. The local authority, seeing that something had to be done to ease the traffic congestion, trialled a one way system. Traffic travelled up High Street and then returned to Newport down Mill Street. (Sixty years later the same system is still in operation. It's hard to imagine how High Street coped with two way traffic - especially as Caerleon was then on the main route from South Wales to the Midlands.)

In order to make Mill Street safe, the road by Tanhouse Farm was widened. The low stone wall, and high hedge in front of the farm were removed and the wall rebuilt as in the photograph at the top of the page. Until then the farm had a large semi-circular front garden. Molly's sister, Jennett is pictured standing by the gateway. One of the gateposts may still form part of the wall facing Mill Street, the rest of the wall has been moved back in line with it in order to allow space for a pavement. The photograph was taken around 1958. Notice how the gateway is recessed into the wall, and the lack of a pavement.

Painting of the rear of the farm in 1953. The artist's signature is difficult to read, but appears to be something like A E Martin.

The watercolour above, painted in 1953, shows the back of the farm. "The house was all doors," reminisced Molly, "but we never had a key. There was always somebody there." To the left we can see the cowshed with the hayloft above. The stable, to the right, had 'the ring' outside. This contraption used horse power to drive the chaff cutter inside the stable. The chaff was fed to the horses and cows; for the horses it was cut into quarter to half inch lengths, cow chaff was longer.

The area has not been used for tanning leather for a long time. Molly believes it was used for this purpose in the seventeenth century. "In what we called The Orchard, during the Summer when the grass dried, you could see the pattern of the walls around the pits. The duck pond at the lower end of the orchard was in one of these pits. It was full of springs down there. They needed plenty of water for making leather. We had a water cress bed there. Cress love running water."

Molly recalled how, during the War, Mr Squash, the surveyor and architect, asked residents to notify him if they had springs on their land. Presumably contingency plans were being made in case the water mains were damaged by enemy bombs. Her father duly reported one particular spring which produced clear, ice cold, water. "The council came and dug down. They found a square grating with sand all around it. Water was gushing out. They analysed it and declared it absolutely pure. A little higher up they found a round culvert made of stonework."

Molly remembers seeing the ruins of the old mill nearby. This derived its water-power from a leat which was fed from the Afon Llwyd in Ponthir. After turning the water wheel at the Caerleon Forge the leat then led on down under the railway line at the end of the cutting, running parallel to the route of the old Tram Road. Once it had driven the Mill in Caerleon the water ran back into the river below the farm.

The mill at the bottom of Llanhennock Hill still worked in those days - owned by 'Evans the Mill'. Cecil, one of Molly's brothers, used to take corn there to be ground into feed for the animals when he was still in school. He would hitch the float to the pony and  take five or six cwt of corn returning with the same amount from the previous trip. Molly remembers a big mill pond there. She regularly walked past it on her two mile walk, up to Llanhennock Church on Sunday evenings.

Tanhouse Farm was demolished while Molly was away in Scarborough in the mid 1960s. She has since been told that Mr Higgs bought it and got planning permission to build on the site. "This is what I've been told, not what I remember," she said. "Mr Keggie, the planning officer refused, but while he was away his deputy gave permission. After demolition started, the authority looked at it… but it was too late, by then it was unsafe."

We checked this information with Mr Doug Burnell Higgs, son of Mr Frank Burnell Higgs. He confirmed that his father bought the farm at auction in the early sixties and obtained planning permission to develop the site. However, the estimated costs proved to be too high so he sold the site by auction. It was bought by the builder Franklin. It seems that as the land was being cleared a bulldozer
ran away and accidentally crashed into the House making it unsafe and so it was demolished.

Tanhouse Drive now stands on the spot. The farm has gone, but at least its name lives on. Next time you drive by spare a thought for the farmhouse, which for centuries stood there.

"It was all doors… but we never had a key … there was always somebody there."


You can now read Molly Davies' recollections of Caerleon when she was ten: Caerleon Remembered


Sadly Molly died in October 2006.

Right, Wilfred Wilson's sketch of the side of the farm, made from an original painting dated 1948.

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