A medieval Welsh hall house

Annie McKay and John Marchant’s passion for 17th and 18th-century oak furniture is evident in their medieval Welsh hall house. Feature Sian Williams. Photographs Brent Darby

Published: June 30th, 2022 at 8:30 am

'Antiques have always played a big part in my life,’ says former antiques restorer Annie McKay, explaining that as a child she enjoyed mooching about antiques warehouses and fairs, and she bought her first ‘antique’ – an early 1960s Scottie Wilson Royal Worcester slipware pottery plate – when she was just 10 years old.


This passion prompted her to train as a gilder, which is how she met her partner, John Marchant, a furniture restorer. Over the years the couple have developed a particular interest in 17th and 18th-century oak furniture.

‘I used to admire the early oak furniture displayed in the window of Christie’s auction house, which was close to where I worked,’ says Annie, adding that it wasn’t until they moved to their 15th-century Welsh hall house that they really started to collect in earnest.

Their move to the Welsh borders was pure chance says Annie. ‘We discovered the area while on a trip to visit a Land Rover dealer. We were a bit early, so we drove west and ended up here!’ They loved the area so much that they kept returning until finally making the move in 1998.

Set in an idyllic spot overlooking the Wye Valley, within reach of Builth Wells, Brecon and Hay-on-Wye, the house was a rare find and, although they knew it was special, the couple had no idea of its age and history. ‘It’s a medieval hall house, built in 1402 and officially the oldest house in Wales,’ says Annie.

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According to the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, it was possibly built for Henry IV as a hunting lodge. Clues to its high status can be seen in one of the bedrooms, which has a ‘cruck frame’, and the huge bressumer beam in the living room fireplace – the vast piece of oak would have been beyond the means of all but the wealthiest landowners.

The house has a Grade II*-listing, which restricted any architectural alterations, so Annie and John focused their efforts on undoing the previous owners’ ‘so-called improvements’. Keen to reveal the structure of the house, they pulled down the false ceilings to expose the ancient beams and scraped layers of newspaper from the walls to reveal the original ‘raddle’, a ‘paint’ made from pigs’ blood and used by farmers to mark their sheep.

When it came to furnishing the house, the couple were fortunate to find they had excellent antiques shops, auction houses and fairs on their doorstep in Hay-on-Wye, a favourite local haunt.

Builth Wells holds a fair twice a year, which is always a good source of Welsh furniture, and it has allowed Annie and John to incorporate traditional Welsh folk art into the mix.

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Today, their home, which they also run as a B&B, is not only filled with the beautiful 17th and 18th-century oak furniture they have been collecting for many years, but also fine examples of 18th and 19th-century samplers, tapestries and quilts.

Annie’s love of textiles extends to more contemporary designs which she enjoys using in combination with their antique counterparts, layering 20th-century needlepoint rugs with quirkier 21st-century designs.

Annie says she enjoys adding a touch of the unpredictable to the mix, such as the dramatic flocked wallpaper in the bathroom. ‘I don’t know why, but I love ravens and bats,’ she says. ‘They aren’t to everyone’s taste, but they definitely suit the house and its era.’

Elsewhere, there are various unexpected pieces of taxidermy, such as a small dog in the sitting room, and on every window sill and shelf there are groupings of curious and intriguing objects from a splendid Georgian carved wooden peacock in the sitting room, to the metal skeletons in the bathroom.

But although the house is filled with amazing things, the couple’s relaxed approach to their collecting and to the decor ensures that it doesn’t feel like a museum. ‘We’ve taken a lot of pleasure in finding things for our home,’ says Annie. ‘Letting it gradually evolve over time.’ For Annie and John there’s nothing more satisfying than finding something special at a car boot sale under torch light in the middle of a field or winning the final bid in an auction. ‘It’s such an exciting and unique way to shop,’ laughs Annie.

The couple share their enthusiasm for their home with their guests, who are free to explore the house and admire its treasures, and are treated to historical stories about the house and the area at the breakfast table. Although there’s no more the couple can do to the house structurally as it’s heavily listed, the interior is forever evolving.


‘We love being here,’ says Annie. ‘I often imagine the people that have lived here in the past, when it was a hunting lodge. My imagination can get really carried away!’ To book a stay at Annie and John’s B&B visit hafodygarreg.co.uk.


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