St John’s House is a Grade II* listed building and, we believe, Bridgend’s oldest habitable house. It preserves a structural integrity not often seen in domestic dwellings of the late medieval/early post medieval period in Wales.
It belongs to a class of buildings known as hearth-passage houses, which have a main hall and fireplace backing onto a central passage that divides the house into two units.
A number of alterations have been made and extensions added to the front and the rear over the years, some of which have since been removed.
The original porch and the corners of the main building have quoins of Quarella stone and most of the doorframes throughout the house are of Sutton stone, both are types of local stone.
As we step up into the porch, we see evidence of the floor having been lowered, giving the impression of two-level seats, whereas the lower is actually the original floor level.
This leads from front to back connecting both sides of the house as well as the upper floors. On the left hand wall are the two stone plaques which suggest an ecclesiastical purpose. They represent a Christogram and an eagle with a croix pattée. The plaques were originally fixed to the outside of the house and were brought into the hallway to protect them. Off to the right are two small service rooms which now house our shop and toilet.
The intramural stairs to the upper floor are encased within the walls and lit through a small arched window carved from a single block of stone.
The Great Hall is an impressive room with a ceiling that is significantly highef than you would expect from a domestic building of this period. The central beam is carved in linenfold design and the side beams are crenelated, all of which is intended to impress. The large hearth has herringbone tiling at the back and what we believe to be the remains of a bread oven to the left.
Across the room we have a built-in cupboard most likely intended for food storage. To the left of the fireplace is a further intramural staircase.
Giving onto the Great Hall at the front, we have a small room thought to have been added, together with the room above, some time after the house was built, possibly indicating a change of use after the Reformation.
To the back of the Great Hall we have the kitchen, added in the 18th century with none of the decorative flourish of the Great Hall. It has a low ceiling, a small fireplace, a copper for heating water and a coffin drop for manoeuvring furniture between floors.
The floors upstairs are all timbered, none of them flat, reflecting the House’s great age and many alterations.
The Great Chamber is a similar size to the Great Hall, with very similar features, a large hearth and decorated beams. The lower ceiling allows us to see traces of the 16th century carpenter who finished the pattern on the beams, and on the massive fireplace there are witches’ marks.
To the left of the staircase is a garderobe, basically a toilet which would probably have had an opening to the outside.
On the other side of the room is door arch into the Solar, which sits above the exhibition space and formed part of an early addition to the building. The small window near the floor on the left would have formed the upper window of the arched porch, when the house was first built.
To the right of the Solar is a ramp up to the Gallery. This room is open to the roof and gives a sense of how tall the building actually is. The staircase from the Great Hall comes out on the right hand wall and, at the back of the room is a step down into a storeroom above the kitchen, again simply rendered with no decoration.
In the corner of the Great Chamber is a third, narrow, steep intramural staircase leading to a second floor room which has an enormous roof beam across the middle of the room where we can see at close hand how the roof trusses were constructed.