The Clom Built Houses of Hook

Article Number Two in Hook History Society’s Lockdown Series.

In the early days Hook miners and their families lived in, by today’s standards, absolutely appalling conditions. The mine owners adopted a most cavalier attitude to the workers’ well being and it was common knowledge that when the price of coal dropped it was wages that took the hit not the profits. How the miners and their families survived it does sadly appear was of little consequence to the owners of old.

In fact, in 1795 a large crowd of Hook miners accompanied by their women folk rioted in the county town of Haverfordwest and were only prevented from seizing a food laden sloop moored at the Quay by armed and ready to fire militia. The soldiers confronted the protesters after the Riot Act had been formally read.

Miners lived in houses made of clom......a Nordic word for earth or mud.

The building would start with a low foundation of stone and layers of mud, clay, straw and bramble. The walls were often four or five feet thick and little more than five feet in height with thatched roofs.

Gradually, although the clom remained, conditions somewhat improved albeit only painfully slowly. In the early 1900’s local authorities became more aware of the appalling conditions under which the miners lived, and pressure was put on the Colliery owners to embark upon improvements.

The Clom Built Houses of Hook

The picture above is the home of Mrs Peggy Colnet and is situated directly opposite the village school. About this time quite a number of houses in the village had corrugated iron roofing replaced with slate only for the builders to find huge quantities of ancient thatch which had more or less turned to dust.

The Clom Built Houses of Hook

Above is a home clad entirely in corrugate iron (zinc). This is the last remaining in the area and is situated on the Hook to Llangwm road at Deerland. At one time there were several in the locality.

Many cottages were condemned as unfit for human habitation by the then Haverfordwest Rural District Council   which only  came into existence with the passing of the Local Government Act of 1894.Twenty years after the establishment of local authorities later there was uproar in the County when the Mine owners served notice to quit on any tenant who did not work in the Hook colliery so that miners living in the Council condemned hovels could be rehoused. Some men had opted to work in the Royal Naval Dockyard at Pembroke Dock or in south Wales collieries were the pay was significantly better.

The situation is well recorded in the Haverfordwest and Milford Telegraph of March 1914:


Much indignation was expressed at Hook on Monday on receipt of notices to quit in all cases where the husbands work at Pembroke Dockyard or at collieries outside the county. It is supposed that the notices to quit are in consequence of the large number of houses that have been condemned in the district by Haverfordwest Rural Council. A number of men work in collieries in Carmarthenshire and Glamorganshire because of the higher wages available and prefer to allow their wives and families to live in a healthy rural district. By getting rid of these families it is hoped that accommodation will be found for those remaining in houses that are approved by the Sanitary authority. Preference is thus given to those employed by the Hook Colliery. There is no complaint that rent has not been paid and the discrimination is most unusual. Hook is one of the few rural districts that has not become depopulated in recent years, and the modern tendency of continuing to live in the country while working in the big towns is encouraged by all who are concerned with the welfare of the nation. A large number of tenants are affected in Hook and applications for houses for those under notice will probably be made to the District present the District Council propose to only erect two houses in the parishes.......a ridiculous under estimate. The Hook properties belong to Mr Harcourt Powell.

There are still cottages in Hook today that have areas where the original clom walls have been retained and were originally topped with a thatched roof.

A significant change came about when corrugated iron (zinc) replaced the thatch......almost invariably the metal simply covered the thatch. In the late 1960’s to early 70’s many of the homes were significantly improved and as a result the corrugated iron was replaced with slate. Builders were confronted with vast amounts of ancient thatch which had more or less turned to dust.

The Clom Built Houses of Hook

Above is Penrhos Cottage which is run by the Pembrokeshire County Council as a museum.

The Clom Built Houses of Hook

Above is a typical clom built Hook Cottage which was originally built in Lower Quay Road. It appeared on the 1871 census was demolished in the 1960’s and is now the scene of a modern bungalow occupied by Mr and Mrs Ray Miles.

Often cited as one of the best examples of a clom cottage in West Wales is the Penrhos Cottage near Maenclochog, which now has museum status and is owned and administered by Pembrokeshire County Council. Although of superior quality to many of the Hook cottages of that period it is well worth a visit if you are in that area. Naturally we    will have to wait until the current restrictions are lifted but may be a day out to look forward to. Traditional furniture and fittings are displayed inside including a most interesting cupboard bed. Reputedly the cottage was originally a ty unnos, or one-night house, and one of the last to be built in Pembrokeshire. In some instances, the building of a home during the night is referred to as a moonlight cottage.

According to tradition if a man, aided by his family and friends, built a cottage on common land between the hours of sunset and sunrise, and had smoke coming from the chimney within that time, he then acquired legal right both to the dwelling and the land within an axe throw of it. Afterwards to was possible to improve and erect a more substantial building. The Penrhos cottage was built in 1849 and more detail can be obtained via the web.