Tŷ Siamas is housed in one of Dolgellau’s grandest buildings. The centre opened in 2007 after securing European grant funding to transform a rapidly dilapidating building into a modern multi-purpose facility. During the decade the Centre has staged performances by some of Wales’ and the world’s foremost artistes. Our recording facilities have been used to produce two Welsh ‘cd of the year’ by the bands Plu and Candelas. The Centre offers lessons on various musical instruments.
History of the Building
The grand building that houses Tŷ Siamas was built in approximately 1870 on the site of the old market place on Dolgellau Square. It was built originally as a Market Hall and Assembly Rooms in the Victorian Age. There is no information regarding who designed or built the hall, but some believe that it was an Italian architect who designed the place because of its distinctive arches on the two public facades of the building – on the Eastern and Southern facades. Today there are two arcades along these sides, but it is probable that these were not part of the original design because there are signs that walls and/or gates had filled in the arches originally.
Start of 20th Century
During the First World War the building was used for storing grain. Then between the wars it was developed as a cinema. It is likely that it was in this period that the public gallery was introduced on the eastern side of the Hall, with a meeting room built on the second floor. It is possible that it was in this period that the building lost its use as a Market Hall.
In 1949 the Royal National Eisteddfod was held in Dolgellau. That is when they changed the name of the building to Neuadd Idris. There were several developments within the building at that time as they prepared for the Eisteddfod.
It is likely that it was during this period that they introduced the wide staircase that welcomes visitors even today to the building. There was also a new, wider stage on the western end; new entrances opened to the main hall; new toilets on the ground floor, as well as many other changes.
1950’s – 1990’s
For most of the rest of the 20th Century the Hall was used as a popular dance hall for people from far and wide. In the 50s and 60s it was a popular folk dancing venue. Then from the 70s onwards it became popular for discos, gigs and concerts. DADS, the Dolgellau Amateur Dramatic Society performed at the hall; numerous public and political meetings were held there; political announcements such as Dafydd Elis Thomas’ election in 1974 were also declared from the old Hall. The first Sesiwn Fawr was held in Neuadd Idris in 1992.
Unfortunately the building fell into disuse and in August 2000 the last public event was held there, the aptly titled ‘Last Waltz’. Though the building was used for the filming of S4C TV movie Eldra, it was not publicly used again until Tŷ Siamas was opened in June 2007.
So who was the man who gave his name to Tŷ Siamas?
Although the reputation of Elis Siôn Siamas of Llanfachreth lives on to this day, very little is known about the man or his work. It is quite clear that he was a harpist of considerable stature. An account given by Iolo Morgannwg (d. 1826) of a visit in 1800 to the Golden Lion tavern in Dolgellau mentions an encounter with many harp and crwth instrumentalists. They told him that Siamas was the first person to make a triple harp and that he had been harpist to Queen Anne (d. 1714). Iolo goes on to say ‘They were all of them in complete agreement about the story, such as it was well known to all, and therefore cannot be doubted.’ Although Morgannwg himself is notorious as a myth-maker and falsifier of historical documents, his account of Siamas may have a basis in fact; two anonymous Welsh verses make reference to him as follows:
My purpose is to show respect to Elis Siôn Siamas, A grand dignified harpist, good and amiable. He is the head musician in the whole of Wales for tunes and for singing. God shared with him a virtue. (1700)
Elis Shon Siamas is Better his purpose Than Richard Elias, by a long shot. (1705)
Did You Know? Siamas is today acknowledged as the first musician to build a triple harp in Wales. It is believed that his descendants still live in the Dolgellau area.