The Olde Country Cottage
A heroic generalisation might be that if you squint you might see a few medieval details in a very limited number of buildings, but most of the oldest houses in the villages in and around the northern Home Counties probably originated in the 1600s, i.e. around the time of time of the reigns of the Kings James & Charles. Many more originated in the Georgian period that followed in the 1700s. (I tested this assumption by checking numerous listed building records for a selection of local villages. A link to these records is in the postscript). The pic below is Cordwainers in Long Crendon, thought to be a mish-mash of parts from over three centuries.
In the better houses, animals were kept in outhouses. The end of the hall could be used for a second storey, accessed by a ladder or stairs, to create more private spaces. New houses might even be built with an upper floor and jettying became fashionable. Fire hoods and, later, chimneys controlled the smoke. Where waxed cloths had once covered the window holes, shutters were used and the better off might enjoy the luxury and light from some glass.-, perhaps pillaged after the dissolution of the monasteries! The diagram below shows the layout of the larger hall house pictured above.
|Upper Floor with Jettying
In terms of common 'improvements', wattle and daub external walls have usually been rendered or even replaced to improve weatherproofing and durability. Sometimes rubble walls received the same treatment and in either case, this hides much of the structure. The pic below is Dinton in Buckinghamshire but the 'type' is omnipresent. These are probably 17th / 18th c. cottages built with rubble and wychert which is a mix of white chalk, clay and straw unique to that area. As you can, the white rendering makes it hard to discern the original external features.
Cruck frames don't lend themselves to multi-storey houses because it is hard to find large enough timbers and restrict the roof shape. So as houses expanded in the Jacobin period their use was increasingly restricted to outbuildings. So if you see a cruck frame it either points to a genuinely old house or a converted barn! In a similar vein, long rectangular buildings sometimes point to an origin as a hall house. 'Cordwainers' in the piece earlier has a relic cruck frame buried in the structure of the left-hand side only.
- Some examples with photographs
- More on materials and structures
- Suggested places to visit
- Where you can find detailed information on individual buildings.
- More on stuff you can no longer see.
This post adds to the detail in its predecessor.
What came before the cottages?
Is there anything left that pre-dates the buildings referred to there? The Romans left some traces. I referred to these in my post (Link) Bronze & Iron . And I have pointed to some recreations of the huts of people from the stone age to the Saxons in my post (Link) Britons to Saxons. Beyond that the answer is no. The Britons and early English didn't live in places that had much chance of surviving. Timber rots, mud walls collapse and useful stones are reused. What we know about them is mostly deduced from buried stones and the traces of post holes in the ground.
So I start here in the later Medieval period which lasted from the Plantagenets, the inspiration for 'Game of Thrones', until 1485 when they were elbowed out of power by the Tudors and Richard III carelessly mislaid his corpse in a Leicester car park. You will see lots of churches and some manors and castles still recognisably that old albeit much altered. Quite simply, they were built to last. The houses of the common folk were usually not, but the style didn't change much over the period and the Hangleton House and other older buildings at the Weald and Downland Museum will give you some idea.
Here is a real world example. At Raddun, near West Overton on the Marlborough Downs, archaeologists identified the hillside site of the stone-built dwelling of ‘Richard’ who was probably a herdsman later in the 1200s. It would have been a simple long-house. All that is left of it now is crop marks and some buried stonework but from this, they deduced that on entering, humans would have turned right and animals left. After he died, perhaps around 1280, his son built a new house nearby in which a solid partition divided the living area from a barn and the animals were in outhouses. Progress!
If you want to try a bit of medieval DIY there is a guide here: Link: Build your own Hovel
Examples & Places to Visit
Tudor period houses are quite unusual hereabouts, and examples in anything like their original condition are hen's teeth. If you want to see some survivors I suggest you look outside the Home Counties, for instance at Lacock in Wiltshire or Lavenham in Suffolk. The latter in particular used to be rolling in money from the wool trade, which might explain the quality of the old buildings.
Confessions: On the bike trips, I haven't been recording places with this post in mind. So I intend to add better examples in the future, particularly in East Herts and Oxon. Meanwhile, if you want to have a look at some older buildings the villages to the north of the Aylesbury Vale seem to be a good bet. Long Crendon, Chearsley and Haddenham all have strings of houses dating back to the 1600s and 1700s although much altered. In Long Crendon in particular there are quite a few cruck framed buildings and many in Haddenham and aroundabout are rendered with wychert. (See my Metroland cycle route).
Here is an example:
Sycamore Farm at 9, Bicester Road in Long Crendon in Bucks started out in around 1205 as a timber framed house. Some of that still exists, and it is thought to be the oldest surviving dwelling of its type in Britain or perhaps even in Europe. It originally consisted of a central hall with a kitchen and bedroom on either side. Bits were chopped and changed over time and a second storey was added in the 1600s. Progress! But you would be hard-pressed to tell that from the outside. The original fabric is now sandwiched between a brick skin added in the 1700’s and hundreds of years of added plaster.
In Long Crendon, you will also find the 'Old Courthouse', owned by the National Trust, which is a great example of a conventionally framed building from the 1400's. Links)
Elsewhere some of the Cotswold towns are made of stone that has lasted well. But they are also made of money which could be invested in covering the old with the new. Burford is a good example and deserves some more attention from me. But you can check anything out with the tools below.
I doubt that anyone will try this, but you never know!
The most helpful piece of research that I have found is a detailed study of older houses in and around Ewelme, by Stephen Mileson, from Oxford University. He writes about how the houses were and their interiors used as well as how they were built and laid out. His book based on the research currently costs over £90 but thankfully he has written some much shorter and freely available research, on of which you can download from this link.
The best comprehensive guide to what is old and what is not is the listed buildings records. Virtually every building dating back to beyond 1700 and in anything like its original condition, is included in this. The easiest way to find them is through this site: (link) Listed Buildings The pic below is the map for Long Crendon, you can see a fraction of the old buildings that there are.
When you click on a blue dot, you are taken to the records entry. Click on 'View this List Entry' and on the next page 'official list entry'. It is all there. And if you want to cheat you can always take a peak at the place using Street View on Google Maps.
There are lots of ways of configuring a timber frame. Some are obvious from the outside. Here is a bit more about cruck frames since they are a key identifier of the very earliest buildings. In essence, the base crucks shown in the upper diagram are usually older. You might see them in public buildings or ancient barns and the photo below shows what they look like in that context. But good luck trying to find one of them in a house. If you do find one, please let me know.
|Types of cruck frame