I was interested to read a recent news story which described scientific work to extract DNA from parchment using a non-destructive technique, giving us remarkable and unexpected source of information about the animal the page was created from. It has also proved possible to extract DNA of people who have touched or kissed the manuscripts over the years (devotional prayer books for example).
Thinking about the physical fabric of the archives led me to consider our more common archive material; paper. We see paper as a prosaic item nowadays and take it for granted, but it used to be much more valuable and remained expensive until the advent of the steam-driven paper mill.
There is limited documented evidence about paper making before the 18th century and the knowledge and skills would primarily have been shared directly between family members and master and apprentice. We have records of apprenticeships in our parish collections including Edward Hayword from Bradford-on-Avon who was apprenticed to a Gabriel Sweet, Weston, Somerset in July 1745 and a Thomas Whale from Chippenham, apprenticed to a Charles Ward, papermaker at Doncombe, North Wraxall in November 1804.
The process of making paper was a complex one involving many stages and can be read about in more detail in various publications including The British Paper Industry 1495-1860 by D.C Coleman available in our local studies library (shelfmark 338.476). The cellulose fibres in plant tissues were macerated and mixed with water until the fibres separated and were lifted from the water using a sieve-like screen, leaving a sheet of matted fibres on the screen’s surface. This then required pressing, drying, sizing, and finishing before it could be used as paper.
We have several wills in our collection left by papermakers. These can give some indication of the kind of wealth and social standing of the profession.
In the 1792 will of John Lewis, paper maker of Yatton Keynell he bequeathed all his household goods and furniture to his wife, Mary Lewis. He also left an annuity of £8 to be paid to his sister, Elizabeth Parker, to be paid in equal quarterly instalments every year until her death. John Lewis makes it explicit that this money ‘is not liable to the debts or engagements of my said sisters husband or any other husband he may hereafter have and that her receipt alone…’ He also bequeathed to Thomas Vincent, a grocer of Calne (named as executor alongside his wife), all his real estate at Longdean and Yatton Keynell. It is pleasing given his profession that he sees fit to mention the paper that the will is written on:
“… to this my last will and testament contained in two sheets of paper set my hand and seal as follows (that is to say) my hand to the first sheet thereof and my hand and seal to the last sheet and my seal at the top where both sheets join”.
Another will belonging to Thomas Bacon, papermaker of Downton, dating to 1679 includes an inventory of his goods. These include materials and goods from the mill house including scales and weights, paper moulds and their respective values.
The VCH fieldwork has discovered so many very good houses in Kingston Deverill in particular. These represent hitherto largely hidden evidence of the Deverill Valley’s past wealth. At the same time further evidence of early 16th century buildings in Warminster has been discovered, which suggests that the discoveries from the Deverills are just part of the bigger picture.
I was given the opportunity to look at one of a row of probable merchants’ housing in the High Street; the flat of no.16 High Street, Warminster. It doesn’t look much from the outside, but I found some fantastic evidence of a nearly complete 3-bay early 16th century timber-framed house. Recent dendrochronology results gave a precise felling date of 1513. It has a very similar roof structure and ceiling height to Manor Farmhouse, Kingston Deverill. It also has see-saw marks, convincing evidence of an early date. To digress; timber conversion methods may not instantly grip your interest, but they are a useful dating feature. See-saw marks are the result of leaning a baulk of timber on a single trestle, standing on it and sawing down from the top to where it touches the trestle. The sawn end is brought down and the same process is repeated at the other end. The result is two different patterns of saw-marks at 45 degrees that meet in the middle. Duncan James, a Herefordshire archaeologist maintains that you won’t find this feature after about 1530.
Unfortunately the marks were too faint to photograph, so I show a much more striking example from the King’s Arms in Downton, a former medieval pub.
As the Victoria County History continued its investigations, it found that the survival of several large freehold estates into the late 18th and 19th centuries was represented by a number of high-status buildings of an early origin, including Marvins and Hedge Cottage, mentioned in earlier blogs. To the north of the river Wylye, which runs through the Deverills, is the 16th-century Pope’s farm, once called Bodenham’s. In 1603, Bodenham’s farm comprised 200 a. of arable, 40 a. of meadow, 60 a. of pasture, and 10 a. of woodland. Today it is a charming country farmhouse with a garden with the lands farmed by the Stratton family based at Manor Farm down the road.
Pope’s Farmhouse is another set of buildings that simply do not reflect their origins. The farmhouse is now divided into two dwellings, with the second part called Pope’s Flat. They are a much-altered originally early 16th and 17th century farmhouse that was rebuilt in the early 19th century and remodelled again in the period 1970-75 by the Strattons. This gave a classical rendered elevation with a Doric-style open porch on the south side flanked by canted bay windows. It wouldn’t look out of place in an 18th century town square. However, look around to the west side and you will see its earlier origins in the tall, two-storey 16th-century rubblestone range parallel to the road. It has a blocked arched window and an old, blocked fireplace. If you venture through the pedestrian Tudor arch on this side, you would see that the interior courtyard shows its older origins. The window heads have remnants of a plain round arches of a type favoured in the 16th century.
Following on from my last blog about the wealth of architectural detail found in the relatively humble village of Kingston Deverill, attention is turned to Marvin’s; a substantial mid-late 17th century rubblestone and flint house much altered and extended to the north. It is situated next to Humphrey’s Orchard, mentioned in my previous blog. Marvin’s Farm was known in 1887 as Newport’s Farm suggesting that this and Hedge Cottage, a building also mentioned in a previous blog and confusingly also known as Newports Farm, were linked in some way.
At the front of the house are two 3-light ovolo-moulded mullioned windows with hood moulds. The term ovolo comes from the Latin word for egg, and means a rounded convex shape. The way that the stone frame of a window is treated is very helpful in finding out how old it is. The very earliest stone frames in farmhouses and cottages were just simply chamfered inside and out to help allow light to penetrate the interior. From the late 16th century onwards the ovolo moulding appeared and was the universal shape for window frames, door frames and all sorts of moulded details until the beginning of the 18th century.
Some of the later buildings we investigated in Kingston Deverill may well have replaced the earlier timber-framed houses that were on the same site. Stone started to be used for vernacular, that is traditional, building from around 1550, possibly because decent timber that was usually preferred was getting scarce, and the local greensand rubble was plentiful. Humphrey’s Orchard seems to have started as a rubblestone farmhouse dating from the late 16th or early 17th century. The slightly peculiar name comes from a former owner. It had a heated hall, or living room/kitchen at the west end, and an unheated parlour for storage to the east. In C1700 the house was further extended to the west, doubling its size and providing further service rooms. When the rear range was added the whole house was ‘gentrified’ – a term meaning that the humble farmhouse was updated with some smart new architectural features inside.
In our on-going investigations into the Deverill parishes south of Warminster for the Victoria County History we visited Hedge Cottage. This looks like just another charming little early 18th century rubblestone and thatched rural idyll, gable end to the road, with a rear service outshut under a catslide roof. Once inside, we had a pleasant surprise: the interior told a very different tale of a one-and-a-half storeyed timber framed house of the earlier 16th century. The 16th century structure is of four uneven bays, that is, widths between the structural cross-frames that divide it. It was entered through something called a cross-passage, a medieval plan where a passage with doors at each end divided the house in half. It was too narrow for stairs, which had no prominence at that time, and tended to be stuck into a recess between the chimney breast and outer wall. This design lingered on in some rural parts such as the Deverill Valley until the 16th century.
To the right of the passage is an originally unheated parlour with panelled ceiling of 13cm chamfered beams. The widest chamfers seem to occur in 16th century beams, and they get progressively narrower and less conspicuous down the centuries as the craft of timber-framing diminishes and is replaced by brick and stonework with plainer finishes. To the left is the living room/hall with a later fireplace set in a deep smoke bay, just like the one at Manor Farm up the road mentioned in an earlier blog.