Articles tagged with: thatch

An Ancient Hall in Swindon

on Tuesday, 14 May 2019. Posted in Architecture, Wiltshire Places

During a visit to Cricklade I was asked to pop in to see a cottage in Swindon. This cottage and another similar one nearby were all that were left of an ancient hamlet and were now surrounded by modern houses, giving a very suburban flavour to the area. The cottage had once been a prosperous farm but was subsequently divided into two cottages, a not unusual development for a farmhouse in the 19th century.

On the ground floor were two original rooms, the core of the cottage before it was extended. A heavy 17th century beam ran from the gable end fireplace to the cross wall and this immediately aroused my interest; when an open medieval hall with a central hearth is floored over, the beam supporting it often has one end lodged in the chimney breast, which is added at the same time.

By the time I got to the first floor I was excited to see the start of a heavily-plastered cruck blade with arched brace of what must have been a hall truss emerging from the stone wall, and disappearing through the ceiling. Crucks are a very distinctive form of timber-framing not seen in Wiltshire after about 1530: our dendrochronology project is collecting data on this very subject.  Barely containing myself, I arrived at the attic floor via a steep, winding stair to be confronted with the massive and heavily smoke-blackened top parts of a 14th century roof. There were two main frames complete with characteristically skinny wind-braces, some original chunky rafters, and smoke-blackened battens, though the thatch had been replaced.

Image: Apex of one of the cruck trusses

The timbers had been cut about to allow circulation within the attic space, but originally the impressive cruck frames would have been only viewed from the ground. To get some idea of what a medieval dwelling house would have been like when built, go into an old tithe barn such as that at Lacock or Bradford-on-Avon and be impressed by the sheer scale and size of the timbers and height to the roof.  A farmhouse would have been smaller, but still impressive. The hall truss over the open fire would have been the most decorative, with chamfered bracing, parts of which remain. In the 17th century the old hall was clad in stone, hiding or replacing the original timber-framing and its wattle-and-daub panels.  Houses like this had to change with the times to stay useful, or be replaced. I suspect there are many more hidden medieval halls out there just waiting to be discovered, even in the most unlikely places!

Dorothy Treasure, Wiltshire Buildings Record

Fire!

on Tuesday, 25 March 2014. Posted in Events, Wiltshire Places

I feel I can safely say that almost no town, village or hamlet in the county has been untouched by fire at some point during its history. It must have been an ever-present fear for every community – all that was needed was one little spark. Barns and hayricks were often to be found in the proximity of dwellings, and fire could quickly spread…

All houses were constructed of flammable materials, with thatch roofs being particularly vulnerable. When added to this the presence of naked flames, it presented a high degree of risk to person, property and livelihood.

Ramsbury, June 1648
The Ramsbury Fire of June 14th, 1648 destroyed the houses and belongings of 130 people. The county committee authorized collections throughout Wiltshire, but eleven weeks after the fire those affected had still not received much aid (the Civil War and many other needy appeals were occurring at the same time).  Shockingly, the Ramsbury inhabitants had also found that a forged ‘brief’ was being used to raise money for the cause which they would never receive. They had to act quickly, placing a notice of the circumstances in the London newsbooks of the day, telling of the validity of the fire and the illegality of the first brief. In fact none of the newsbooks had mentioned the fire at the time as they were too concerned with war movements.

Churches often included ‘briefs’ in their sermons, asking for donations for help with the church roof, but also for events such as this. After initial local assistance, further assistance could be raised on a regional or even national scale by raising a charitable brief, ‘a licence to collect relief which was issued by the Lord Chancellor’.

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