Articles tagged with: dendrochronology

Wonderful Warminster – the Warminster Buildings History Project

on Tuesday, 15 October 2019. Posted in Architecture, Wiltshire Places

Warminster is a market town lying in close proximity to Salisbury Plain. Its history starts with the discovery of two Roman villas at Pit Mead, Bishopstrow. In Anglo-Saxon times it was a royal estate and residence, but it was not until the 13th century that it began to develop into the town we know now.

The earliest settlement was likely around the parish church of St Denys and nearby Manor House (now embedded within Manor Gardens), but nothing else survives. The town grew east from the site of the old Emwell Cross, an open space which tradition says was an old market site originally and now contains a grade II* stone obelisk commemorating the enclosure of the parish in 1783. At that time the eastern limit of the town was at the junction of George Street and High Street. In the early 13th century the ‘market of Warminster’ with a shop ‘covered in stone’ appears to have been a separate area based around the chapel of St Lawrence, a chapel-of-ease for St Denys (the Minster) which had become isolated on the north-west fringes of the town.

Very little is known about the medieval development of the town apart from the mention of houses in Church Street, High Street, West Street and Portway, and until fairly recently, only hints of older buildings behind later fronts have been coming to light. During inspection and recording when town centre buildings are redeveloped, more evidence has been uncovered of the survival of early fabric that could be medieval or early modern.

The drawing dates to before 1832 and shows the Old Ship Inn on the site of the junction between the High Street and the Close. The old town hall stands next to it. Note the stocks! Both buildings are now gone.

Historic England have long understood that there is more to many ordinary or modern-looking towns than meets the eye and are actively fostering groups to uncover their history through the physical fabric of bricks, mortar and timber. It has recently been discovered that the row of buildings between the Athenaeum in the High Street and North Row contain the substantial remains of jettied timber-framed houses, probably shop-houses of the late medieval/early modern period. No. 16 (Bon Bon Chic) was dated to 1513 in 2014. No. 6 High Street (Café Journal) was found to date between 1499 and 1531. Cordens (no. 4 High Street) is likely to be the oldest in the row from architectural details evident. Fragments of earlier buildings have been uncovered at the Bath Arms (now Wetherspoons) and 32 Market Place (Coates and Parker) which hint at the type of buildings that preceded the present shops.

Warminster has been underappreciated as a town in architectural terms. Wiltshire Buildings Record is hoping to bring out knowledge of exactly how Warminster is unique and special, and this should foster greater interest in our town. Thanks should be given to the Warminster Preservation Trust who have kindly donated £2,000 so we can kick this project off with dating some key buildings using dendrochronology. Watch this space!

Dorothy Treasure 
Principal Buildings Historian, Wiltshire Buildings Record

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

Discoveries from the Deverills, Part 9: Hidden evidence from Warminster

on Tuesday, 04 April 2017. Posted in Architecture, Wiltshire Places

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.

 

See-saw marks on timber from King’s Arms in Downton, a former medieval pub

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.

Discoveries from the Deverills Part 2- The houses that wool wealth built

on Tuesday, 11 August 2015. Posted in Architecture

In my last blog I set the economic scene in the Deverill Valley which I believe gave rise to the great prosperity, partly through the woollen industry, that became evident in the rich building heritage of that area.

An obvious later example of wool wealth in Warminster can be seen in the grand houses that clothiers such as John Wansey built for themselves. The above image is Byne House dated to 1755 photographed in 2007 just after a fire, though there is very little that I looked at in the Deverills that represents the Georgian period. Most of our discoveries came from the beginning of the early modern period when Warminster and the Deverills had rich agricultural resources that were exploited by the lords of the manor such as Glastonbury Abbey, who owned Longbridge and Monkton Deverill in the Medieval period.

Before we look at individual buildings, what does a house of c1500 look like?

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