Monday, October 13, 2008

Uffington, Oxfordshire*

Chalk, pale and friable, seems an unlikely building material, but it’s the local stone on the Hampshire, Berkshire, Wiltshire, and Dorset Downs, on the Chilterns, on the North and South Downs, in parts of Cambridgeshire, and on the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Wolds. In many of these areas you can find traditional buildings constructed of blocks of chalk. Builders liked this material because it is easy to shape, but they had to use it wisely if it was to last.

The village of Uffington is famous for the chalk figure of a horse, cut into the turf of the nearby hillside and best viewed from the air. The place has a number of old chalk buildings too, notably this schoolhouse, which dates form the Jacobean period as wears its 400 years well. Like many chalk buildings it stands on a base of stronger stone. It’s interesting to contrast the quality of the masonry of the upper and lower portions of the building. The tougher stone is rougher of surface and laid in irregular, rubble-like pieces. The chalk has been cut into larger blocks laid in regular courses, neatly jointed. This soft stone was much easier to cut finely and joint precisely, and masons no doubt liked the neat finish they could achieve with it.

A cottage in the same village shows the traditional roof for a chalk building – thick thatch with a generous overhang. The stone base and thatch covering give the house, in the old phrase, ‘a good hat and a good pair of shoes’, so relatively little rain gets to the chalk in between. Well constructed and cared for, this house has lasted for centuries in spite of the soft and yielding material of its walls.

*Postscript: To me, Uffington is still in Berkshire, and it is to be found in the Berkshire volume of Pevsner's Buildings of England series, which still adheres to the old county boundaries, praise be.

8 comments:

Peter Ashley said...

Good to see some downland buildings getting chalked-up.

Thud said...

Clunch,cobb,chalk....all wonderful stuff if protected as you say.

cbnewham said...

Hooray - someone else who thinks using the old county boundaries is a good thing. Excellent blog - I've only just stumbled on it. Thanks.

Philip Wilkinson said...

CBNewham - Thank you so much for your comment. I have a great affection for the old county boundaries, and for guidebooks, such as Pevsner's and the old Shell Guides, that adhere to them.

philip.eapen said...

I visited Uffington village in Oxfordshire in 2006. I saw the buildings that you have written about. Besides, there is a good pub in that village. I forget it's name. Do you by any chance know the name of that wonderful pub?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Philip: I've not been in the pub in Uffington, but I think it's called the Fox and Hounds.

Anonymous said...

It is the Fox & Hounds and it's undergoing some work at the moment but should be finished by March when it should be an even better pub than it is now, if possible

Jane Aston said...

I went to a strange, small pub in Uffingdon called The Folly, near the folly. At the main square there is a wonderful big old coaching inn where you can stay.