Saturday, February 21, 2009

Hollybush, Worcestershire


Alternative settlements (1)

From Turkey to Colombia, from Italy to Wales, there is a tradition that if you can build a house in a single night on a piece of unoccupied land then you gain the right to stay there: the landowner cannot evict you. Sometimes there is the proviso that for these squatters' rights to be secure, the chimney must be smoking by morning, or the table ready to serve up a meal, but the principle is widespread, and traced variously to Roman law, Germanic tradition, or some other ancient authority.

‘One-night houses’ are said to exist in many parts of England, on slivers of land by roadsides, on the edges of big village greens, or on ancient commons. At Hollybush, on the borders of Herefordshire and Worcestershire, there are said to be many, scattered apparently at random over the common. This building, in the middle of the common next to its landmark tree, a pale rendered cottage standing out amongst the green, must be one of them.

Such houses would originally have been timber-framed for the fastest possible build, with just the all-important chimney made of brick or stone, but have since been remodelled in masonry, rebuilt to last. They make their mark in a scatter quite unlike either the traditional nucleated village or the pattern of isolated farms that make up the majority of English rural settlement, so that if they no longer look as they originally did, these houses still provide vivid visual evidence of a once-famous bit of English folk law.

8 comments:

Neil said...

I'd read about this bit of folk-law/folk-lore, yet never thought of construing it into physical form - but lo-and-behold, here it is. Wonderful.

MonkAre said...
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Peter Ashley said...

That's a very evocative picture. A dull summer's afternoon- one can almost hear a distant roll of thunder.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you all. Peter: thanks for your kind words about the picture. What it lacks is some foreground sheep. They wondered all over the place here, and one often has to play dodgems with them when driving along the adjacent A-road.

Jon Dudley said...

I like this idea Philip...as long as some nocturnal prankster doesn't build a house on my front lawn...I suppose I might hear them bashing away though which would give the game away. There are plenty of places around that LOOK as if they've been put together overnight but then have a Bovis or some such developers 'for sale' board outside the next morning.

Worcestershire would be one of the places that you'd expect to see that ultimate incarnation of the overnight dwelling at the roadside, the bender tent. Sadly, the Reading van, painted horse and whisp of smoke from the campfire seemed to have been consigned to the photograph albums of a rural yesteryear.

Philip Wilkinson said...

I think your lawn's safe, Jon. If squatters' rights still prevail, there are always the planning laws, which, although they tend to reduce everything to a state of blandness, do have their uses, I suppose.

Jon Dudley said...

Makes you wonder when you see what passes for architecture in this neck of the woods!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Indeed, Jon. I suppose that's what happens when you just tick boxes. You get, er, boxes.