Sunday, July 4, 2010

Lacock, Wiltshire


Take the A-Frame

Nearly every house in the Wiltshire village of Lacock is interesting, but it’s easy to miss the interest of this one – looking at the end of the building, squashed up against the house next door, one can see that it’s based on a cruck frame. Crucks were basically A-frames in which the two main pieces were made up of matching timbers, naturally curving if possible, and sometimes cut by splitting a tree trunk so that they matched perfectly. This cruck shows the construction well – how the curve in the timber is exploited; how the frame is set above the ground on a low stone plinth; how the eaves are supported by a horizontal timber that protrudes from the main frame; how this arrangement allows for a vertical front wall. There will be another cruck at the other end of the house, and the pair would have been assembled on the ground and then lifted into place and connected by means of a horizontal ridge pole.

I don’t know how old this building is – probably late medieval. It used to be thought that primitive-looking cruck buildings were inevitably older than those with box-frames. But the cruck frame is mainly a geographical phenomenon – crucks are most common in the North of England, the Midlands, and the West (but not the far southwest). They are very rare in East Anglia and southeastern England, where there are many ancient box-frames. It’s uncertain why this should be so, but Alec Clifton-Taylor, in The Pattern of English Building, suggests that in the eastern part of the country there was more influence from France and the Netherlands, where crucks are not used, and that in the West there were more suitable trees for this kind of frame. And some of these ancient trees are still doing the job they did more than 500 years ago.

7 comments:

bazza said...

I have never come across the term 'cruck' before but the style looks familiar. Is this the same system that larger buildings, like barns, used? They look very attractive.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Bazza: Yes, there are cruck barns, too.

ChrisP said...

Cruck frames seem to have been local favourites in some villages, with clusters in places like Dogmersfield in Hants. Very attractive but v. difficult to make into two storeys.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Chris: Yes. Where a cruck-framed house had two storeys the upper one was usually very cramped, but just about adequate for a low bed or two.

Roy Hammans said...

I was immediately reminded of something written by Olive Cook - no slouch herself when in came to in-depth knowledge of English buildings - describing a photograph by her husband, Edwin Smith:

"The light was marvellously expressive, a dream-like twilight which revealed every tile and plant and enhanced the strange reality of an incredibly romantic crucked and crooked manor house juxtaposed to prim Georgian cottages and shallow gardens enclosed by fat, closely cut hedges or white railings. This chance of light, moment and mood produced some magical photographs."


I've never been sure where that 'crucked and crooked manor house' may have been - any ideas Philip?

LondonGirl said...

My parents' house (early 14th century) in Kent has cruck posts, are these the same thing?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Roy: Sorry, I don't know where this could be. Isn't it a wonderful, evocative description?

LondonGirl: Difficult to say without seeing them, as people use the terminology in different ways. Sometimes, instead of having crucks made of a pair of big matching timbers, the crucks are made up of several pieces of timbers jointed together and in this case the bottom part, which is basically vertical and rests on the ground (or on other timbers if it's making up a roof frame rather than the frame of a whole house), is called the cruck post. The whole structure, with cruck post supporting upper timbers, is called a jointed cruck. This is all difficult to explain in words without diagrams, but there's a photograph of a modern jointed cruck, used to make the frame for the attic storey of a cottage, here.