Sunday, May 22, 2011
Down to earth
Cob is one of the oldest and most basic of English building materials. It’s basically earth, with added straw, manure, and often small stones, built up in layers a foot or two thick and a foot or two high, which are then left to dry before the next layer is added. Building up a wall like this takes time, but, provided the cob wall is kept dry by constructing it on a stone plinth and protecting it with an overhanging roof, it can last for centuries.
Devon and Dorset have many cob buildings, but cob has been used in many other parts of England too, from Cumberland to Hampshire. This example is on the village green of the Northamptonshire village of Guilsborough. It’s known as a stable, but Alec Clifton-Taylor, in his classic book The Pattern of English Building, says that it was used to keep a supply of coal for the poor of the village. Its cob is reinforced here and there with brick and has the orangey colour of the local stone. Cob in sandstone areas can have a pink tinge, while in chalk districts it is paler – although cob walls are generally colour washed, so the colour of the earth is often hidden.
The shed or stable at Guilsborough probably dates from the 18th century, although the lower side wing was added in 1897 and is built of brick. Since the lettering I featured in the previous post was admired by several of my readers, I include a photograph of some painted lettering on this extension. This bit of sign-writing (“DIAMOND JUBILEE BUILDING 1897”) must date from a recent repainting, but its letterforms’ curvaceous As and Es and carefully detailed J, evoke the late-Victorian period perfectly, an added bonus to a little building that's already full of interest.