Friday, February 15, 2013

Singleton, West Sussex

In the Weald

This post continues my short series on timber-framed buildings with another type that is associated with a specific  English region. This is the Wealden hall house, a form that is most common in the Weald region, which covers part of Kent and neighbouring East Sussex. A Wealden house is a timber-framed building with a central, double-height hall heated by a central hearth, the smoke from which would originally have escaped through a hole in the roof. On either side of the central hall are two-storey sections, with their upper floors overhanging slightly, so that the central, hall section of the house is recessed. There would be service rooms on the lower floor of one of these side sections, with private rooms called solars on the upper floors.

My picture shows the beautiful Wealden house known as Bayleaf, originally built at Chiddingstone in Kent and relocated to the excellent Weald and Downland Museum. The house dates mainly from the early-15th century with alterations from the 16th century. With its large rectangular panels of wattle and daub, with curving cross-braces, it is very attractive, although some Wealden houses have a still more striking type of framework made up of many closely positioned vertical timbers. The name Bayleaf may derive from Bailey, the surname of the first occupant in the 15th century. Harry Bailey and later tenants and lessees of the house were farmers and Bayleaf seems to have been associated with a landholding of about 100 acres of probably mixed farmland (cattle farming dominated in this part of Kent, but a holding of this size most likely included some arable as well). This would make it home to people who in modern terms we might think of as members of the rural middle classes.

Wealden houses were not only found in the Weald. There are also some examples in Surrey, Essex, and even further afield. But Kent and eastern Sussex are their heartland and they form one of the most distinctive and attractive regional types of timber-framed buildings.

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The website of the the Weald and Downland Museum, which I must visit again soon, has more information about Bayleaf.

The photograph above is by Keith Edkins, and is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.


Hels said...

"A Wealden house is a timber-framed building with a central, double-height hall heated by a central hearth. On either side of the central hall are two-storey sections.." It would have been lovely for the family to live in a spacious, clean smelling home like Bayleaf.

So here is my uncertainty. Would the 15th and 16th century families of the rural middle classes have hoped for all this spaciousness?

scott davidson said...

An Argyle wall! A canvas print such as this one of the Isle of Skye, painted by an American painter of the late 19th century, William Trost Richards, may take you right back to the wilds of the home country and go well with your Scottish wall. It can be ordered from

Joe Treasure said...

These beautiful curving cross-braces, so much more attractive to my eye than straight diagonals, have me wondering about what lay behind this design. Aesthetic preference, I assume (unless there was some confusion with the engineering advantage of arch structures). And were curving lengths of oak harder to find, I wonder? Or easier, because they might grow that way but have fewer uses?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: Maybe my "middle classes" description was a bit misleading. They would have been quite well off, one rung below the lord of the manor and the priest socially. And their household might well have included several children, perhaps a grandparent or two, and some servants. So the house wouldn't have felt as spacious as it looked.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Joe: I think aesthetic preference was the main reason for having curved braces - and maybe the fact that a carpenter might find these timbers and not have another good use for them. Looking at a selection of pictures of Wealden houses in books and online, quite a few have curved braces in the walls, but by no means all. One thing they nearly all share, though, is a pair of curving braces at the top of the centre section, where they help to support the roof where it crosses the inset central hall. These always seem to be curved.

Jon Dudley said...

Bingo! You've done it again Philip. The W&D is a fabulous place. It's fascinating to see what detective work has gone into identifying the most unlikely looking buildings, saving and dismantling them and then restoring them in their original beautiful form. To my mind it's one of the 'must visit' architectural sites in the South of England. We had the privilege of singing in Bayleaf on at least three occasions - so atmospheric with rush and candlelight at dusk. Thank you again for reminding us of the wonders out there.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thanks Jon. Singing in Bayleaf. That I would like to have heard.

The W&D is a great place.