Sunday, August 11, 2019

Wick, Worcestershire

Other times, other walls

One evening earlier this year, I came across this cottage on my way to give a talk. I was early, having as usual given myself more than enough time for my journey, so pulled in and took a look. I was attracted initially by the cruck frame – the pair of big diagonal timbers, making a large upturned V-shape, in the end wall. Worcestershire, along with other western counties, is a good place for spotting crucks: they were always more common here than in the south and east, where rectilinear box frames were preferred. A structure of this size would have several crucks, one at each end and others, concealed at stages between to make up a number of structural ‘bays’. Vertical walls would then be erected on either side, to accommodate windows, support the eaves of the roof, and provide enough height inside at the edges of the building.

At first glance, the white infill between the dark timbers is the wattle and daub (a plaster made of mud, straw and other ingredients) that was traditionally used. That is true of the end with the cruck. But the side wall is different. If one looks closely, it's possible to see that the infill here is actually made of brick painted white. This use of brick between timbers is not uncommon in Worcestershire, and the look was so popular that there was a Victorian fashion for imitating timber-framed construction by painting a brick wall black and white. That is not the case here: it’s the real thing.

Those brick side walls may have started out infilled with wattle and daub, like the end. The plaster may have failed at some point and the repairers substituted brick – this certainly happened on occasion. So although crick frames themselves had to be very carefully planned, with timbers of the right size sourced and prepared, the actual structure may be an accident of history. Another thing that will be the result of change is the upper floor – this building would have started life as a house on one level, probably with a central hearth and a hole in the roof for the smoke to exit. The big brick chimney is likely to be a later addition, as are the upstairs rooms and windows. Houses like this are the result of years of changing priorities, their early owners as keen to adapt to the times as people of today who put in central heating or the latest thermal insulation. Houses like this might seem timeless, but they are as subject as any to changes in fashion, expectation, and need.


Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

One ought to include Warwickshire with Worcestershire for cruck construction. The requisite timbers would have been rare and expensive - I wonder why more use wasn't made in some places of the local stone, e.g. the red sandstone in North Warwickshire. Very rarely have I seen surviving wattle and daub, nearly always brick infilling. I wonder at how small and inconvenient the rooms might be - despite the reputedly high prices of these buildings when changing hands. However, if anyone would generously like to bequeath me one...I am sufficiently a romantic to be smitten.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Absolutely. I was thinking of Warwickshire as one of the 'western' counties I mentioned, but of course it's more Midland, really. That red sandstone in North Warwickshire is very attractive when you do see it.

The rooms must be small and low-ceilinged mostly.