|Chastleton House, a Jacobean house in Oxfordshire|
West Wycombe Village forms a complex collection of buildings from a range of dates from the 15th to 16th century. To help tackle this complexity the National Trust has commissioned Oxford Archaeology to investigate and record the buildings with conservation work. Their investigation includes dendrochronology dating to determine the age of timber wood.
The map below shows the current West Wycombe Village refurbishment programme but not the historical dates of each building which could be available by the end of the project. This map helps visualise the scope of the project.
|Refurbishment Project Map for proposed building works|
One of the village's larger cottages next to Band House (possibly Number 57) was actually three different smaller cottages. While the Old Vicarage in its earliest form was a traditional 'hall house' dating probably from the early or mid 15th century. There are few if any hall houses which have survived unchanged. These houses which centre around a main hall have generally all been extended by successive owners over the generations.
All interesting stuff but National Trust Archaeologist Gary Marshall has been analysing documentary evidence and previous surveys and has made the potentially most interesting architectural discovery so far. The cottages at numbers 24-25 High Street may have formed the core of a manor house or high status building dating from the late 15th century. Evidence consists of high quality mouldings applied to a timber frame embedded into the west wall of number 24 facing the village hall across from the Parish Church. I'm not alone when I say I can't wait to see what Gary discovers next.
No pressure then, Gary!
It's May and soon we might be lighting barbaques instead of log fires. This got me thinking about chimneys which I've learned only became commonplace in domestic homes during the 15th century, possibly because the bricks to build them were expensive until mass produced. So during this time, unless you were a very wealthy landowner, your fireplace would have been on the floor in a fire pit or iron brazier and the smoke would have filtered out through your thatched roof causing smoke blackened rafters. No wonder life expectancy was shorter.
Sometimes the archaeological recording can throw up interesting and contradictory evidence. For example at Number 27 Crown Court where the roof was found to be composed of smoke-blackened rafters indicating a cottage dating to the 1400's. But with tree ring dating, or dendrochronology, the roof timbers at 27 Crown Court have been dated to 1560 or early 1561, which is relatively late for smoke-blackening. To further confuse, the blackening extends to the feet of the timbers extending outside the building where one would not expect blackening. And so this appears to be evidence of timbers re-used in the existing building. Clearly today's 'modern conservation' approach to reuse and retain is not modern at all.
This post was originally going to be a background note about dendrochronology dating. Maybe next time. But in light of the developments which Gary Marshall has been piecing together I get a better idea of how this technique is just one of many archaeology tools in the box. Accurate and precise, dendrochronology can help confirm or debunk conclusions based on architectural analysis.
For example, roof plan analysis of the High Street Cottages Number 11, 12 and 13 next to the Butcher shop reveals four different phases of building construction from the 16th to the 20th century by looking at the materials used and the style of construction. For example, finding wattle and daub indicates 17th century construction. Dubbed as the poor man's brick 'wattle and daub' was a common form of infill to timber frames with clay or lime-based daub applied to pliable sticks of woven willow. Below, a photo of Cottage number 11 with detail of wattle and daub infilling.
|wattle and daub infilling, No. 11|
|Roof plan of #11-13 High Street West Wycombe, not to scale.|
|Detail of gable wall for #14 and Truss 1 which sits adjacent|
|View of #11 & 12 roof High Street frontage following removal of tiles|
Roofs and Roads
Some good news aside from the sunny bank holiday weather: The scaffolding on Number 35 on the High Wycombe end of the High Street should go by mid-May. But scaffolding for Number 59 near the Apple Orchard will arise by then (although this will not affect road traffic as it will be on the footway); this is expected to be down by end of June. The street scaffolding may be bad news if you enjoyed the way it calmed traffic.