Tuesday, 7 June 2016

The Park - A Rare Gem at Merrion - Part 8

A Rare Survival of a Seventeenth Century Cottage in the Parish of St. Twynnells, Pembrokeshire

The Roof....a little more revealed.

In part 7 I tried to describe the construction of the roof under the thatched part of The Park. In this instalment I said that I would try and explain the roof structure under the slated part of the house. However, new revelations under the thatched roof mean that the slated roof will have to wait! Since my last post I have been able to return to the cottage where the owner again kindly allowed me to look inside. Much work has been carried out to prevent the roof from blowing off in this winter's storms. Indeed, at times one corner of the roof was seen to lift by about one foot in the teeth of a gale!

Happily, the roof has been saved, but removal of the tongued and grooved panelling under the roof timbers has revealed how precarious the roof timbers are! It is excellent to see the efforts that have been made to preserve this fascinating structure.

Figure 1 shows that the roof timbers seem to have been repaired on several occasions. The rough, crudely shaped timber truss is probably part of an early roof. The truss behind this is of sawn timber and looks to be a late-19th /early 20thcentury repair by an estate carpenter, designed to relieve the strain on the earlier work. These trusses are bolted together.  It is surprising that the whole roof was not replaced instead of this piecemeal approach to repair. The timbers of the earlier truss are similar in nature to the slight and irregular pieces used as battens to support the thatch. These trusses are pegged.
Fig. 1 Roof timbers looking towards the parlour end of the house. These had been concealed behind tongued and grooved boarding.
Figure 2 again shows the hotchpotch nature of repair to the thatched roof. The rafters, in nearly every case have rotted where they meet the wall plate on the limestone walls. This is looking south-east.
Fig. 2. Another view of the mixed roof timbers under the thatched roof. Note the metal jacks used to prevent the roof collapsing during the last winter's storms.

In Figure 3 we can see how the trusses meet up with the upper wall of the lateral out shut.
Fig. 3. Looking south west at the roof timbers revealed by the removal of the "ceiling cladding".

Figure 4 seems to show a third effort at repairing the support for the roof. In the centre of the photograph is a nineteenth century truss, alongside a much earlier - (pre-estate?) roughly hewn timber truss. Beyond this a another truss of sawn timber, but of a much slighter design, possibly dating from between the times when  two other trusses were put in place. This truss is very similar to those at the north end of the house.
Fig 4. Looking north west from parlour door.

In Figure 5 the 19th/20th century roof timbers can be identified by the bolts holding them together. The roof timbers dating from an earlier period are slighter and have a chamfer. The earliest timbers are rough hewn with, in some cases, the bark still attached.

Fig. 5. A closer view of the truss discussed above, showing how it was fixed into the wall and the subsequent failure of this. This is the west wall of the house.

Fortunately, the date of some repairs made to the roof structure has been written, in pencil on a small piece of wood within the roof, formerly hidden behind boarding. The date is 1930. This may well correspond to the date that the tonged and grooved boarding was inserted or replaced beneath the thatch.

Figure 6 below shows some of the very modern looking pieces of batten that were affixed to the much older partition for the possible "crogloft" . These battens supported this tongued and grooved boarding. The boarding was then whitewashed.

Fig. 6. Battens (on partition) to support the (now removed) tonged and grooved boarding that ceiled the main living room of the house.

The figures below show some more detail of the fascinating structure of this rare survival of a vernacular roof!

Fig. 7

Fig. 8

Fig. 9

There will be many readers who know far more about old roofs than I do! Comments and thoughts would be much welcomed.

Next time, the roof structure under the slated part of the cottage.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

The Park - A Rare Gem at Merrion - Part 7

A Rare Survival of a Seventeenth Century Cottage in the Parish of St. Twynnells, Pembrokeshire

The Roof

Many of the old buildings in Pembrokeshire are difficult to date. This largely because of the lack of features that can be dated  stylistically. In the case of wooden features this is largely because for many buildings, whilst the stonework survives, any timber work has long been replaced or just rotted away when exposed to the wild, windy and wet elements.

In rural Pembrokeshire, thatched roofs of one sort or another were ubiquitous, particularly in rural areas. Many of the sketches and paintings by Charles Norris of buildings in and around Tenby, and elsewhere in South Pembrokeshire, show such roofs, many even then in decay. This early nineteenth century watercolour by Norris of St Florence, near Tenby, shows such houses.

The tin roof on the northern end of The Park is an indicator that at some point the house was thatched, and indeed the much decayed thatch beneath the tin is still there. There are other buildings, with tin roofs covering old thatch elsewhere in west Wales. The picture below is of a very small semi-detached cottage at Henllan Amgoed just over the border in Carmarthenshire. This building is on the market as I write this and needs listing and saving. It is another gem.
 Loving the tin shed too!

Thatched roofs could also be found up until not too long ago in the north of Pembrokeshire. The photographs below show two examples that I came across near Brawdy in North Pembrokeshire in the early 1980s. The photographs also serve to show the difference in building styles between this area and the good quality agricultural land around Castlemartin and Stackpole in the south of Pembrokeshire.

The cottage near Brawdy with the tin roof covering very decayed thatch. c1982

The crude roof timbers supporting the thatch. The hessian sacking hanging down once hid the thatch from view.

A view along the length of the cottage from the chimney end showing a timber an plaster partition and many collapsed floor boards from the crog loft(?).

Another view as above, but this time showing the darker remains of straw rope under-hatch nearer the camera

The house as it is today.

 Now to get back to The Park at St Twynnells. The northern end of the house, as mentioned above, still has the thatch in situ beneath the tin roof. As you go through the front door and look up, the thatch immediately catches your eye!

Looking towards the north gable of The Park. The large hearth area, as shown in Part 6, is just out of sight below this shot.

A closer look at the thatch under the west facing tin roof. The roof timbers seem slight, but the main rafters are chamfered, as are the collars pegged to the rafters. In places straw(?) rope securing the thatch can be seen looped around the very slight purlins.

The surviving timber framed lathe and plaster partition in the roof of The Park that separates the former loft space from the living area of the cottage. The slight remains of the floor of the loft can be seen on the right. The loft would have been reached by a ladder.

The main living room come kitchen of The Park. This is still under the thatched part of the house, but the thatch has been concealed behind plank boarding affixed to the roof trusses. The hooks hanging down by the range were used for curing bacon. The lateral outshut is on the right hand side, just behind the wooden pallet. Here the boarding has dropped from its original position.

The lateral outshut at at The Park showing the collapsing roof lining in this part of the house.
A reconstruction of the roofing arrangement of The Parke, in this view looking north from the southern end of the kitchen/living room.
The new owners of The Park are keen to restore the roof with thatch. The thatch may well give up secrets about the age of the roof and the type of straw used in its construction. They may even grow the specialist straw on one of the fields behind the house!

The winter storms have almost seen the roof finally succumb to the elements, but the determined efforts of the owners have seen that it will stay on for a little longer whilst it continues to give up the secrets of it construction.

In Part 8 of this series of posts, we will look at the roof over the southern "parlour". This is a slate roof, with a different construction style to that in the northern part of the house.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Short Changes at Gandish, East Bergholt Suffolk

Gandish Through Time

This is a brief post to experiment with the use of video in presenting a view of landscape changes over time.

The location shown is Gandish Road in East Bergholt, Suffolk. The short video is pretty much self explanatory!

Gandish Through Time Video

Thursday, 10 March 2016

The Park - A Rare Gem at Merrion - Part 6

The next few photographs show interior views of the fireplace and, oven and stack in the north gable of The Park.

The opening to the oven/fireplace is a about 4-5ft tall., with a wooden beam above. There is another wooden beam running across the floor of the opening. In this photograph a small stone platform is visible to the right of this opening. At the rear of the small "room" can be seen the doorway to the bread oven and to the right (not clearly visible here) is a fire grate with a "fitted" stone above.
The change in the colour of the lime wash on the gable wall betrays the level of an inserted ceiling and probable crog loft, now lost.

The oven visible today seems to have been a later insertion into the rear of the massive chimney

The oven has a circular domed top and is constructed from what appear to be cream coloured firebricks. The floor of the oven, where the burning wood would have been spread to heat the oven, seems to be of thick flagstone construction. There is no door surviving for the oven. To the right of the oven is a smoke blackened alcove with a small grate, again made of cream firebrick,  which may have been used for cooking or heating water. Now it seems to have a fitted stone shelf inserted above it of uncertain purpose.

The chimney stack is of massive limestone construction, blackened by smoke and soot. The western and back wall of the stack are vertical. The east and front walls taper until all meet to form a rectangular, near/y square flue. within the "fireplace" itself, on the western wall their is some irregular stonework, now covered in lime wash that might suggest the removal of an oven. the wall here seems, at first inspection, to be very thick. Perhaps with enough depth to accommodate an earlier oven? Similarly, the grate in the eastern wall seems to be a later insertion.

The build of the entire fireplace and stack has the appearance of being of better quality than much of the rest of the house.

In the next post I will look at the fireplace in relation to the northern part of the building.

See also:

The exterior of The Park

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The Park - A Rare Gem at Merrion - Part 5

The one way into the cottage is a door in the east facing wall of the house. If you are tall you will need to duck!

Looking down at your feet as you step over the threshold onto the quarry tiled floor, there are the grooves in the door frame to accommodate a drop down board - not to keep flood waters out (as in coastal towns like Aldeburgh in Suffolk), but, according to the owner for whom it was installed,  to stop a crawling baby leaving the cottage un-noticed!

 Below is the view of the north end of the cottage. The lathe and plaster partitions have been removed - notice the scar in the floor and the changes in wall colour wash.

The north end of The Park, looking towards the large "fireplace" and oven.

The same view as above, showing the position of partitions and doorways that have now been lost.

The view below is similar to those above, but taken on another visit, when it was raining hard!! The water was dripping through a hole in the roof near the gable and running down the floor, finding those aras that were slightly sunken dues to decades (centuries??) under foot. Again notice the scars in the floor where partitions formally stood. The small room on the left looks like it might have had a mortar floor. Also notice the irregularity of the west wall (left of picture) when compared to the line of tiles on the floor.

The north end of The Park. See notes above.

Longitudinal section of The Park
A good way of trying to understand how a building "works" is to try and reconstruct it with SketchUp.

The pictures in this post are of a 3D virtual model of The Park put together from photographs and a ground plan of the cottage. Whilst not accurate to scale, they do give a fair impression of how the house might have looked. 

The next post will look at the "fireplace and oven" in the north gable.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

The Park - A Rare Gem at Merrion - Part 4

A Closer Look at the Exterior of the House and its Setting

See also:
The first photograph below is a view from the north-east of the cottage that shows the conical. semi-circular oven projection to good effect. Originally this would have been covered in random slates, but these have fallen off and lie around the base of the oven. The owner has protected the interior of the oven by capping it with a cement mix - a good short term measure to keep the rain from seeping through the porous limestone and damaging the fire bricks within, but reinstatement of the slates with a lime based mortar, allowing the stonework to breathe, would be a better longer term solution. The slate covering of the lower part of the chimney stack gives protection to what was probably an earlier oven off to the side of the main stack. This will become clearer when we look inside the house. After each group of "real" photograph is a view from a similar vantage point that shows an approximate 3D model of The Park showing what it could look like or what it might have looked like.

The next two photograph, taken from the north-west shows how an elder(?) tree has taken hold in the stonework. Killing this off chemically and allowing the root structure to die before attempting to remove it will stop the roots of the plant doing more damage to the old structure by prizing the stones apart.

The fourth  and fifth photographs are taken from the south-west.

The step in the roof line marks the end of the thatched roof and the start of a (probably) early to mid-nineteenth century rebuilding of the lower end of the house. The roof over this part is of uniform sized slates, with a small coal fireplace and its flue (with stack) built into the southern gable of the house.

The chimney stack atop the southern gable seems to be built of limestone. The ground level on the western side of the house is much higher than that on the east, and large stones in the hedgerow and underfoot may indicate that there may be the footings of a "lost" wing of the house beneath the turf and debris build up. Only careful excavation can demonstrate whether that is true or not, but there are clues that this might be a possibility on the inside of the cottage.

The photograph to the left, above, shows a closer view of the southern gable of The Park. There is a crack that runs up the wall on the outside, along the line of the flue, and some stones appear to have been dislodged. There are seemingly still remnants of the original lime "render". The photograph on the right above shows the more modern slate roofing of the southern part of the house. There is also an indication of the higher ground to the west, behind a partly revetted wall.

In the shot immediately above, the various lime wash coatings can be seen, with a light ochre colour seeming to predominate. Beyond this, the lateral chimney stack is smothered in ivy and a sycamore tree has taken root at its base. The upper parts of this stack are brick built and the red brick is visible through the growth. This stack must have been heightened, or more likely repaired, after the mid-nineteenth century.

Next time we will begin to look at the interior of the house.