If you were to ask someone what a British ‘period house’ looks like you’d get a variety of answers; beams, thatched roof, Cotswold stone, Georgian, Victorian; Homes across Britain can date as far back as the medieval times and the build methods and structure has changed vastly over the years. Here is your definitive guide to all things British Period Property.
The famous Haynes Manuals have been very helpful, and below is a excerpt from their excellent book Period Property Manual :
The simplest definition is ‘a property with solid walls’, made with natural materials like brick, stone, timber, or mud. This includes just about every house built up until well after the First World War, when modern cavity wall construction began to become mainstream. It’s a testament to the quality and longevity of such antique properties that in the 21st century they still account for around one in five of the UK’s housing stock – an incredible five million plus houses.
But old buildings are special in several other ways. Unlike today’s bland developer-built boxes, they were a product of their immediate environment. Designed to withstand local weather conditions, they were constructed using materials sourced from nearby woodlands, fields, or quarries, or sometimes dug from the ground beneath the builders’ feet.
Distinctive regional designs were not determined by architects’ intent on ‘challenging assumptions’ but by the practical challenges of nature. A roof pitch would depend on the ability of the coverings to shed water and resist wind. The width, depth and height of houses was a function of the strength of the wall materials and the structural spans possible in timber floor joists and roof rafters. Click here to be taken to a guide to thatched roofs.
There’s something innately pleasing about an environment brimming with the weird and wonderful quirks of local building traditions that slowly evolved over many centuries. The combination of traditional materials and distinctive shapes makes a major contribution to the character and diversity of the different regions of Britain.
The sheer variety of old houses crafted from local materials adds interest to an otherwise bland mass-produced world of identical buildings.
Most people would agree that the towns and cities which we find most harmonious and agreeable are those that have retained their heritage and resisted intrusive modern development.
Pinpointing the date of your house is made all the more challenging because styles and methods of construction didn’t suddenly change with the death of a monarch. Georgian architecture, for example, didn’t immediately become Victorian overnight in 1837. Nonetheless, it’s useful to put a name to the period in which your house was built.
In part one of this blog we explore Medieval homes, which spans the period of 1066 to 1485 and Tudor homes between 1485 & 1603. We look at their style type and construction with some examples of typical medieval properties.
The Black Death swept through Great Britain in 1348 and those that survived found themselves in high demand to fill the labour force that had been decimated by the disease. Due to this demand, workers were nowelevated from simple peasant to paid labour and as a result they could afford to construct better, more substantial properties than the stick & straw homes they had previously built. Wattle & daub was now the preferred method which provided a sturdier property construction, offering better protection from the weather.
They were made by first constructing a framework of timber, then filling in the spaces with wattle (woven twigs). Finally, the twigs were daubed with mud which, when dried, made a hard wall.
History On The Net provides a great explanation and series of diagrams to help explain this.
Properties of this type in the south of England in cluding Devin, Cornwall, the West Country and even East Anglia are referred to as Cob Houses. Cob is an English term attested to around the year 1600 for an ancient building material that has been used for building since prehistoric times. The etymology of cob and cobbing is unclear, but in several senses means to beat or strike, which is how cob material is applied to a wall.
The Tudor period runs for 118 years and includes the Elizabethan period (1558-1603) which has it’s own slightly distinctive style. Tudor buildings are characterised by classic half-timbered black and white woodwork, with steeply-pitched, sometimes thatched roofs and small windows. Tudor properties are the essence of old England, with tall narrow doors and windows, wooden floors, small gardens and rich oak furniture.
Pickersleigh Court in Malvern (above) is a listed property in the Worcestershire town of Malvern. It’s listing states:
Property experts & selling agents, Savills, have previously marketed Waystrode Manor in Kent (below). “The exact date of origin is unknown but Elizabethan historians have said the first owner bore the name Wheystrode, and that he was a Knight to whom the unscrupulous King John gave the Manor for services rendered in 1208. Wheystrode and his descendants were Lords of the Fee, and held the Manor until 1460 when it was passed to John Style, and remained in the family for 300 years, with descendants living in Cowden until the 1960s.
Waystrode Manor is an exceptional Grade II* listed Tudor house which has been the subject of complete refurbishment and extending by the present owners. The house now provides well proportioned accommodation with a wealth of character features together with a subtle mix of modern styling.
Features include exposed wall and ceiling timbers, oak floor boards, lattice and lead light windows, inglenook fireplaces, high ceilings, more.”
One of the most famous Tudor houses is Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in Warwickshire (below). Wikipedia have provided us with a wonderful description of this iconic property:
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is a twelve-roomed farmhouse where Anne Hathaway, the wife of William Shakespeare, lived as a child in the village of Shottery, Warwickshire, England, about 1 mile (1.6 km) west of Stratford-upon-Avon. Spacious, and with several bedrooms, it is now set in extensive gardens.
The earliest part of the property was built prior to the 15th century; the higher part is 17th century. The house was known as Hewlands Farm in Shakespeare’s day and had more than 90 acres (36 hectares) of land attached to it; to call it a cottage is arguably a misnomer, as it is much larger than the term usually implies. As in many houses of the period, it has multiple chimneys to spread the heat evenly throughout the house during winter. The largest chimney was used for cooking. It also has visible timber framing, typical of vernacular Tudor architecture.
After the death of Hathaway’s father, the cottage was owned by her brother Bartholomew, and was passed down the Hathaway family until 1846, when financial problems forced them to sell it. However, it was still occupied by them as tenants when it was acquired in 1892 by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which removed later additions and alterations. In 1969 the cottage was badly damaged in a fire, but was restored by the Trust. It is now open to the public as a museum.
Country Life Magazine have collated a number of wonderful Tudor properties for sale here.
In the next blog we will explore the Stuart period. Stuart properties were the beginning of the trend for terraced homes, often featuring smaller rooms at the top of the house in comparison to the other rooms. Stuart period properties often have wood panelling, elaborate fire places and plastered ceilings.
This fabulous period is somewhat complexed in architectural terms, however broadly speaking it extends from 1603-1714 (except for 1649-60, ‘Cromwellian period) and includes the Jacobean period (the reign of James 1 – 1603-25), the William and Mary period (1689-1702) and my personal favourite, Queen Anne (1702-14).
To add further complication the 1660s-1730s period was known as English Baroque. There will me much to explore and enjoy.
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Wattle and daub is surprisingly strong and if you whitewash it, it’s very weather resistant.