I am a great believer in omens, I suppose that goes hand in hand with being superstitious…. I’m one of those people who, when I see a magpie on its own, have to wish him ‘good day’ and enquire after his lady wife…. If I see a pair together, it always cheers me up – as I am convinced something good is about to happen…. I saw a pair just the other morning, attempting to ‘hijack’ the bird feeder – it was all quite comical and their antics made me laugh….
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post – Standing at the cross roads…. – inspired because – at that point in time – I felt as though that was exactly what I was doing….trying to decide which way to go…. I had to choose whether to continue waiting to return to the antiques centre where I have a room (but had to vacate some 18 months ago, due to a serious fire – complications have meant rebuilding has been delayed). Taking the decision to wait required finding a way to fund the continuation of keeping all my stock and fittings in storage – i.e. “go out and get a new job, Haze”…. I must admit, this idea seemed favourite….but I knew what would happen…. I would become involved – adapt to a new life….that’s human nature…. Besides, I love what I do, it’s a passion; so, after careful consideration, it was clear, I needed to find another venue from which to trade….
After initial investigations, I was surprised by the lack of antiques centres in my local area; those that do exist are just that little bit too far away to be practical…. There are two or three others near to the Mill but as I will hopefully be returning there eventually, having two bases so close together seemed counter-productive to me…. I needed something a similar distance from home but in the opposite direction….but nothing appeared to be available….
It was whilst discussing this matter with my Mum one afternoon last week, that I picked up my phone to do another quick search of antiques centres in the local area….and there it was! How could I have missed this one before? Right there, under my nose, just half an hour away…. I must have passed it scores of times, as it lies on route to where my mother-in-law used to live…. From what I could see from the website – it looked lovely, absolutely perfect…. Obviously I was going to have to find out more….
Now this is where it gets uncanny….
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote another blog post – A stitch in time…. – As with all my ‘mini project’ posts, I became completely engrossed in finding out about my chosen subject; I was totally absorbed with this particular one – especially with regards to the treatment imprisoned suffragettes were subjected to – in the form of force-feeding…. In the blog, I mentioned several prominent activists who had been based in the Surrey Hills area…. One couple, who helped Emmeline Pankhurst found and run the Women’s Social Political Union (WSPU), were husband and wife Frederick and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence. It was their home, ‘The Mascot’, in South Holmwood, where many of the suffragettes who had been on hunger strike whilst in prison, went to recover upon their release…. Bearing in mind how I had taken this subject to heart – imagine my surprise when I found out this antiques centre neighbours that very house once occupied by the Pethick-Lawrences….
I knew as soon as I walked in to The Holly and Laurel Emporium that this was going to be the new place for me…. Everything about it felt ‘right’ – the friendly atmosphere, the delights around every corner waiting to be discovered…. My idea of ‘Heaven’….(and a gorgeous tea room – always an important factor in my book)…. So, at the end of this month, I will be taking up residence in a room at http://www.thehollyandlaurelemporium.com – and I can’t wait…. It will be so good to get my teeth back into what I love doing so much…. Then, of course, once the Mill reopens, I’ll have double the fun….
So, I am no longer at the crossroads, I am off down a chosen route again. I have always been of the opinion ‘what’s meant to be’…. Some may say all this is simply coincidence – but for me it is definitely an ‘omen’….
After a month of having a poorly rabbit living in the bathroom I have got used to constantly clearing up a trail of straw and hay that seems to find its way around the rest of the house…. In days gone by that would have been perfectly normal in this old place; in fact, the floors would have been totally covered with the stuff….
When we first took possession of this cottage, one of our first jobs was to take up the brick floors of the bathroom and what is now the dining room. The brick was prone to drawing up moisture and so constant damp floors were an issue. That said, even that – in its time – must have been an improvement on what was there before….plain, simple compacted mud. Yes, we often joke about living in a place with mud floors, this old cottage had literally just that….
The kitchen has old Victorian flagstones (unfortunately they are un-aesthetically pleasing – so now provide a base for wooden laminate flooring) but this floor too would once have been plain mud….
Grander abodes may have had stone floors – but mud or stone, neither offered much in the way of home comfort when left bare…. So, to overcome this, the floors would have been covered with reeds, rushes or straw. This made a soft ‘carpet-like’ covering, providing a little warmth and helping with cleanliness by soaking up spillages (and worse)….as in days gone by it wasn’t unusual for the inhabitants to share their dwelling with their most valuable assets….their livestock. Of course, cows, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens are difficult to house train….
As if the smell of ‘eau de goat’ constantly lingering in the air wasn’t bad enough – the people probably didn’t smell much better either, as folk did not tend to bath much in the Middle Ages….
Then there were the other uninvited household inhabitants to be considered; rats, mice and other scampering rodents….and with these creatures came fleas, lice and ticks; the straw covering the floors and providing the stuffing for mattresses….an absolute haven for them….
Some households may have replaced the straw or reeds on a fairly frequent basis but the majority would have only changed them a couple of times a year, some may have not bothered at all…. Quite possibly a new layer would just have been added as required, the bottom, rotting layers staying in place for years….
In a previous blog I talked about how nose gays were used by people to overcome unpleasant odours – that was not the only way powerful smelling herbs were used to mask rancid, disagreeable whiffs….
All areas of the home, kitchens, dining halls, sleeping areas would have had herbs strewn amongst the floor covering. They would have been put amongst the straw of bedding and scattered across tabletops….any where they could release their sweet aromas….
When scattered on the floor the herbs would be crushed underfoot when walked upon; some herbs were chosen for their scent, others because they acted as a deterrent to insects, such as fleas….
The best strewing herbs according to Thomas Tusser’s “Five Hundred Good Points of Husbandry” (1573) were:- Bassel (basil), Bawlme (lemon balm), Camamel (chamomile), Costemary (costmary), Cowsleps and Paggles (cowslips), Daisies of all sorts, Sweet Fennel, Germander, Hysop (hyssop), Lavender, Lavender Spike, Lavender Cotton (santolina), Marjoram, Mawdelin, Penny Ryall (pennyroyal), Roses of all kinds, Red Myntes, Sage, Tansy, Violets and Winter Savery….
Many other herbs may have been included; mint, thyme, rosemary, meadowsweet, wormwood, rue, sweet woodruff…. Pennyroyal was used particularly as a flea or tick repellent and meadowsweet was a fond favourite of Queen Elizabeth I…. Part of the purpose of the Mediaeval and Elizabethan garden was to grow herbs for strewing….
Of course, it wasn’t just private abodes that had mud or stone floors, just about all buildings did, including churches. Church pews did not arrive until the 1400s; in fact, our very own church, St. Mary and All Saints, here in Dunsfold, is reputed to have the very first pews in the Country. Before seating was available those attending Services had to stand, kneeling when required to pray…. Only the rich could afford cushions, so it is not hard to imagine the discomfort such floors caused to the knees….
Once again the floors would have been strewn with rushes and herbs….making things a little more comfortable and at the same time disguising nasty odours from the unwashed bodies of the congregation packing the church, or perhaps those of the deceased buried under the church floor…!
Each year, typically in the late summer, the old, rotten rushes were cleared out ready to be replaced. It didn’t take long for the process to become an annual Parish event…. It became an excuse for villages across the Land to celebrate and party when the church’s rushes were replaced; a celebration with revelry, feasting, drinking and Morris dancing….
The rushes were taken to the church in carts, in what was to evolve into Rush Bearing Processions. The rush-cart would be decorated with garlands of flowers (which were then used to decorate the inside of the church) and often silver plate items, borrowed from those in the community fortunate enough to own some….and then the cart would have been pulled along by a team of men….
Photo credit: Image from page 90 of “Rush-bearing : an account of the old custom of strewing rushes ; carrying rushes to church ; the rush-cart ; garlands in churches ; Morris-dancers ; the wakes ; the rush” (1891) Internet Archive Book Images via Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/14780872121/
Photo credit: Image from page 67 of “Rush-bearing : an account of the old custom of strewing rushes ; carrying rushes to church ; the rush-cart ; garlands in churches ; Morris-dancers ; the wakes ; the rush” (1891) Internet Archive Book Images via Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/14761014326/
The processions became competitive, with each village trying to ‘out-do’ the next…. Competition was intense, to who had the biggest and best cart…. Possibly due to the large quantities of ale consumed, sometimes brawls broke out between opposing teams…. It was not unusual for church ministers to refuse entry into their churches of rowdy rush-bearers….
Sweet flag, a strongly aromatic perennial plant, was introduced to Britain during the 1500s and became the centre-piece of rush-bearing ceremonies. A versatile material, with medicinal and culinary uses, it was also used on some English cottages as thatching….
Each church tended to allocate one day in the calendar for the ceremony. By the 16th Century, the bells were rung and ale, wine and cake were provided for the rush-bearers. Each church has a patron saint allocated to it at the time of consecration; an annual feast (wake) was held on the nearest Sunday to the official feast day of the allocated saint. By the 18th Century the rush-bearing ceremony usually formed part of the church’s feast day….
Rush strewing in churches died out in the early 1800s, as floors became flag-stoned…. Records show that one of the last was the church in Saddleworth, North Yorkshire, its floors were covered until 1826. Nowadays, certain areas, mainly confined to the North West areas of Cheshire and Lancashire, (although a small part of West Yorkshire participates too), have revived the tradition. Processions attract large crowds of spectators; the carts are highly decorated, with teams of men pulling them, whilst the ladies ride on top…. Who knows, perhaps it will become a celebration which spreads to the rest of the Country….let’s face it, nothing’s changed in that respect….any excuse to party….
Photo credit: Rush-Bearing 2013 AdamKR via Foter.com / CC BY-SA Original image URL: https:/www.flickr.com/photos/adamkr/9702425524/
The tradition of the little girl at a wedding, preceding the bride with a basket of petals and herbs comes from herb strewing…. Herbal weddings are becoming increasingly popular. Very often newly wed couples are showered with natural confetti, either fresh or dried. Many people like to make their own, maybe blending certain flowers and herbs to convey a personal message, they may incorporate: lavender – for luck and devotion, rose petals – for love, marjoram – for joy and happiness, chamomile – for patience and sage – to wish a long life….
Eager to use every inch of available space in No.3, our attention turned to the area under the stairs, that for some reason had been ‘bricked up’ – literally, it was inaccessible. As we set about removing the bricks, I jokingly remarked to John, “I hope we don’t find a body under here….”
John made a hole big enough to poke his head through and using a torch, peered into the darkness…. Inside could only be described as resembling a ‘midden’ – and there on top of a mound of earth, lay a bone! Slightly nervous of what we were about to find, we continued to break our way in…. What we found was an assorted pile of rubbish and a quantity of animal bones, we can only assume what we had unearthed was a very old rat’s lair….
Oddly though, amongst the debris were a collection of marbles and another of old bottle tops…. We never did get to the bottom of why the under stairs had been bricked up (perhaps it really had been a midden and previous occupants, long gone by, couldn’t be bothered to clear it out – who knows) ; it now serves as a very useful cupboard space….
As this was one of the last areas to be explored, I think we were secretly hoping we were going to find something like a ‘concealed shoe’….or perhaps some other ‘offering’ hidden away….protecting the house from evil spirits. We had gone over just about every other inch of the place and all we had found were a few hairgrips under a window sill, a magazine from the 1950s under the bath and a few giant acorns stashed in a hole in a beam….
‘Caches’, the correct term for offerings, (from the French ‘cache’ – meaning to give), are items that have been concealed somewhere in a building; under floors, above ceilings, up chimneys, around windows and doors, plastered into walls….
They were believed to protect the inhabitants from evil influences; witches, ghosts, demons and the like. It was a custom that was with us for centuries, only really dying out at some point in the last century (may be the advent of burglar alarms made people feel safer?!)…. It is not a custom that was confined just to the UK, by any means; such offerings have been found in buildings all over Europe, parts of Scandinavia, North America, Australia, even China….
Shoes are the most common; nearly always a single shoe, usually well worn and often repaired. In days gone by, as much use as possible would be gleaned from possessions, unlike the throw away society we know today….
About half of the shoes recorded have been those of children; it was believed the innocence and purity of children would over power evil spirits…. The earliest shoe that has been found to date was discovered behind the choir stalls in Winchester Cathedral, the stalls were originally built in 1308; it is thought the shoe may have been there since that time….
It is assumed many shoes are found and simply thrown away, never to be recorded. Northampton Museum has a ‘Concealed Shoe Index’ that it has been compiling since the late 1950s; it has approximately 2,000 entries. Shoes have been found in a large variety of buildings : monasteries, churches, hospitals, theatres, schools, even army barracks. They have been discovered in pubs and breweries, museums, factories and of course private dwellings, from tiny cottages to manor houses, even the likes of Hampton Court Palace….
The shoe is the only item of clothing that truly takes on the form of the wearer, it shapes itself to the foot…. It was believed that the spirit of a deceased person would be trapped in the shoe – a ‘spirit trap’…. It is thought this belief comes from the 14th Century, when it is said John Schorn, the Rector of Marston, Buckinghamshire, cast the Devil into a boot, thus entrapping him….
The largest cache found in the UK was in a 400 year old cottage, which was being renovated in Snowdonia, Wales. Here, building contractors found nearly 100 single shoes buried under a chimney stack. The nearest recorded example of a concealed shoe being found to here, was in the neighbouring village of Hascombe. A house was undergoing repair work and from the rafters fell an 18th Century child’s shoe….its heel broken down where the child had continuously pulled it on and off….and the toe was worn through.
Although many think the ‘concealed shoe’ was to keep away evil influences, there are also others who believe shoes were hidden as a fertility offering. Shoes have long been associated with fertility. In Lancashire, there is an old custom called ‘smickling’ – it involves trying on the shoes worn by a woman who has recently given birth, supposedly this brings luck in conceiving…. Casting a shoe after a bride departing for her honeymoon was another old tradition, even today we still tie shoes to the car of a newly wed couple….
Some think the connection between shoes and fertility is reflected in an old English nursery rhyme from Mother Goose :
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe;
She had so many children she didn’t know what to do;
She gave them some broth without any bread;
Then whipped them all soundly and sent them to bed….
This rhyme dates to 1794 and there are some that think it refers to King George II, who’s wife, Caroline, had eight children. George II had the nickname ‘Old Woman’ and it was widely believed that Caroline was the one with the real power….
Of course, it wasn’t just shoes that were used as caches. Other items of clothing have often been found; gloves, hats, belts, breeches, jackets. In a thatched cottage, in Pontarddulias, South Wales, a mid 18th Century corset was found in a wall…. It is not just clothing that has been found; objects such as coins, spoons, knives, books, goblets, pots, pipes, children’s toys and dolls and more macabre things, horses skulls and mummified cats….
Dried cats have been found on numerous occasions. It was thought the presence of the cat would deter vermin, such as rats. However, there was another reason cats were hidden within the house, cats were believed to be highly susceptible to detecting evil spirits : and because of their connection to witches, it was the belief that they would provide protection from such….
Witchcraft was greatly feared in centuries gone by. Witches bottles are also regularly found, no where more so than in East Anglia, where the belief in witches was very strong indeed…. Very often they are discovered buried under a fireplace, the floor or plastered into a wall. It was believed that as long as the bottle was kept well hidden and remained unbroken, the ‘spell’ contained within would keep on working…. The origins go back to the 1500s and they are particular to the Elizabethan period….
The earliest bottles to be found were typically ‘Bartmann jugs’ – made from salt glazed stone. During the 1500s and 1600s, Bartmann jugs were made throughout Europe but most especially in Germany. Shaped in the form of a bearded man, their intended use was to store food and drink. They were also manufactured in England, either by copycat potters or German immigrants. Because of the malevolent face of the bearded figure, it became adopted by many as the perfect vessel for a witch’s ‘spell’….
The contents were usually prepared by the local ‘witch’ or folk healer. The spells would be used not only to ward off evil but very often in an attempt to cure an affliction, condition or illness. Earlier spells would contain something personal of the person it was intended for, usually urine but sometimes hair or nail clippings….
Later witches bottles were often made of glass…. They would be filled with red wine, rosemary, pins and needles. The bottle would be buried and it was believed evil spirits would be caught on the pins and needles, drowned in the wine and then banished by the rosemary….
To say I wasn’t the happiest bunny in the warren last week, is perhaps an understatement….
Living in the ‘sticks’, we have no mains gas and so rely on an LPG tank. This works just fine – until someone forgets to check the levels and the gas runs out…. I am a miserable moo at the best of times during the winter months, I detest the cold – to have no heating or hot water equals a total disaster for me. So, when total disaster struck last week, I was not happy at all and I let everybody know about it! Eventually, a certain member of the household snapped back at me – “For goodness sake! It’s only been a couple of days, imagine what it used to be like….”
This got me thinking…. If this house could talk, what would it have said to me? I’m certain something like – “You lightweight wimp! I could tell you a tale or two….”
Now, I can only try to imagine what it must have been like for the first occupants of this house….pretty grim I should think. I looked around my kitchen and attempted to visualise what it would have looked like some 650 years ago….
The ‘cooker’ doubling up as the ‘central heating system’ would have been an open fire in the middle of the floor – fireplaces with chimneys hadn’t been invented yet. The place would have been thick with wood smoke, most of it being drawn up into the rafters to eventually find its way out but still permeating into everything. Having no windows as such (draughts had to be kept at bay and glass was a rare, expensive commodity), meant it would have been very dark….
Rush lights, a simple form of lighting, would have been readily available. Wild rushes were gathered and then dried, enabling the skin to be stripped off to reveal a firm inner pith, which would be soaked in animal fat. This produced a ‘torch’ that could be fixed to the beams to provide light. They did not last for long and needed a watchful eye to prevent nasty accidents from happening. If I look closely at some of the beams in here, I can see evidence of scorch marks where rush lights had been left to burn too low…. If a household was wealthy enough, tallow candles may have been used instead….
Scorch marks on the beams in the kitchen of No.3, caused by rush lights being allowed to burn too low….
Cooking was probably a fairly simple affair. Meat was a rarity; if it was available, it was most likely to be pork. Rabbits would have been plentiful for the lucky ones, who were granted permission to catch them, by the Lord of the Manor. If the family owned a pig, it was normal to slaughter it at the beginning of Winter, to provide for the coming months and because it was impractical to feed such livestock over this period….
Generally, the family’s daily diet consisted of one main meal per day ; coarse barley bread and ‘pottage’ – a type of stew made from grain and vegetables (that had been grown in the vegetable patch)….
Modern day example of ‘pottage’ – post Sir Walter Raleigh !!
Nuts would have been gathered in the Autumn. As would acorns, to fatten the pig. Cheese would have been made from goats milk (or cow if the family was wealthy enough to have one). Chickens scratched around the yard, providing a supply of eggs, perhaps they would have been accompanied by the odd goose. It is highly likely sheep would have been kept, for their wool…. The most prized beast to own would have been an ox – to help work the land….
Animals were highly valuable; this is why, so often, they were kept in the house overnight….
Bears and wolves still roamed the English countryside in those days, as well as the occasional chancing ‘rustler’. Keeping the animals at such close quarters brought its problems, a part from the obvious of not being house trained, (which in its turn attracted flies), there were the fleas; the house would have been a haven for all kinds of creepy crawlies….and vermin! Rats and mice would have been in abundance….
I am often to be heard complaining about mud on the floor – (my lot aren’t very well house trained either) – but back in the day, these floors would have been made of mud, with straw strewn across them…. Contrary to belief, people in Mediaeval times did attempt to keep their homes relatively clean – the straw was periodically swept out and replaced….
They also made an effort to keep themselves clean, although bathing would have been a warmer weather activity, when rivers and streams could be used…. Clothes would have been changed and washed on a fairly frequent basis. Of course, there was no running water – that had to be brought in daily – the ‘loo’ would have been a bucket, that needed emptying every day into a nearby stream….
Most likely, the first occupants of this house were a yeoman and his family. A yeoman had a slightly higher standing than a foot soldier but lower than a knight or nobility. He would have owned and worked land but at the same time served his Lord. He would have been trained to use the bow and quite possibly a sword and dagger, he would have taken part in fighting on behalf of his Lord….
His home would have been more substantial than that of a peasant or ‘serf’ – its size depending on his wealth. This particular one probably belonged to a fairly modest yeoman but was well constructed for its time. Furniture would have been sparse – benches and stools (as opposed to chairs), with a wooden table and a chest in which to keep clothes and valuables. Possibly, a simple bed or two but more likely, straw matresses on the floor. Various hooks would have been situated around the place from which possessions and provisions were hung…. The whole family and any servants they had (if affluent enough), probably all lived together in one room….
The lady of the house had many tasks to attend to on a daily basis, possibly with a servant to help; although, in a house of this size, that is unlikely to have been the case…. Keeping the house clean (as best she could) and making rush lights were part of the day to day routine. She would have been responsible for feeding the family, making the pottage, cheese, bread etc : Milking the cow or goats, collecting eggs, feeding the animals, tending the vegetable plot….
The sheep needed shearing, the wool washing and carding. Then it was her job to spin it and quite possibly weave the resulting yarn to make cloth, from which she made clothing for the family. Breeches and tunics for the men; an ankle length gown or two for herself. She also wore a surcoat (a type of over dress), a smock, maybe a cape and being married, a wimple (a drape covering the head, tucking around the neck and chin)….
She was also in charge of all the laundry and any mending or patching that needed doing….
Being a yeoman’s wife, her clothing would have been of better quality than that of a peasant. The family probably would have had enough money to be able to buy linen and dyes to colour the wool. Greens and blues were favoured (reds and purples being kept for the upper classes and royalty). Wearing yellow was discouraged, as this was the colour worn by women of ill repute! Certain fabrics, such as silk were not allowed, as these were reserved for the higher classes….
She would, almost certainly, have had several children to look after. Education was extremely rare, so generally children would have been set to work as soon as they were old enough….
As if she didn’t have enough to do already, the housewife would have been expected to help her husband on the land; sowing, reaping, threshing, even ploughing….
A typical yearly calendar for a yeoman would entail :
January/February : Plough and harrow the land. Spread manure. Plant trees and hedges. Prune fruit trees. March/April : Sow wheat, rye, oats and barley. Scour the ditches and maintain coppices. May : More of the same. Wean the lambs. June : Wash and shear the sheep. Manure the fields ready for summer ploughing.
July : Make hay. Get wood in ready for Winter. August : Harvest, probably using hired help. September/October : Sow rye, then wheat. Make cider. Prune hedges and trees. Plant rose bushes. Attend local fairs selling produce, buying and bartering for required provisions. November : Slaughter animals. Put straw out to rot, ready for next years manure. Bring in any animals intended to overwinter. Cover asparagus and strawberry beds.
December : Plough land ready for beans. Gather fuel.
Then at the end of the year, a few days would have been taken off (just tending to absolutely necessary tasks, such as the animals), to feast and celebrate Christmas. Then the cycle would begin all over again, bearing in mind life expectancy was just mid forties, that was if they were lucky….
There is no denying, life was tough….full of hardship, pain and discomfort….
Next time the gas runs out, or we experience a power cut….I shall remember all this before I open my mouth to complain….I have learnt my lesson….
I often joke that we live in a house made of ‘cow poo’…. OK, so that’s not strictly true but wattle and daub does often incorporate soiled animal bedding which may contain dung – (why use the expensive, good stuff – especially when it has already been well trod down?)….
Wattle and daub has been used for thousands of years, pretty much ever since man started building shelters. It is one of the most common infills for timber framed buildings….
Daub refers to the clay mixture, which is made by treading the materials beneath the feet…. (Crumbs!! Weren’t grapes crushed this way once when making wine? I do hope they washed their feet first!)…. The clay is combined with water (or perhaps animal urine in days long gone by) and straw, or other vegetation matter. Daub is still made in very much the same way today as it was centuries ago…. Thank goodness for wellies….
The wattle is the mesh of small timbers (usually hazel but sometimes oak laths are used), which are woven or tied between a supporting framework of larger timbers or ‘staves’. The wood used needs to be in its green state and so is put to use almost as soon as it is ‘coppiced’….
Coppicing is an ancient form of woodland management which goes back to Neolithic times. Once common, copses would of been found throughout the countryside – however, with the advent of modern day materials, the practice went into decline in the middle of the last century. Nowadays, it is beginning to be revived due to its sustainability. Coppicing involves cutting down young trees, such as hazel, willow or sweet chestnut, to almost ground level. These broad leaf trees will then send shoots up from the stump again, thus regenerating themselves….
These shoots are then harvested periodically – anywhere between five to thirty years, depending on the size of the required poles. A part from providing the timber for wattle, coppice product useage is varied; anything from smaller items, such as pea/bean sticks, charcoal, firewood, baskets, tool/broom handles to larger products – furniture, fencing and even ships planking….
Once the timber framework and wattle has been constructed, the daub is applied to the panels on both sides, (usually simultaneously, often two people working together, on opposite sides). The daub is formed into balls called ‘cats’, which are then carefully pushed between the gaps of the wattle and surrounding frame, then building it up until the surfaces are covered.
Mis-shapen, bowing walls are associated with wattle and daub constructions, so often this adds to the ‘charm’ but the daub can be surprisingly pliable. Some grander homes would have had decorative panels where the clay had been moulded into attractive patterns.
A section of daub infill in an unrestored part of the outshot of No.3
The outshot of No.3, awaiting restoration… Here a section of wattle can be seen, along with oak laths which have not had daub applied….
Examples of No.3’s wattle and daub – still awaiting restoration work….
Once the daub has completely dried out, if it is not the intention to plaster it, the normal practice is to limewash it. This should generally be repeated every Spring, as limewash acts as a disinfectant due to its caustic properties, helping to prevent rot. It is not applied purely for asthetic reasons but helps with preservation too….
Timber framed buildings because of their very nature, are subject to a certain amount of movement. Wattle and daub is very good at accomodating this, although the odd gap or crack will appear, it is not difficult to remedy this, (another reason for regular lime washing, as this helps to fill in any minor cracks). If well maintained, a wattle and daub panel can last for centuries. Although it is porous and absorbs water in wet conditions, daub effectively acts like blotting paper. Moisture is dispersed and quickly evaporates keeping the building relatively dry. Sometimes, to protect from the elements, outside walls may be tile hung or clad with weather boards….
Internal walls are often plastered, usually using the lath and plaster technique. Laths (generally oak) are long, thin strips of green wood. These are nailed flat to the wall or ceiling, ready for the plaster to be applied. The plaster would usually be made from lime and sand, then animal hair (such as horse) added for reinforcement….
The lime for mortar and plaster is obtained by extracting limestone from a quarry and processing it in a lime kiln, where it is heated to form a powder substance called Quick Lime (Calcium Oxide). Sometimes, when lime was not available, they would have used oyster shells instead, as when heated they produce a very similar material….
It is important when doing repair work to buildings constructed with wattle and daub, to use traditional materials. Daub may have shrinkage as it dries, this is perfectly normal, gaps may occur; similarly, as green timbers season, this too may cause gaps. This can easily be remedied by filling in with lime mortar. When larger areas of daub have failed, with careful preparation they can be repaired or replaced with new daub. Timbers can be prone to rot or insect attack, especially woodworm. Staves can be replaced and if necessary, stainless steel meshing can be used to strengthen weak areas of wattle. Each case needs to be assessed and treated individually, sometimes specialist help may be required….
What is necessary, is to consider the nature of the fabric of older buildings, due to the fact the material needs to ‘breathe’. Modern day cements, renders and impermeable paints are unsympathetic to this and their useage can cause a building to decay. Rain water will soak into cracks and soon rot timbers and soak into daub. Therefore, it is absolutely essential to use flexible, porous materials such as limeplaster and limewash on wattle and daub….
With a little love and care (and the right treatment when a problem does arise)….there are very few reasons as to why these old buildings, that have stood for so many centuries, shouldn’t stand for many more….