Home improvements are nothing new, even the finest traditional building shows signs of modification. Perhaps the heating system (a firehood) was smoky or the windows inadequate, they would be replaced, and if the house as a whole was too small it might be extended. As a result very few of our older houses survive in original condition. Typical alterations include:
Mullions removed from windows
Chimney stacks added
Whole storey added
Roof pitch eased
Thatch replaced by slate
House reduced in size
Before planning regulations were introduced few saw the need to match new to old and it is not uncommon to find a single building, Baxter’s Fold at Cracoe for example, where elements from the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries may be seen on one wall. This can be confusing for anyone attempting to understand the development of a specific house.
Between the fourteenth century and the seventeenth many rural buildings included a cruck frame. Assembly began with a series of wooden ‘A’ frames erected at intervals along the plot that the house was intended to occupy. They were linked at the apex by a ridge timber and by two side rails at eaves level. Smaller timbers formed triangles within the framework to improve stiffness. Rafters, hung from the ridge to the side rails, supported a roof burden of heather thatch. When all that was done they built the walls!
As the framing supported the roof, the walls served only to keep out the weather. Anything that formed a waterproof surface could be used: clay, turf, wattle and daub or, from around the start of the sixteenth century, stone. Despite such fundamental differences, when built with stone walls, to the untrained eye one of these houses, looked much the same as any other house.
Although documents suggest that whole villages were built in this way less than a handful of frames survive in the Dales. Nevertheless, re-used fragments are common enough to show how many there once were. Look at the lintel above the barn door at Calton Hall Barn; it has an angled recess with a group of four pegholes and was formerly part of a cruck blade.
To minimise rot, the feet of a cruck frame stood on padstones. Though the crucks have gone, these large, flat stones sometimes may be seen projecting slightly from the surface of a wall at ground level.
after Brunskill (1999)
However plentiful stone might be in the Dales it was not until around 1500 that it started to become the predominant walling material for new construction. From that time also, existing cruck buildings began to be re-walled. There would be no immediate change, indeed, it may have been a hundred years or more before stone walls became the norm.
Roofing slate, although not scarce, came from dedicated quarries some way from the townships. Transport represented a problem and consequently until the middle of the eighteenth century thatched roofs continued to be made.
Certainly by 1650, oak and even ash woodlands were becoming exhausted so timber also would be brought in. Whole trees might come from the great estates; smaller components, ready made from the nearest large town.
During the medieval period chimneys could be found in castles, monasteries and houses of high status; elsewhere the hearth occupied the middle of the floor and smoke had to find its own way out. At the beginning of the post-medieval era the firehood began to appear in Northern England. A huge inverted funnel made from wattle panels was attached to a framework of more substantial timber and daubed with plaster. Stone replaced wattle where the arrangement projected through the roof; this required the support of a pair of stones corbelled out from the gable as at Gibb’s Hall, Dent. As an inexpensive improvement on the open hearth, it became a common feature.
The area beneath the firehood, the ingle nook, could be the size of a small room and, consequently, dark. To compensate, a small ‘fire-window’ might be made: many survive. Look for a tiny aperture, possibly blocked, that aligns with the main chimney. Although most commonly on the ground floor occasionally one appears upstairs as well. Oxnop Hall has an amazing group of four. Not so common are the corbels that used to, and occasionally still do, support the stone firehood cap. Look for a pair of stones projecting from the gable at the foot of the chimney stack.
after Brunskill (1999)
In the Dales only a tiny number of buildings display external features from before 1600. Local tradition survived until twentieth century building regulations enforced nation wide standards.
Fashions filtered down the social scale slowly; a style applied to high status houses before 1500 might be employed in cottages built after 1700. Even so, doors and windows make reasonable dating features. The sequences in the following paragraphs are simplified; the dates, consequently, are approximate.
In the earliest surviving doorways each jamb has four or five individual stones that support a heavy lintel, often carved to form a flattened arch. The actual opening displays a broad chamfer (75mm) all round. As the eighteenth century dawned, jambs had a smaller number of taller stones. Ultimately, surrounds were formed from monoliths. As the number of jamb-stones decreased so did the width of the chamfer; it was abandoned altogether before the middle of the century. By 1800 the stone door-case fell out of fashion, henceforth, the courses of walling stone were brought fully into the opening.
after Brunskill (1999)
Throughout the seventeenth century window apertures were wide, low and subdivided by up to five mullions, occasionally more: these, along with the lintel, cill and jambs, were chamfered inside and out. After 1730 new openings seldom had more than two mullions and were more nearly square: the surround consisted of square section monoliths. Proportions steadily changed, apertures became taller and narrower, now without mullions. From about 1800 there were no side dressings only a lintel and a cill.
These are the stone brackets that appear at the corners of the roof. Early ones have a bulbous profile and can be rather inelegant. Eighteenth century examples are much more refined and have a profile that is often a combination of classical mouldings.
No 1 Grosvenor Place, Long Preston gives a good idea of late eighteenth century construction while the Old Hall at Thoralby, dated 1641, is one of the most complete vernacular buildings in the Dales.
Contributor: Don McLellan
Brunskill, R W (1999) Illustrated Handbook of Vernacular Architecture London: Faber
Harrison, Barry & Hutton, Barbara (1984) Vernacular Houses in North Yorkshire and Cleveland Edinburgh: John Donald
Hatcher, Jane (1990) Richmondshire Architecture Richmond: C J Hatcher
Mercer, Eric (1975) English Vernacular Houses London: HMSO
Sheeran, George (1986) Good Houses Built of Stone: the houses and people of Leeds/Bradford 1600-1800 Pudsey: Allanwood Books
Walton, James (1979) Homesteads of the Yorkshire Dales Clapham: Dalesman