What do we look for?
Householders can look for some of these signs of an old vernacular building:
The Group's interest is in:
- Buildings of local materials built by local craftsmen
and the surviving core of which is:
- Medieval (pre-1500), Tudor, or Stuart (up to about 1714 when the Georgian era began).
Please note that we do NOT advise on building condition - you must employ your own surveyor or builder.
Signs of a vernacular building
1. Oak timbers
Timber framing ('half timbering') of the period up to about 1700 is almost always of oak or perhaps elm. Softwood began to be used in the 18th century. The timber size and quality helps us with dating.
2. Decorative features
Chamfered beams, and the style of the chamfer stops, help with dating, as do mouldings and sometimes even beams pierced to form tracery. Wattle-and-daub was used for many centuries but your house may perhaps have signs of decorative pargetting.
3. Roof timbers
Roof timbers were sometimes not modernised when alterations took place elsewhere in the building, and roof carpentry design and construction can also help in dating. The roof may also help identify multiple building phases. Thus access to the roof space during our visit is particularly important.
4. Sooted timbers
Wood smoke from an open fire in an open hall will have blackened the timbers above. Evidence is most likely to survive in the roof but soot can often still be found in small crevices between beams that have been cleaned off.
5. Walls with some timber framing
Timber framing outside may often be covered by tile hanging or be bricked over. It is more likely to be evident inside, though often there is little or no clue at ground floor level, but much more remains at first floor level.
6. Signs of lost beams
Oak beams with empty mortices or peg holes are typical of many early houses. These can help to identify lost beams, or indicate that they may be re-used beams, whose earlier function might be discernable.
7. Evidence of original layout
There were relatively standard layouts in medieval houses, such as an open hall flanked each side by a floored-over 'parlour' and service rooms. From the early 1600s entirely floored-over houses became the norm.
There is a guide to looking for clues on Surrey’s Domestic Buildings Research Group website.