Timber Frame Houses

Timber frame houses are coming back into fashion. They have been common-place in North America for decades. In fact, most of the literature either comes from Canada or Finland. More recently they have become fashionable in Germany.

They are relatively easy to build, are relatively carbon neutral, reasonably cheap, and can be erected by a team of three or four people.

Over the past three years I have been putting up my own timber frame house in London. It took so long due to planning problems with my site. I am in a conservation area, and I had to demolish another building. The council would not let me demolish and then re-build. I had to extend, which is another matter altogether, hence the piecemeal approach to the project.

There were three of us. The whole project took two and a half months.

You can build a two bed timber framed home for less than £30,000. It’s warm, it’s ecological, it’s friendly and it looks good. I can thoroughly recommend the method. I built mine from scratch, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can get the building delivered in sections, which just have to be bolted together. The sections come off a jig so you dont have to cut and fit everything. There’s no waste, and it saves masses of time.

I can give recommendations for companies and web sites to look at if anyone is interested, but you should be able to Google the subject.

On the other hand, I can produce a home that is even easier to build. And it’s cheap. I’ll give the low-down in the next posting.

Cheddar

I have been wandering around the villages of the Mendips this summer attending various festivals, as you have no doubt gathered from my other articles. One week I was at Priddy for the sheep racing, but I also wandered down into the caves around Cheddar and Wookey.

As with most of these places it is some time since I was last here. Indeed, way back in 1970 Annabel and I started a reclamation system which aimed to get local authorities interested in the commercial aspect of recycling. To show what could be done we collected local newspapers and bundled them up and took them to a paper mill at Wookey. It took two years of arguing with government officials to get a pilot scheme under way, which led to glass and paper recycling bins being rolled out across the whole country. But that’s another story.

There are plenty of internet sites showing pictures of the caves, and giving tourist information, but not so many tell the background to the caves as dwellings for our ancient ancestors.

So many of the places I write about have a history of settlements going back to 1066, or even back to the time of the Romans, but very few places can show habitation dating back ten thousand years.

The caves at Cheddar were inhabited from earliest times. At the end of the last ice age the area was seriously cold. The ice sheet covered England as far south as Bristol, so although Cheddar would have been ice free, it was only a few miles from the nearest glacier. It was darned cold. That’s why stone age man went underground.

Gough’s Cave was definitely inhabited from way back, and has provided archeologists with a large assemblage of flint and bone tools. There were also remains of animals caught for food. There are remains of mammoth, cave bear, woolly rhinoceros, and hyaena.

Some of the caves were used as burial chambers. Aveline’s Hole in Burrington Coombe was one such, although this usage for a cave was apparently rare. In this cave a large number of Old and Middle Stone Age skeletons have been found.

Back at the beginning of the twentieth century (1903) Cheddar Man was discovered. These bones form the oldest complete skeleton of a Mesolithic person, and have been dated to 9000 years ago.

An intriguing discovery in 1996 showed that no less than three of Cheddar Man’s descendant’s were still living locally! Now that puts most people’s attempts at tracing their family tree into true perspective!

Because most of the land was covered in permafrost there would have been almost no edible vegetation. Food was found by killing reindeer. However, mammoths and other larger animals could be killed by stampeding them off cliffs, which is why so many of their bones have been found at the bottom of some of the cliff faces.

I wonder what mammoth tasted like. Never mind, we now have that amazing cheese to eat instead. I shall have a nice piece of ‘tasty’ this evening after my dinner, and match it with a rather nice Burgundy.

Now, where can I go next week?

Hambleden

Buckinghamshire is a very pleasant county. When I’m in the UK I like to potter around the villages out beyond Marlow, High Wycombe or Amersham. One of the most charming is the village of Hambleden.

It is what one thinks of as a typical old fashioned English village. All the houses are built in the same brick and flint style with small red tiles on the roofs. The bedrooms are set into steeply pitched roofs with dormer windows.

The setting is a small flat bottomed valley, with wooded slopes on each side, a small chalk stream running through the middle, and on sundays, the cricket teams in their whites playing in the field behind the pub, while the church supplies afternoon teas, and a generous scattering of chairs around the churchyard.

Just up the road is a pub, parts of which date back to 1390. The church in Hambleden dates from the 12th century, although there was a village here in Saxon times, and indeed there are Roman remains just down the road. One of the villas is considered to have been a Roman brothel.

In a sense things are still the way they were in the past. There is virtually no public transport, and Broadband Internet is only available in a small part of the Parish and mobile telephone coverage is sparse.

Today, in the church, they were celebrating Charles Wesley, and the organist was blasting out some of his tunes. I cant say I was much impressed. Wesley was obviously much addicted to using scales to lead him to ideas. On the other hand, he does have a companion in that, namely Beethoven.

The wooden ceiling above the choir in the church is painted rather nicely, but it is sad to see the big beech tree in the northern corner of the churchyard afflicted with some disease. All the leaves are curled and brown.

Most of the village used to belong to the estate of W H Smith, until it was sold back in 2003. Nowadays the estate is part of a larger group, Culden Faw, which is renowned for its game shoots. The local pub, aptly named the Stag and Huntsman, routinely serves game shot on the estate, including venison, pheasant, partridge, rabbit, pigeon and wild duck. Venison is sold at the local post office as well as venison and pheasant sausages.

I missed the Hambleden show, which included, according to the fly-sheets, some curious camels. Hmm, more quaint English pastimes?

Unfortunately I shall also miss the Harvest Festival. It’s only £7.50, and you bring your own wine. You ought to go. It’s a nice friendly place and I cant think of a better place to enjoy a celebration dinner. Good luck to everyone!

Lacock

Lacock in Wiltshire is a fascinating village.

Like so many English villages its roots go way back. There was a large iron age encampment on Naish Hill as far back as 2,500 BC. The name itself is probably a corruption of the old Saxon word lacuc meaning a small stream.

It’s development really got going in the prosperous times at the end of the Middle Ages when it became a centre for weaving wool. It would have rated as a town at the height of the wool trade during the seventeenth century. However, this trade moved north to Bradford in the early part of the nineteenth century and the commercial importance of Lacock dwindled.

In 1833 Henry Fox Talbot, the local MP put two petitions before parliament for national assistance to support the 200 villagers who were out of work, and whose support was crippling the village.

The village is built round the Abbey which was founded in 1229 by Ela, countess of Salisbury in memory of her husband, who was a bastard son of Henry II. It eventually passed down to the Talbots, who lived there until it was deeded to the National Trust in 1944.

The idea of photography came to Fox Talbot whilst on holiday at Lake Como in Italy, using the camera obscura and camera lucida as aids to drawing.

Beginning in 1834, Talbot experimented with a process which he called photogenic drawing: coating drawing paper with salt solution and after it had dried, adding a solution of silver nitrate. By placing a leaf, or fern, or a piece of lace, on the paper’s surface and exposing it to the sun, he obtained an image.

In August 1835, Talbot made the earliest known surviving photographic negative using a camera, a small photogenic drawing of the latticed window in the south gallery of Lacock Abbey.

When I last visited the abbey, which was rather a long time ago, they had an interesting collection relating to early photography, including a camera obscura.

I have in my collection a fascinating little book on life in the village from 1900-1975 written from recollections of the inhabitants and published under the title A Village in Wiltshire by Peter Murray. Not only are the recollections interesting but there is a wealth of pictures showing life in the village before our modern world swept the old order away. On the other hand it is amazing how little the buildings have changed.

Here is the high street with the Red Lion pub and the old buildings next door as they were in 1900:

And as they are today: