The Old Devon Farm-House. Part I. (1920)
|Author(s):||Laycock. C. H.||Origin:||DA Transactions|
|Topic(s):||agriculture and architecture||Year published:||1920|
Full title: The Old Devon Farm-House. Part I. Its Exterior Aspect and General Construction.
by Charles H. Laycock.
(Read at Totnes, 21st July, 1920.)
In these days of rapid changes and improvements, of universal education, and of ever-increasing facilities in the means of transport and communication, in even the most remote country districts the old order is rapidly changing and giving place to the new, and all things old are being ruthlessly swept away, and are disappearing one after another.
Although at the present time a considerable number of old farm-houses are still standing in Devon, much (at least as regards their outward appearance) as they stood from one to four or even five hundred years ago, yet in every year that passes one sees a marked decrease in their number, either from accident or by design. For on the one hand, owing to the dryness of their thatched roofs, their cob-walls, and their well-seasoned and often worm-eaten timber-work, they fall an all too easy prey to the demon of fire. While, on the other hand, many are yearly being condemned by the Medical Officers of Health, and rightly so, as “no longer fit for human habitation”, owing to the wilful neglect in some cases, and the inability through lack of means in others, of their owners to keep them in habitable repair.
Occasionally the ancient homestead is repaired, or rather patched up; for the new work is usually entirely out of keeping with the old. And so we see in almost every village in the county a number of hideous hybrids, such as a cob-walled house with a slated or galvanized-iron roof, or a thatched roof over walls faced with cement blocks in imitation of stone-work, with glazed bricks, match-boarding, or some equally incongruous modern creation.
But as a general rule the old structure is entirely pulled down, and replaced by a modern farm-house built of stone or brick, according to the district, with a slated or tiled roof, most commonly the former. Moreover, the new structure is often built on a more advantageous site, from a modern point of view, in regard to drainage, water supply, and other conveniences, than that on which the old house stood. While in not a few cases no new house has been built at all, because there has been a growing tendency during the last quarter of a century or so for the larger farms to swallow up the smaller ones. I know many instances where one farmer now occupies land which once belonged to two, or even three, separate farms. And the smaller farm-houses have either been converted into labourers’ cottages, or (which is far more often the case) have been pulled down, and new cottages built.
Whilst, therefore, an appreciable number of genuine old farm-houses still remain in the county, it would seem not out of place to give a short description of their structure and general aspect, with a few illustrations if possible, before they have all been “improved away”, and their very shape and form have become matters of conjecture only, like the original appearance of the hut circles on Dartmoor, and other prehistoric remains.
This I hope to do in Part I. of my paper. While in Part II. I propose to deal with the interior arrangements, furniture, utensils, and general domestic economy of the farm-house.
Seeing that Mr. R. Pearse Chope1 has dealt so fully and thoroughly with most of the out-del2 work of the farm, both the field-work (ploughing, sowing, reaping, etc.) and that carried on within the court or barton (thrashing, winnowing, tending of stock, etc.), together with the buildings in which these various operations are performed, I intend to confine myself to a description of the farm-house itself and its immediate precincts, and shall only refer to the out-buildings in so far as they bear upon the exterior aspect of, or the work carried on within, the dwelling-house.
1. See “Some Old Farm Implements and Operations”, Trans. Devon. Assoc., 1918, Vol. L., pp. 268–92.
2. All dialect words and local terms are written in italics; and, seeing that so many footnotes would have been required in order to explain adequately many of these terms, I have included them all in a glossary, which will be found at the end of this paper, following the Appendix. And to this the reader is referred for a full explanation of any term not fully explained in the text.
Before proceeding to describe the farm-house as it exists to-day, however, I propose to trace briefly the probable origin and growth of the farmstead generally. And also to notice the system of tenure on which farms were held in Devon up to quite recent times.
First, as to its origin. This takes us back to very early days. The Anglo-Saxon invaders, being ruthless destroyers, made a fresh settlement of the land. We have this clearly shown in the dwelling-place names being Saxon in an overwhelming majority, while the names of natural features, such as mountains, hills, rivers, etc., are Celtic or British.
The new-comers chose for themselves the site for their steading with a view to agricultural pursuits, and obviously the “home” for the dwelling was first to be built. This became known from the dweller.as his ham (i.e. home), or, with reference to the enclosure itself, as his tun or ton (i.e. town), or his stock (i.e. place of defence), his worthy (enclosure by his house, courtyard), and so on.
The space between the dwelling-house and the cattle-sheds and other hovels conveniently near would naturally form the standing-place for cattle; and so the farm-yard or court (as it is usually termed in Devon) came into being, bars and gates being required to keep the beasts from straying into the forest or open moorland.
Through the gates the dwellers passed to visit the neighbouring settlers, and thus the first tracks were formed, passing in many instances (which remain to this day) through the farm-steads, a gate being placed across the track at either side.
As land was tilled and crofts adjoining the farm were enclosed, by raising banks and bounds on either side of the bridle-track, the gates were set farther along, to the extreme end of the enclosures, to where the open land was reached. So farm land grew, though much of the country was open for depasturing, till farm gradually joined farm in those districts favourable to tillage. The “field” (cp. Du. Veldt) was the term used originally for the open country as distinguished from that brought into cultivation.
The map of a purely Anglo-Saxon district shows the settlements (now villages) with short roads radiating to other settlements near by. The farmstead was the undoubted original of each Anglo-Saxon village.
Now Devon, having in it tracts of very fertile soil, and at the same time far larger expanses of useless or undesirable country, from an agricultural point of view, would naturally be most unequally settled. And the difficult nature of the hilly parts would favour the isolation of the Anglo-Saxon settlers, who, by the time they had taken possession of the south-west, had become Christianised, and more reasonably inclined toward the British, with whom they settled down more or less peaceably and even inter-married. So that it is more than likely that British customs, practices, traditions, and (to a limited extent) language, passed into Anglo-Saxon life, in this county, in those pursuits which of all are the least changeful – the agricultural.*
* It is to be noted, for instance, that the pronunciation of Metheglin is after the Celtic manner, accenting the penultimate, and not after the Saxon.
The wide alluvial plains of the east side of England and the Midlands allowed of settlements more after the manner of those whence the invaders came. The hilly west-country, on the other hand, tending to the formation of smaller and more irregular enclosures; this being particularly the case in stony districts where scattered rocks encumbered the ground, as on Dartmoor and its borders.
It has been usual to regard the land of England as entirely unenclosed up to a few generations back. This was certainly the case with moorland, waste ground, or chalk downs. But of necessity tilled land must have been bounded from the earliest times.
Now, as to the system of tenure on which farms were held, at any rate from mediaeval times (if not earlier) until quite recently: A few of the owners of farms and agricultural land were undoubtedly also their occupiers, but in the larger majority of cases they let off their land and farms on a system of tenure known as the Life-hold System.*
* See Appendix I. As many of the ancient customs and practices connected with farms and farm-life in Devon are now obsolete, it seems desirable that some record should be made of their methods. As this would unduly break the continuity of the general text of my paper, I have added an appendix, in which I have endeavoured to give a brief, though I trust a clear, description of these practices, which are in whole, or in part, peculiar to Devon, or at least to the west-country, under their several headings.
I am aware, of course, that there are within the county, as elsewhere, a considerable number of ancient manor-houses and monastic buildings, which now for many generations past have been converted into farm-houses, owing to the impoverishment of their former owners, from various causes, and their consequent inability to keep them up in their former state. But these, though of the utmost interest to the historian, the antiquarian, the topographist and the archaeologist, I do not propose to dwell upon further, because they were not originally intended for farm-houses. Their size is frequently out of all proportion to the amount of land which now goes with them; while not unfrequently only one-half, or less, of the original building is occupied, the remaining portion being allowed to fall into ruin, or else being converted into barns and other out-buildings. These buildings must not, of course, be confounded with the manor-farm and the church or glebe-farm, that is the home farm of some particular manor or church, which were never intended for any other purpose than that of farm-houses.
Now the modern farm-house in any particular district is, like the modern villa, built after a more or less fixed model, consequently there is a disagreeable regularity and monotony of design, entirely absent from the older buildings, which were erected at a time when every man was more or less his own architect, and built his house according to his own pleasure.
There are few very large farms in Devon; probably none that would compare with the size of the really big farms in the grain-growing and large dairy-farming districts of the northern, midland, and eastern counties of England. For Devon is primarily a cattle-breeding and stock-raising county. Few farmers in Devon grow more corn than they require for consumption on their own farms, and some not even that, e.g. on Dartmoor, where the soil is altogether too light and the climate too moist. While dairy farms, though numerous in certain districts within the county, are for the most part of the small rather than the large class.
Two distinct types of farm-house must, however, be noted: (1) The large farm (or what would be considered large in Devon) or barton, frequently (though by no means always) farmed by its owner himself, or by a hind immediately under his direction. (2) The medium-sized and small farm (the latter often little better than a labourer’s cottage). These are usually occupied by tenant farmers;* and in many districts the greater number of the farms are owned by one large landowner, who has either inherited them or bought them up as the old life-leases fell in.
* This condition of affairs has been considerably altered since the great European War of 1914–18. For many of the old landed proprietors have become much impoverished owing to the burden of heavy taxation, and have in consequence sold much of their land, rightly giving their own tenant-farmers the first refusal to purchase the farms which they occupied. Of which offer a considerable number of them were not slow to avail themselves. For, owing to the very substantial increase in the selling price of stock and farm produce, many farmers have found themselves in a position to purchase their own farms, even without borrowing, who could not have done so before the war. Consequently we now find a very much larger number of the smaller farms occupied by their owners than was the case prior to 1914.
In the olden days the large landowners were usually the squires or lords of the manor, sometimes also the parsons, of the parishes in which they held their land, and were for the greater part of their time in residence in their own manor-houses, or parsonages. But of late years much land, including of course many farms, has been bought up by men who have made large fortunes in trade, whose principal residence is in London or some other part of the country, and who consequently spend a very small portion of their time on their newly acquired estates, leaving the management of them almost entirely in the hands of local agents. Though there are some exceptions of course.
It need hardly be said that, as a general rule, when the landowner lives on the spot, his farms are in every way in a more prosperous condition, his land better tilled, and his farm-houses and cottages kept in better repair than when left entirely to the supervision of agents, whose main object is to gain the good-will of their employers by exacting as high a rent as possible from their tenants, and at the same time spending as little as possible on necessary repairs and improvements.
When the landowner himself lives on his estate, he naturally takes a pride in keeping his land well tilled and his farms and cottages in decent repair. He frequently also takes a personal interest in the comfort and well-being of his tenants, who are all well-known to him, and whose families have in many cases been tenants, and in former days life lease-holders, of his own family for generations.
I propose to give a short description of one of the larger class of farm-house, or barton as it is usually termed in Devon; which includes all that is to be found in the smaller class, and a good deal more in addition.
First, as to its approach. Seeing that most of the present-day high-roads have been made long after the majority of the farm-houses were built, it is not surprising to find that very few of them can be approached directly from the high-road. Indeed most of them stand some considerable distance from it, and can only be approached by narrow and often very rough lanes; the typical “Devonshire lanes” of nineteenth and twentieth-century poets and prose-writers, but which were originally in many cases the old main-roads, indeed the only roads, within the county.
Now these roads served their purpose well enough when all transport was done by means of pack-horses,* but in these days of wheeled carts and waggons, not to mention the ever-increasing steam and motor traffic, they seem ridiculously narrow, and are indeed most awkward and dangerous.
* It should be borne in mind that right up to the commencement of the nineteenth century, and even later, there was very little wheel-traffic of any kind in Devon, except in the neighbourhood of the large towns, and even there it was very limited. See Marshall, Rural Economy of West of Eng., 1796.
While even so late as 1829 (not yet a hundred years ago!), there was hardly a wheeled cart to be found anywhere on Dartmoor. See Moore, Hist of Devon, 1829.
The typical large Devon farm-house is usually approached from the narrow lane just described through a permanent grass field, known as the homer-field, or home-meadow, through which sometimes a rough road for vehicles has been made, but more often than not merely a more or less permanent track has been cut in the grass by the constantly passing carts (see Plate I.). At the further end of this meadow stands the farm-house itself within its own grounds, which are fenced around by fairly high walls of stone or cob, according to the district; while the farm-court with its various buildings, known collectively as the courtledge, lies adjacent to, and usually in line with, the dwelling-house, on either the right or left side of it. The court is entered from the meadow by a large gate or waggon-way, quite separate from that leading to the house. It is usually in the form of a large quadrangle, one side being taken up entirely by the long barn, the other farm-buildings being ranged around the three remaining sides, these consist of the stables, shippens, pigs’-lewzes, various chambers for the storing of roots (which have been taken in from the caves in the fields, and stored in readiness for being sliced and given to the bullocks, etc.), such as the turmet-’ouze or mangel-’ouze, etc. While one side will almost certainly be devoted to the shelter of the various carts, wains, and waggons, under a long open shed known as the cart-linhay or waggon-linhay. The other larger implements, ploughs, drags, harrows, scuffles, drills, mowing and reaping-machines, hay-rakes, tedders, etc., being housed in another linhay outside the farm court proper. In the centre of the court is usually a large pit into which the dung from the stables and shippens is thrown, and allowed to rot for some months, to provide rich dressing for the land.
There are usually at least three entrances to the court, the large gate from the home-meadow already described, a small one leading from the inner court or backlet immediately behind the house, and a third leading out into another meadow. Besides the buildings already mentioned will be found the round-house* or machine-house, adjacent to the barn but with a separate thatched-roof, containing the gear worked by one or more horses, originally for turning the cider-mill only, but of later years used also to work the thrashing-machine, wimbin’-machine, chaff-cutter, turnip-cutter, etc., when these operations ceased to be performed by hand. The round-house itself is frequently circular in form, but by no means always so. It is so named, not from its exterior form, but from the fact that the horses in working the gear walk round and round; the driving apparatus consisting of four or more wooden poles attached at right-angles to one massive upright, which turns round in sockets and is connected by means of cog-wheels or cog-wheel gearing to a pulley-wheel to which a belt is attached connecting it with whatever machine it is required to drive. The round-house and gear is still used on a few farms, but has been largely superseded by oil and petrol-driven engines.
* See Plate V.
Where cider-making and home brewing are carried on, there will also be found the Pound-house for the former and the Brew-house for the latter, which will be described more fully when we come to deal with these operations in Part II.
The fowl-house is usually merely a wooden structure for the fowls to roost in, they have the run of the farm-court, indeed the only place from which they are debarred is the kitchen-garden. The culver-house, if there is one, is usually round, shaped something like the round-house, only having a small turret with holes for the pigeons to fly in and out of, and surmounted by a weather-cock. It is usually found in one corner of the front garden. But culver-houses are not very common in Devon, their place being taken by rows of pigeon-holes in one of the cob-walls.
There is a separate enclosure for the ricks, known as the rick- or mow-barton, also called mowhay (pronounced moo’y).
For the supply of water for drinking and washing purposes almost every farm-house will be found to have a well (pronounced weel in Devon) of some form attached to it. When the farm is situated close to a river or constantly running stream, a well has not unfrequently been formed by diverting water from the stream into a specially constructed tank or standing pool of considerable depth, built up of stone, and in later times of cement, placed at a short distance from the stream, being covered in on two sides and the top with stone slabs, so as to keep the water clean and cool for drinking purposes, the water being obtained by dipping with a hand-bucket or dipper; water for washing purposes being taken directly from the stream.
But when there is no natural stream close at hand, it has been necessary to find water elsewhere. This was usually done by divining, or, as we term it, dowsing (pronounced douzin). It not unfrequently happened that the dowser was unable to find water very near to the spot chosen as most convenient for the dwelling-house, consequently we often find the well situated some distance from it. When the spring of water was only a few feet below the surface of the ground, a constant supply was obtained by digging a well to a depth of six or eight feet only, the water rising almost to the ground level, and being dipped out by hand, as in the case of the small well by the stream just described, or by a bucket let down by means of a short line and crook. These wells are usually entirely covered in, with a small door for entrance, and are often built up of dry masonry, even the roof being of the same construction.* They form a pleasing and picturesque accessory to the old farm-house and out-buildings.
* Mr. R. P. Chope informs me he has a well of this description on a farm of his in North Devon, with a date-stone 1657. This well is figured in Plate VI, the block having been kindly lent to me by Mr. R. Pearse Chope.
When, however, it was necessary to dig down some twenty or thirty feet before water could be reached, then some mechanical appliance was required in order to bring up the water. To effect this two systems were adopted, both of considerable antiquity. The older system being that of the draw-well, that is a windlass or winch (termed in Devon wink), a large wooden or iron cylinder or roller around which was wound a chain or rope with crook, to which a bucket was attached, which could be let down and drawn up by means of an iron crank-handle at one end of the roller. The well itself was usually circular, occasionally rectangular, in form, it was surrounded by a low wall built up some two to three feet from the ground. The wink was placed on a wooden frame-work across the top of the well. These wells were usually left open, though sometimes a wooden cover, made in two sections, was placed over them when not in use, to keep the water pure and to keep children and animals from falling in, not such an unfrequent occurrence as might be supposed. The term wink is frequently applied to the whole well and not merely to the winch, as it strictly should be.
The other method of drawing water from deep wells was that of the hydraulic pump, which draws up the water by suction through a small leaden pipe let down into the well, the well itself being entirely covered over, the pump alone being visible. At the foot of the pump was usually placed a large granite trough (pronounced traw), which was hollowed out of a single block of stone, the pump and traw together being known as the pump-traw or plump-traw, while the well is spoken of as the pump-pit or plump-pit. The pump itself, which is usually made of iron, though the older pumps had wooden handles, is often enclosed in a small wooden casing as a protection against frost, the handle and spout alone being unprotected. Sometimes it is found entirely enclosed in a separate little building known as a pump-house (-’ouze). Some farms are found to possess both a well and a pump-house, either entirely separate or else connected by means of a pipe from the one to the other.* While it is no uncommon thing to find two, three, or even more pumps in different spots on the same farm. When not in a separate pump-house, the pump is usually to be found in the back-house or slee-house, which we shall deal with later in Part II.
* Mr. R. P. Chope informs me that on one of his farms the pump is supplied by a pipe from the well, which is at least 100 yards away, though the pump is in this case a modern addition.
Another familiar object, which still exists on many farms, is the uppingstock (uppinstock) – known also in different parts of the county as hepping-stock, lepping-stock (? leaping), lifting-stock, and lighting-stock (? alighting) – a small flight of three or four stone steps, usually against a wall, from which horses were mounted. In the old days of the pillion, when a farmer’s wife or daughter rode behind him on a cushion attached to the saddle, the uppinstock was in daily use; even now, the ladies of the household, who still ride side-saddle, if any are to be found, would find it almost impossible to mount unaided without it. There were often two uppinstocks to be found on the same farm, one near the front entrance, the other near the back. If the farm-house were enclosed within a garden, the uppinstock would be built against the garden wall, but in the case of houses which opened directly on to the road, such as most old country inns and hostelries, it was usually placed against the main wall of the house, near to the main entrance. Sometimes the uppinstock stands by itself away from any wall, it has thus the advantage of being able to be used by either side for mounting or dismounting. When mellowed by age, as most of them now are, with the cracks and joints in their masonry overgrown with moss and stonecrop, these old uppinstocks are a most picturesque feature, and a pleasing reminder of old country life.
To certain farms, situated near rivers and streams, it was not uncommon to find a mill attached, the farmer being his own miller. A certain number of the old waterwheels still exist, though few, if any, farmers now do their own milling. But the wheel is still made use of to supply the power to work the thrashing-machine, etc., in place of the round-house with horse-gear.
In a few cases, where there was no water-power handy, a windmill took the place of the waterwheel; but these do not ever appear to have been so common in Devon as in other parts of the country, and only a very few remain, in a more or less ruined state, at the present time.
To return to the dwelling-house: A small wicket gate leads directly from the home-meadow into the front garden, with its straight path up the centre, formerly paved with flags or cobble-stones, but now usually of gravel or cinders. There are long rectangular flower-borders on either side, running parallel with the path edged with box neatly clipped to about one foot from the ground. These flower-borders are about four feet in width, and beyond them on either side is a square grass plat, in the centre of which are small beds either round or of some more fantastic design, such as a heart, diamond, star, and not unfrequently a lovers knot, from which latter the name of flower-nats, by which they are usually known, is probably derived.
These flower-beds are the pride and joy of the good farmer’s wife, and are carefully tended by her loving hands. It is here that we shall find still the old-fashioned flowers beloved by our grandparents, whose quaint local names alone fill one with a delightful sense of homeliness, such as Polyanthums, Butter-and-eggs, Racklisses, Bliddy-warriors, Clove-jilanfers, Bunny-rabbits, Bloomy-downs, Money-in-both-pockets or Silks-and-satins, Scarlet-lightnin’, Bachelor’s-buttons, Grannie’s-nightcaps, Duck-bills, Snow-on-the-mountains, and Golden-dust, to name just a few of the most familiar.
The garden is, as I said, usually walled in on both sides, being open (that is with a low wall or fence) only in front. And in addition to the flowering plants one is almost certain to find small bushes of box, holly, yew, or other evergreen, closely trimmed and cut into various shapes to represent familiar objects, animate or inanimate, such as peacocks, horses, tables, tops, and the nodding plumes on old-fashioned funeral hearses, to which latter the monkey-puzzle tree (found in most farm-house gardens) also bears a strong resemblance. Plate II. gives a fairly good idea of this topiary work.
The front of the house is covered with hardy creepers of various sort, such as ivy, Virginian-creeper, Wistaria, Summer-rose, Jessamy, Quincy, etc. While the massive stwonen porch is covered on one side with Honeysuckle and on the other with the old-fashioned Monthly Rose, than which is no rose more sweet.
At the back of the house is a small inner court, known as the backlet, and a small gate leading out of this will bring us into the kitchen-garden, which is also walled all round. And where the walls are of cob, they have a covering of thatch on the top, which serves not only to protect the walls from damp but also affords shelter and protection from frost to the fruit-trees trained against it, as the thatch projects one foot or more from the top of the wall.
In one corner of the kitchen-garden the good Dame* grows her choice ’arbs: Sage, Mint, Thyme, Rue, Marjoram Bame, Penny-royal for making Organ-tay, Lavender, Rosemary, Bwoys’love, and Bergamot. While near by will be found her row of bee-butts, each in a small dome-shaped recess, known as a bee-hole, which are hollowed out of the cob-wall, its thickness admitting of this. This protects the bee-butts (which are the old-fashioned straw skeps) from wind and rain. Each skep stands on its own pedestal, which is in the form of a toadstool; and where are no bee-holes, the skeps are protected from rough weather by having an inverted sheaf of straw, known as a hat, placed over them.
* In olden days the farmer’s wife was always styled Dame, not only by her servants, but also by her husband, while she addressed him as Farmer. Just as now he usually refers to her as the Missus, and she to him as Maister.
The rest of the kitchen-garden is the farmer’s own special province. Whatever else he may or may not do with his own hands on the farm, he is almost certain to till his own bit of gearden ground, in which all the vegetables for his and his family’s own consumption are grown.
Just beyond the garden lies the orchet, which, with its mass of pink and white apple-blooth in spring, and its rosy-red fruit in autumn, adds so much to the beauty of the country-side.
Having now described the immediate precincts of the farm-house, we will turn to the house itself: Though the general plan of the Devon farm-house is much the same throughout the county, the style of building varies considerably, no two houses being exactly alike (which feature applies to most buildings, whether in towns or in the country, prior to the nineteenth century). As one might naturally have expected, the technical niceties and refinements of the various styles which prevailed at different periods in the history of our country, affected the country builders but little in comparison with those in the towns. Still they could not help being influenced to a certain extent by them. Thus we find in these old farm-houses rough, though none the less picturesque, examples of the various styles in vogue from about the fourteenth to the nineteenth centuries.
Not unfrequently these buildings bear a date, inscribed on one of the stones, usually to be found over the porch or front entrance, sometimes over one of the windows, or on a stone in the projecting chimney-stack. It is unsafe, however, to place too great reliance on these dates as being truly indicative of the year in which the house was originally built. In many cases the house, or the greater part of it, is far older (sometimes a couple of centuries) than the date it bears. For these dates have been added when the house has been renovated or enlarged at some later period. I know of one undoubted fifteenth-, possibly even fourteenth-century farm-house, to which a Jacobean porch has evidently been added bearing the date 1685, but the main part of the building is at least two centuries earlier. On the other hand, a goodly number of dated farm-houses are much more modern than the dates they bear. This is accounted for by the fact that, when the old house, having been burnt down or allowed to fall more or less into ruins, was rebuilt, the old stones were generally made use of in building the new structure. And the stone bearing the date was again given a place of honour over the entrance door, not in all probability with any thought of deceiving the public as to the true date of the new structure, but merely from a sentimental desire to retain that which would serve as a guarantee for the antiquity of the original building as an ancient farm-stead.
But even apart from these dated buildings, it is impossible from the style of the building alone even approximately to fix a date for a farm-house, as one may in the case of buildings in towns. For later styles had often been in vogue for many years in the towns before they exercised any influence whatever on the country builders. This is not surprising when one reflects upon the very limited means of transport and communication between London and other large towns and the country districts prior to the nineteenth century. And particularly does this apply to the west-country, where most of the roads were mere pack-horse tracks. In addition to which one must take into account the innate conservatism of the country folk and their extreme distaste for any departure from the customs and practices of their forefathers. “Wat was güde ’nuff vor they be güde ’nuff vor we!” has always been their dictum.
Consequently we find them still holding to a style in their buildings which had gone out of fashion in London and other big towns at least half a century earlier. For instance, the well-known Tudor and Jacobean styles (which practically merged into one another in the case of farm-houses), with massive stone porch and gabled roof, which had been discarded in the towns before the close of the seventeenth century, at any rate for mansions and public buildings, in favour of the pseudo-classical style of Sir Christopher Wren and his school, we find still lingering in the country nearly a hundred years later. While the plain square Georgian style did not come into general vogue, in Devon at any rate, until about 1800, and continued till 1860 or later.
As, however the Tudor-Jacobean style is the most typical, as well as the most picturesque, of the old Devon farm-house, I shall take this as my example for illustration.
Unfortunately the old farm-house in this style with which I was personally best acquainted has long since been pulled down, and none of the illustrations I am able to give contain all the features I wish to describe. Still they give a fair idea of certain types of old Devon farm-houses still standing.
(And here I should like to acknowledge my indebtedness to Messrs. Whitton and Laing, Exeter, for their kind loan of the blocks for these illustrations, also to the owners of the farms for their kind permission to reproduce them.)
The material with which the old farm-houses were built varied according to the district. On Dartmoor, for instance, where granite is easily obtained, and where the soil (a mixture of peat and granite-detritus) is quite unsuitable for making cob, the farm-houses were invariably built entirely of granite, the stone being only very roughly faced, unpointed, and rarely plastered. Sometimes the buildings were whitened over, but as a rule the stone was left bare. While most of the in-country farms, wherever the soil was suitable, were built of cob,* a mixture of loam and straw, in general use in the west-country for building, not only farm-houses, cottages, walls, and out-buildings, but even good-sized town residences, up to the middle of the nineteenth century. Most of the farm-houses and town houses were stuccoed and whitened or coloured, but many of the smaller cottages were left unplastered, and often unwhitened.
* As the practice of cob-walling has been discontinued for some years, and is only remembered by the older generation, a short description of the process will be found in the Appendix II.
The walls of these old cob houses vary considerably in thickness, from 2 ft. to as much as 4 ft. 6 in., according to the age of the building. As a rule, the thicker the walls, the older the building. They are rarely less than 2 ft. 6 in., while the average/thickness would be about 3 ft.
This thickness of the older cob-walls made it possible for deep recesses to be cut in them, often 2 ft. or more in depth, without in any way weakening the structure. Sometimes the bee-holes, already described, are found in one of the main walls of the house when there is no cob-wall in the garden. While close under the auvis, over which the thatch projects to a considerable distance, will be found in a row, sometimes in two rows, several small rectangular or dome-shaped holes for pigeons or doves, which take the place of the well-known and picturesque stone culver-house or wooden dove-cote fixed in the fork of a, tree or on a separate stand, these latter being seldom seen in Devon.
The windows of these old farm-houses seem ridiculously small, according to modern ideas, for the size of the rooms. They are deeply splayed in the walls, the latter projecting 1 ft. or more on the outer, and 2 or even 3 ft. on the inner side of the window. In the larger farm-houses there are often two windows to each room. Occasionally one of these will be in the form of a rectangular or semicircular bay, but as a general rule all the windows are flat and do not project beyond the main walls of the house. The number of lights in each window varies from two to four or even five, three being perhaps the most usual number. The lights are latticed, each light being composed of a number of small square or diamond-shaped panes of glass, termed quarrels, fixed in lead-work, while the outer frame of each light is usually of iron. The whole window is set in a massive frame of stone (in the case of a stone building) or of oak (in the case of a cob building) carved or moulded, and each light is divided from the next by a heavy mullion of the same material as the window-frame (i.e. stone or oak), also carved or moulded. As a rule one or two of the lights are made to open, casement-wise, but in some of the smaller farms and cottages it is by no means uncommon to find the windows have been fixed in and cannot be opened at all. For fresh air in those days was evidently not considered so essential to health as it is now. However, as there were rarely less than three doors to each room in addition to the large open chimney, the need of ventilation from the windows was not felt in the same degree as it would be in a modern house.
Unfortunately a large number of these picturesque old windows have perished, and have been replaced by ugly modern casement windows with wooden framing, which look hideously out of place against the ancient mullions. While more often than not the mullions themselves have been removed, and still more incongruous sash window-frames put in their place. Only in fairness one must add that what they have lost in picturesqueness they have gained in light. It will be seen that in all the four illustrations the old windows have been replaced by modern casements.
The windows of the upper rooms were similar to those of the lower, only smaller, and were frequently built out from the roof dormer-fashion, in which case they were known as chicket-windows.
It is rare to find a farm-house in Devon of more than two storeys, though a few of the larger structures, especially those built in old Georgian and early Victorian days, have a third storey, but these rooms are rarely more than attics or garrets. In many two-storeyed houses, though, the space between the ceilings of the upper storey and the roof is used for storage purposes, this space being known as the cock-loft, or cock-lart.
The chimneys of these old farm-houses are almost invariably built of stone, or of brick in districts where stone was not easily procurable. They are pointed, and sometimes plastered over, but more usually left unplastered. When built against an outside wall, they project at least 2 ft. from the wall. They strike one as very large and massive in comparison with the chimney-stacks of modern buildings. They are usually square or rectangular in form (as in Plate II.). But in West Somerset in the district of Porlock and Minehead, that part of the chimney-stack which appears above the roof, known as the tun, is almost invariably built in a cylindrical form, which is worthy of notice. Another remarkable feature in this same district is the old stone or brick ovens, which are built out at one side of the base of the chimney-stack, having a distinct tiled roof of their own, and often a small window consisting of a single pane of glass let into the masonry.
The roof of almost every farm-house, cottage, and outbuilding in Devon was, up to the middle of the nineteenth century, invariably thatched. Many hundreds still remain so; though a large number have been re-roofed with tiles or slate, and some, horribile dictu! with corrugated iron.
The art of thatching,* which has completely died out in most parts of the country, is still practised to a very limited extent in these western counties; but only to repair old thatched buildings. No new farm-houses are ever thatched. The work of the thatcher is, however, still in considerable demand by a certain class of people of independent means, who desire to imitate, so far as possible, the old style, and have their houses built accordingly.
* See Appendix III.
Unlike the thatching of ricks, which is usually done by the farmer himself or by one of his labourers, the thatching of houses and buildings is an art in itself, requiring special training and skill. And the Datcher, if he was smart at his work, could always earn good wages; while at the present day he can ask almost what he likes, having little or no competition against him.
The last feature to be noticed, before leaving the exterior of the house, is the large wide stone porch, supported either by solid masonry (as in Plates III. and IV.), or by two stout pillars of stone or wood, the sides being left open. Within the porch, on either side as one enters, are wide stone seats, on which the farmer and his friends are wont to sit of a summer evening, smoking their pipes and drinking their cider, while discussing the state of their respective crops and other matters agricultural.
In the later style of farm-house, the “country-Georgian” style, if one may so term it, the porch is rarely carried further than the level of the ceilings of the ground-floor rooms, and is usually a far lighter built structure. But in the earlier Tudor-Jacobean style (as figured in Plates III. and IV.), the porch is invariably carried up some distance above the level of the eaves of the house, having a separate gabled roof and containing a small room over the entrance lobby, known as the porch-room; which is sometimes used as a bedroom, but more often as a lumber-room or other storage place.
The massive vore-door, about 6 ft. in height by 5 ft. in width, is usually of stout oak some 2 to 3 in. thick, sometimes two thicknesses of wood are clamped together. The door is studded all over with large iron square or rose-headed nails, and furnished with a heavy iron knocker, often of quaint and fantastic design; bells being quite unknown, except as a modern addition, in farm-houses. The door is hung gate-fashion, i.e. with two large iron crooks and eyes, known as hangin’-crooks. The door-frame is usually of the same wood as the door itself, the two side-posts being known as the durns, and the cross-piece at the top as the lintern. Both the durns and lintern are as a rule quite 1 ft. in width and nearly that in thickness, being sometimes plain square blocks, but more usually carved or moulded like the window-frames and mullions we have lately noticed. The door-frame is completed by a narrow wooden sill fixed to the ground and also to the base of the durns on either side, raised about 2 in. from the ground and placed in front of the door. This was no doubt originally intended for the purpose of keeping out the draught, dust, and dirt, and not improbably snakes, toads, rats, snails, and other vermin from so easily entering the house. For it must be borne in mind that the entrance to these old farm-houses is usually on a level with the ground outside, and occasionally a foot or so below it, so that it was needful to have some form of protection beneath the outer door. This wooden sill is known as the drexal, drashel, or druck-stool.
The hapse and staple, by which the door is opened, are of wood, and are on the inner side of the door; the hapse (being a simple bar of wood) is lifted from the outside through a small round hole into which the finger is inserted, or sometimes by means of a piece of cord or a leathern shoelace passed through a still smaller hole above the hapse, to which it is attached. While on the inner side of the door is also fixed a heavy iron bolt which is shot into a large iron staple driven into the durn against which the door shuts. I have seen instances in which the bolt consists of a detachable wooden bar passing across the whole width of the door and fitting into a hole in the wall on one side and an iron staple at the other, a simple contrivance, but probably one of the most effective ways of barring the door against unlawful intruders.* If a lock is found at all on the door, it is one of the large type found on church doors, the key being proportionately large and weighty.
* Mr. R. Pearse Chope informs me that the south door of Hartland Church is fastened in this way, but the bar fits into a hole in the wall at each side, and slides back into the hole on the left.
Sometimes there is a half-door, known as the hatch or half-hatch, immediately in front of the big vore-door, which, when the latter is open, serves the double purpose of keeping dogs, fowls, etc., from entering the house and of keeping the small children within doors.
Life-hold System of Tenure.
The system of tenure upon which farms, cottages, and agricultural land, and even much property in towns, was held in Devon up to quite recent times, was that known as the Life-hold System. A system by which each parcel of land, comprising one or more farms, was leased, either privately or at an agricultural auction (called locally a survey), by the owner to the highest bidder (the owner having fixed a reserve price) for the period of Three Lives, agreed upon by the owner and tenant.¹ This period, however, was not to exceed the term of ninety-nine years, should any one of the three parties nominated by the tenant survive that period. This, of course, in the case of the original three Lives, was of exceedingly rare occurrence. Though it has been known in a few cases where one of the original nominees (usually the son or grandson of the original tenant) was an infant at the time of his or her nomination (for the law allowed the nomination of infants as well as adults), and succeeded in reaching the ripe age of ninety-nine years, or over. Marshall² quotes an instance in which the lessee, at the expiration of the term of ninety-nine years, tendered his lease in person to the descendant of him from whom his own ancestor had received it.
1. If a young man, the tenant not infrequently put his own life as one of the three, still more frequently that of his son.
2. Rural Economy of West of Eng., 1796, Vol. I., p. 64.
So long as any one of the three Lives nominated by the original tenant survived, the holding was literally the property of that tenant and his heirs, and the original landowner had no power to interfere in any way, however ill-managed the land or the farms might be, and in whatever state of disrepair the houses might be allowed to fall into. At the death of the last of the three nominees, if no fresh Lives had been put up, the property automatically reverted to the original owner or his descendants, precisely as in the case of the ordinary leasehold system of to-day when the term of years agreed upon has expired.
The whole system was more or less of a gamble, or game of chance. Sometimes within the lifetime of the original tenant, all three of his nominees might pre-decease him, and there are cases on record where no fewer than three whole sets of Lives, i.e. nine persons, have become extinct before the expiration of the original term of ninety-nine years. Thus the landowner and his heirs reaped the benefit of three separate leases of the same estate during that period.
But by far the more usual practice was that of Renewal of Lives. That is to say, the original tenant or his heir had the option of putting in fresh Lives as the preceding ones dropped off, the landowner receiving a “fine”, or adequate recompense, for the addition of a fresh Life, or Lives.
Not unfrequently also the practice of Changing a Life was resorted to, when the life of any one or more of the nominees was no longer considered to be a satisfactory one, either by reason of age or infirmity. In this case a fresh Life, almost invariably a younger one, was exchanged for the old one, also on payment of a fine to the landowner, the fine in this case being smaller than that paid on the renewal after the death of an old Life.
When the three Lives were all surviving, the property was said to be “full-stated”.
In later times, a more business-like practice arose of insuring one or more of the Lives, so that the element of risk or uncertainty was eliminated.
This Life-hold system of tenure continued in practice down to a quite recent period, well within living memory. It is possible there may still be instances where the Lives, on which certain properties were leased, are not yet all extinct. But I believe the practice of Renewal of Lives is now quite obsolete. While most of the landowners have “bought out” the existing Lives, and now let their farms upon the usual system of an annual rent, with or without leases for a term of years.
The Life-hold system was very popular with the farmer; for the land became, in a measure, his own property, and descended to his successors. But on the whole it was decidedly disadvantageous to the landowner, and to the community generally; for if the farmer happened to be poor, negligent, and improvident, the farm was ill-managed, the land impoverished, and the produce deficient. And for these evils there was no remedy, as the landowner had no power to interfere.
The material called cob, which was in general use in Devon and the surrounding counties for building all classes of houses (except large mansions), wherever the soil was suitable, is composed of earth and straw (barley-straw by preference) mixed together with water, like mortar, by being well beaten and trodden. The treading was usually done by men or boys, but occasionally by oxen. The straw was sometimes chopped up, but more usually merely pulled abroad and bruised with the hands. The earth nearest at hand was generally used, but it had to be a good heavy loam or clay-shillet, a light sandy soil being quite unsuitable for making cob.
The method of building a cob wall is as follows:* A good foundation of stone-work is laid, carried usually to about one or two feet, but sometimes as high as five or six feet above the ground level; and the higher the stone-work is carried the better, as it elevates the cob-work from the moisture of the ground. Two men were usually employed in building a cob wall, the one standing by the heap of mixed earth and straw would lift it on to its place on the top of the stone-work in clats or lumps with a pick or a dung-evil; while the other man, standing on the wall, would arrange it by treading it down into place.
* Much of this information is gleaned from an article written by the Rev. W. T. E – (whoever he may have been) in 1832, and published in J. C. Loudon’s Encycl. of Architecture, 1833, pars. 838–40.
The older method, in use from mediaeval times until about 1820, consisted in simply piling up the cob, leaving good edges on either side to be pared off afterwards with a spade, shovel, or cob-parer. After the wall was raised to a certain height, it was allowed some days, often weeks, to settle and dry, before more was laid on. The first course, or rise as it was generally termed, was about four feet in height, the next not so high, and so every succeeding rise was diminished in height as the work advanced. It was usual to pare down the sides of each successive rise before another was added to it. The walls built according to this method were very thick, often as much as 4 ft. and rarely less than 3 ft. in thickness, the outer surface being rough and often very uneven and out of the true.
The more modern and improved method of cob-walling employed from about 1820 to 1860 is that known as “boxing”. In which either two long planks, laid parallel so as to form a bottomless trough, 2 ft. in width, or else a number of smaller wooden moulds, about 3 ft. long by 2 ft. wide by 2 ft. deep, were placed on the wall, side by side. Into these moulds the cob was pitched, the man standing inside the mould treading it down until it was filled, when the same process was repeated with the next mould, the ends of the moulds being made to slide up so as to allow the cob in each to unite with that in the next. The moulds were left resting on the wall for twenty-four hours at least, when they were slid up, leaving the cob in a solid mass. It was not, of course, possible to do more than one rise in a day; and the length of time taken in drying depended on the weather. In very dry seasons, it would be fit for another rise at the end of twenty-four hours, but as a rule it was left for two or three days to settle. A little rain would not hurt it, but should there come a spell of continued wet weather, the work had to be suspended altogether for the time, and some temporary water-proof covering (often a rough thatching of straw or reed) placed on the top of the unfinished work. For a cob wall must never be allowed to get really wet on the top, or the damp will soak into it, causing it to swag, and ultimately to crack. The solidity and durability of cob walls depends largely upon their not being hurried or allowed to get damp in the process of making them. When the work could be resumed, the moulds were again placed on the top of the last rise, and the same process gone through until the desired height of the wall was reached, when it was ready for the roof-timbers and thatch to be laid on. The walls built according to this “boxing” method were rarely more than 2 ft. in thickness, and needed little or no paring, as the moulds kept them true.
The walls of cob houses were usually plastered on the outside about twelve months after completion, and were then whitened or coloured. But not unfrequently in the case of cottages, and almost invariably in the case of outbuildings and garden walls, the cob surface was left unplastered, and was not always even whitened. There is indeed no need to plaster a cob wall, provided the stone foundation is sound and the roof water-tight, according to the old saying : “A cob wall with a, good hat and a good pair of shoes will last for ever.” The cob in its finished state naturally retains more or less the colour of the earth of which it is composed. Thus in districts where the soil is of a rich red or reddish-brown hue, e.g. around Exeter, Teignmouth, Dawlish, etc., the unplastered and unwhitened cob-walled cottages and buildings lend a particularly pleasing and picturesque effect to the general scenery.
The chimneys were rarely, if ever, built of cob, but always of granite or other stone, or of brick in districts where stone was not easily procurable. But with regard to the doors, windows, and recesses for cupboards (of which there were always many) in cob-walled houses : When the older method of “piling” the cob was employed, the linterns only of the doors, windows and recesses were put in as the work advanced (allowance being made for their settling), being bedded on cross pieces, the walls being then carried up solid. The respective openings were cut out, and the door and window-frames, etc., inserted after the work was well settled. This practice, no doubt, accounts in a large measure for the varied size and general unevenness of the door and window openings in the older cob-wall buildings, hardly any two windows being of the same size even in the same house, and the upper windows being rarely directly over the lower; which features lend to these old buildings a quaint charm of simplicity and homeliness, which the modern-villa, with its machine-made doors and windows, all cut to one exact measurement, utterly lacks. The roof timbers and the beams supporting the joists for the upper-room floors were imbedded in the cob-work, the ends of these beams being frequently visible from outside, sometimes even projecting 6 in. or more from the wall. The thatch was always brought well over the auvis, so as to form a good protection from damp.
The average cost of building a cob wall was, up to 1820, about 3s. 6d. per yard, i.e. rod or perch, of walling 3 ft. in height by 2 ft. 6 in. in width or thickness.
There has been some talk of reviving the industry of cob-making on more modern lines, in view of supplying in some degree, in districts where it is suitable, the crying need for new cottages. A most interesting and instructive paper on this subject was read before this Association last year by Mr. T. J. Joce.*
* See “Cob Cottages for the Twentieth Century”, Trans. Devon. Assoc., 1919. Vol. LI., pp. 169–74.
It is certainly the most picturesque of building materials, and anyone who has had the good fortune to live in one, can truly appreciate the comfort – the warmth in winter and the coolth in summer – of a cob-walled house. And I venture to think most Devonians would welcome a resuscitation of this old, and now almost forgotten, method of building.
The material most used in Devon for the thatching of houses and out-buildings is wheat straw, which when used for this purpose is always termed reed. It must be unbruised, that is to say, it must not have been passed through a thrashing-machine. An old thatcher tells me that the best reed is obtained from wheat reaped in the old-fashioned way by hand, with the sickle or reap-hook; as reaping-machines and self-binders tend to a certain extent to bruise the straw, and at the same time longer straw is obtained by hand-reaping, as the machines do not cut it off so close to the ground.
After the wheat has been bound up into sheaves, instead of being made into a rick or mow (pronounced moo), either thrashed or unthrashed, these sheaves are piled up loose and stored in the barn or some other convenient place of shelter until thoroughly dry. Later on, usually during the winter, the corn is separated from the straw in one of two methods. That most usually practised now being to take each sheaf, or as much as can be comfortably grasped with the two hands, and beat the heads on the barn’s floor, or against a special wooden frame, something like a horse on which logs are laid to be sawed up, termed a whipper, until most of the grain is beaten out; care being taken not to bruise the straw. When this method is adopted, the empty ears are usually left on the straw. The older method was to cut off the ears of corn altogether and then thrash out the grain with the drashle or vlail. The advantage of the former method being that longer straw was obtained when the ears were left on, while in the latter method there was less chance of the straw being bruised.
The straw is then laid out on the floor and combed out, either by hand with a reed-comb, or by a machine called a reed-comber or reed-maker, in order to separate the short straw from the long, and to get it all of one length. The combed straw, or reed as it would now be termed, is then done up into small sheaves called wads or nicky-wads.
If required for home use, the reed was stored in wads until the services of the thatcher (datcher) could be obtained. But if intended for sale, the wads were done up in larger bundles called knitches, often written nitches in bills of sale, six wads going to make up one knitch. And it was sold at so much per knitch of reed, or per dozen knitches.
In preparing the roof of a new building for its first thatching, the joists are fixed in the usual manner as for a tiled or slated roof, but the rafters are laid horizontally instead of up and down. The thatcher works upwards from the auvis (eaves) to the ridge. He usually moistens the reed by sprinkling water on it, so that it can be packed more tightly and securely. He starts his work at the right-hand corner, and works from right to left, standing on a ladder placed against the wall of the building. He usually has an assistant or tender to hand him up the wads of reed, which he does either by hand or with a prang. The first lain (layer) of reed is sewed to the rafters with tar-cord, worked through or around the wads of reed by a long flat needle, known as a datcher’s niddle. While at the auvis the wads are fixed by specially made wall-crooks, and are made to project at least a foot from the wall, so as to afford a good protection to the top of the cob-wall, and also to ensure that the drip from the roof shall fall clear of the wall (for iron shutes to carry off the water were quite unknown in the old days, though one sometimes sees them now as a modern addition to thatched houses, where they look hideously out of place). Each successive lain of wads is fixed to the lower one by spars or spears (made from sticks of halse or withy, most commonly the latter, termed spar-gads).
The ridge is put on last, after both sides of the roof are thatched. It is formed by bending the reed over the top and securing it by spears and rods on the top of the thatch on both sides. The rods are generally placed diagonally, but not as a rule in any definite pattern as they are in some districts. The ends of the ridge, over the gables, are in Devon usually rounded off, but in the Minehead and Porlock district they are sharply pointed and closely resemble the stern of a ship.* The gable-end of a house is spoken of us the pwointing-end or puggen-end, both probably being corruptions of pinion (Fr. pignon, a gable-end).
* There is a tradition that the idea was taken from a Viking ship which was wrecked in Porlock Bay many centuries ago.
To return to the thatcher: his tools are few and simple. He remains on his ladder against the house so long as he can reach to fix his wads of reed, but after he has progressed some distance up the roof, he can no longer reach his work from the ground-ladder. He then places upon the new thatch a small ladder-like wooden frame, having two or three flat rungs and two long tings (prongs) at right-angles to the frame to give him foothold. On this he stands or kneels, shifting it higher and higher as he advances up the roof. This frame is usually known merely as a datcher’s ladder, but in some districts it is termed standing-bittles or standing-battles. The thatcher knocks in his spears with a datcher’s bittle, or battle, a small wooden mallet, similar in form to the large heavy bittle used for cleaving wood. Or else he drives the spears in with his hand, wearing for this purpose a stiff pad of leather to protect the palm of his hand. While to protect his knees he wears a pair of stout leathern knee-caps, or else a pair of strads covering the whole of the front part of the leg and coming up over the knees. When he has completed one side of the roof, he pares down the thatch with a datcher’s hook, so as to get an even and suent surface, paring it always in a downward direction from the ridge to the auvis, so that each reed-mote becomes a veritable miniature waterspout; and so long as the thatch remains sound, there is no possibility of water coming through the roof. Finally he presses and smooths it down with a smoothing-board.
When a roof which has already been thatched requires re-thatching, so long as the timberwork is sound, it is not usual to remove the first covering of thatch, but to lay the fresh one on the top of it in the manner already described. The thatcher first combs down the old thatch with a small hand-rake or a reed-comb, to remove all moss or other vegetable growth, also badly decayed reed. He then fills up all holes thus left by packing them up with fresh reed, so as to get a level surface for laying on the new thatch. And so on with each successive layer. In old buildings it is no uncommon thing to find three, four, five, and even six layers of thatch one over the other on the same roof. They can often be counted by looking up under the auvis or at the gable-ends.* This piling on of successive layers for an almost indefinite period can hardly be recommended, as the increase in weight of each fresh layer puts an additional strain on the timber-work and the walls, especially if of cob, which have got to bear them. Two, or at most three, layers is as much as it is reasonable to expect any roof-timbers to bear.
* I remember one old building at Moretonhampstead, part of my own house which was formerly a farm-house, on which the thatch (which was removed eleven years ago) was over six feet in thickness, and it was reckoned that it was at least two hundred years since the first layer had been put on.
If the reed be made from the best unbruised wheaten straw, and is well laid on, the thatch should last from twenty to thirty years without requiring anything further doing to it. But if straw of an inferior quality, or oat straw, be used, it will not last nearly so long.
For picturesqueness and homely appearance, I think almost everyone will agree that, for a farm-house, cottage, or small country residence, nothing can compare with a good thatched roof. It has one great material advantage too, that it keeps the interior of the house far warmer in winter and cooler in summer than any other form of roofing. Its disadvantages are its comparatively short period of durability, and its greater liability to catch fire. Though I venture to think this latter evil has been much exaggerated; and it will usually be found that, in the case of quite 50 per cent, of thatched houses which have been burnt down, the fire has not originated in a spark from the chimney igniting the thatch, but from a beam supporting part of the masonry of the chimney flue itself (which builders of old almost invariably put) catching fire; it being more than likely that the house would have been burnt down just the same whether the roof had been thatched or not.
But undoubtedly one of the chief reasons which deters many country people, the present writer amongst them, from retaining old thatch or putting on new, is the outrageous premium demanded by the fire-insurance companies from the owners of thatched houses, who may wish to insure their property, 15s. per cent. I believe it is, as against about 1s. 6d. for a slated roof! This fact, added to the very high wages asked by the few thatchers still available, has unfortunately caused this once universal, and most picturesque, art of thatching to become, except in the case of repairs to old buildings, a mere luxury for the rich to indulge in.
APPLE-BLOOTH = apple-blossom, blowth.
ARBS = herbs.
AUVIS = eaves. Often written office in old documents. A.-S. efese, a clipt edge of thatch.
BACK-HOUSE (’ouze) = a scullery, or wash-house. In large farm-houses, the back-kitchen is a second kitchen, not a scullery or back-house.
BACKLET = the outside back premises of a house. The small inner court or yard immediately outside the back-door of a farm-house.
BACHELOR’S-BUTTONS = a term applied to the double button-like varieties of several flowers, notably Ranunculus acris and Bellis perennis.
BAME = local pronunciation of balm, Melissa officinalis.
BARTON = a large farm. Originally a rick-yard. A.-S. bere-tūn.
BEE-BUTT = bee-hive, particularly the straw skep.
BEE-HOLE = a dome-shaped niche made in cob-walls for the reception of a bee-butt.
BLOODY-WARRIORS (bliddy-waryers) = wall-flowers. Most commonly applied to the dark red variety.
BLOOMY-DOWN = the Sweet-William, Dianthus barbatus.
BUNNY-RABBIT = the Snapdragon, Antirrhinum majus.
BUTTER-AND-EGGS = (1) Common Toadflax, Linaria vulgaris; (2) The double daffodil, Narcissus pseudo-narcissus, fl. pl.
BWOY’S-LOVE = Southern wood, Artemisia abrotanum.
CART-LINHAY (linney) = a shed or shelter open in front only, in which carts and wagons are housed when not in use.
CAVE = a pit in a field in which potatoes or other root crops are stored during the winter, by being earthed up and thatched over.
CHICKET-WINDOW = a dormer window.
CLAT = a clod or ball of earth.
CLOVE-JILAUFER = the clove-pink, Dianthus caryophyllus. Fr. girofle.
COB = a mixture of loam, or clay-shillet and straw, used for building.
COB-PARER = a special shaped knife used for paring down the edges of cob-walls so as to get a roughly true surface.
COCK-LOFT (-lart) = the space between the uppermost ceiling and the roof.
COOLTH = coolness. Cp. dryth.
COURT = a farm-yard.
COURTLEDGE = all the yards and out-buildings appertaining to a farmstead.
CULVER-HOUSE (-’ouze) = a pigeon-house, dove-cote.
DAME = the mistress of a house. The term by which a farmer’s wife was formerly addressed.
DATCHER = thatcher.
DATCHER’S-HOOK = a special hook used for paring down new thatch on a roof.
DATCHER’S-LADDER, or datchin’-ladder. See STANDING-BITTLES.
DATCHER’S-NIDDLE = a long flat needle used for sewing the first layer of thatch to the rafters.
DIPPER = a vessel in the shape of a bowl with a handle, frequently of copper, but now usually of enamel or galvanized iron. Used for dipping up water, cider, or any other liquid.
DOWSER = a diviner.
DOWSING = divining, the operation of searching for water, or metal, with a hazel-rod.
DRAGS = large heavy harrows.
DRASHEL. See DREXAL.
DRASHLE = a flail.
DREXAL = threshold. The sill of a door.
DRUCKSTOOL. See DREXAL.
DUCK-BILLS = a common name for the plant Dielytra spectabilis.
DUNG-EVIL = a dung-fork.
DURNS = the side posts of a door, jambs.
FLOWER-NAT = flower-bed.
GEARDEN = a common pronunciation of garden, especially among the older generation.
GOLDEN-DUST = the yellow Alyssum, A. saxatile.
GRANNIE’S-NIGHTCAP = the Columbine, Aquilegia.
HALF-HATCH. Same as HATCH (q.v.)
HALSE = hazel, made of hazel.
HANGIN’-CROOKS = the crooks fixed into the hangin’-paust on which a gate, or large farm-house door, is hung.
HAPSE = a hasp, door-latch. A.-S. hæpse.
HAT = an inverted sheaf of corn or straw, used as a covering for protection from wet.
HATCH = the half-door often found in farm-houses and cottages.
HEPPINSTOCK. Same as UPPINGSTOCK (q.v.).
HIND = a farm bailiff.
HOMER-FIELD = literally the “homeward” field. The field which immediately adjoins the farm-house.
HORSE = a cross-legged frame on which small lengths of timber are laid to be sawn up into logs.
IN-COUNTRY = a term denoting a farm situated in the vales as opposed to one on the moor.
IN-DEL = in door. See OUT-DEL.
JESSAMY = Jasmine.
KNITCH = a bundle of reed (q.v.), consisting of six wads. Literally that which is knit together.
LAIN = a layer of reed laid on a roof in thatching.
LEPPINGSTOCK Same as UPPINGSTOCK (q.v.).
LIFTING-STOCK. Same as UPPINGSTOCK.
LIGHTING-STOCK. Same as UPPINGSTOCK.
LIGHTS = the glazed spaces in a divided window.
LINTERN = lintel. The top part of a door-frame.
MACHINE-HOUSE. Same as ROUND-HOUSE (q.v.).
METHEGLIN = meath, honey-wine.
MONEY-IN-BOTH-POCKETS = the plant Honesty, Lunaria biennis, in reference to the dried seed-vessels.
MOW (pronounced ? moo) = a rick or stack of corn, rarely used of hay.
MOW-BARTON = a rick or stack-yard, an enclosure in which corn-ricks or mows only are stored, separate from the farm-court or courtledge.
MOWHAY (pronounced moo-y). Same as MOW-BARTON.
NICKY-WADS. Same as WADS (q.v.).
NITCH. Same as KNITCH (q.v.).
ORCHET (archet) = orchard.
ORGAN-TEA (argin-tay) = a decoction made from the plant Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium.
PICK (or peek) = a hay fork or prang.
PIGS’-LEWZE = a pigsty.
PILLION (pronounced pillin) = a saddle having a seat behind it on which a woman can ride.
PLAT = plot, of ground, grass, etc. Also called splat.
PLUMP-PIT = the well from which water is drawn by a pump.
PLUMP-TRAW = the trough at the foot of a pump.
POINTING-END (pwointin-een) = the gable-end of a house.
POLYANTHUMS = Polyanthus.
PORCH-ROOM = the small chamber over the porch in old farm-houses.
POUND-HOUSE (-’ouze) = the building in which the apples are pounded in cider-making. Also called Wring-house.
PRANG = a prong, a fork of any description, distinguished according to the number of prongs as a two-prang, dree-prang, vower-prang, or vaive-prang.
PUMP-HOUSE (-’ouze) = the small building in which a pump is enclosed.
PUGGEN-END. Same as POINTING-END.
QUINCY = the Japan Quince, Pyrus japonica.
QUARRELS (pronounced quarriels) = small square or diamond-shaped panes of glass, glazed with lead. O. Fr. quarrel. Mod. Fr. carreau.
RACKLISSES = Auriculas.
REAP-HOOK (raip-’ook) = a large sickle, sharpened, not toothed.
REED = unbruised wheat-straw used for thatching.
REED-COMB = a small wooden comb, with iron teeth and a short handle, used for combing out reed for thatching.
REED-COMBER = a machine for performing the same operation.
REED-MAKER. Same as REED-COMBER.
REED-MOTE = a single reed or straw. Cp. Straw-mote (pronounced straw-mut).
SCARLET-LIGHTENING = Lychnis chalcedonica. A popular etymology.
SCUFFLE = a horse-hoe.
SHIPPEN = a cow-house. A.-S. scy-pen, a stall.
SHUTE = a term used both for the open spouts around the eaves of a house, and also for the down-pipe from the same.
SLEE-HOUSE (-’ouze) = a single room attached to a house, with a lean-to roof.
SMOOTHING-BOARD = a flat board with handle, used by thatchers for levelling down the new thatch, so as to get an even surface.
SNOW-ON-THE-MOUNTAINS = the white Alyssum, A. maritimum, also Arabis hirsuta.
SPARS = bent split sticks, used by thatchers to fasten down the reed.
SPAR-GADS = stakes of hazel or withy, suitable for making spars.
SPEARS. Same as SPARS.
STANDING-BITTLES = the ladder-like frame used by thatchers to stand upon the roof when thatching. Also called datchin’-ladder.
STRADS = stiff leathers worn over the front of the legs by hedgers, rabbit-trappers, etc. Knee-strads worn by thatchers cover the knee as well.
STWONEN = made of stone.
SUENT = even, level, smooth. O. Fr. suant, Mod. Fr. suivant.
SUMMER-ROSE = the double yellow Kerria japonica or Corchorus japonicus.
SURVEY = an agricultural auction, principally for the sale of farms and farm-lands.
SWAG = to sag or bulge, as of cob-walls.
TEDDER = a machine for turning and tossing hay.
TENDER = one who waits, or attends, on another, e.g. a mason’s tender, one who hands him up bricks or stone and mortar.
TINGS = tines, prongs; as of DRAGS, forks, etc.
TRAW = trough.
TUN = chimney-top; that part of a chimney-stack which shows above the roof of a house.
TURMET-HOUSE (-’ouze) = a small chamber, or separate building, often circular, for storing turnips, mangel, etc.
UPPINGSTOCK (uppinstock) = a horse-block, a short flight of steps from which horses are mounted.
VLAIL. Same as DRASHLE (q.v.).
VORE-DOOR = front-door.
WADS = small sheaves or bundles of reed for thatching.
WAGGON-LINHAY. Same as CART-LINHAY (q.v.).
WALL-CROOKS = special crooks for fixing thatch to the eaves of a house.
WEEL = a well.
WHIPPER = a wooden contrivance for beating out the corn from wheat-straw intended for thatching.
WIMBING = winnowing. Also pronounced wĭndin’.
WINK = a draw-well.
WITHY = various species of willow, Salix.
YARD = a rod, pole, or perch of 16½ft., or 5½ ordinary cloth-yards; the above being known as a land-yard (lanyard) when it is required to be distinguished from a cloth-yard. A yard of ground is this measure squared, and 160 yards go to the acre. The landyard is sometimes called a lug.