Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Britain's oldest houses?

click photo to enlarge
It's not easy to determine which are the oldest houses in Britain. We can reasonably discount the caves that were inhabited by prehistoric man because a house surely implies a man-made, rather than natural, structure. But then the question arises of just how much of the house needs to exist before it can be considered a house? The post marks found in soil that show where, for example, Iron Age timber and turf houses were built are clearly insufficient. But what about the low, circular, stone walls, on Holyhead Mountain, Anglesey, the remains of possibly Neolithic, but probably Iron Age, dwellings? Or the stone footings of Roman houses in the military settlements along Hadrian's Wall such as Housesteads and Vindolanda? Perhaps they qualify as such.

However, in my mind, it is the very few remaining Norman houses of the twelfth century that are the oldest houses in the country because, despite restorations and additions there is sufficient original work remaining outside and in for us to easily imagine what they looked like when they were first built. The small cathedral city of Lincoln is fortunate in having two of the best examples of Norman town houses, and the not too distant village of Boothby Pagnell has the best small Norman manor house. The so-called Jew's House (leftmost building above) at the start of Steep Hill in Lincoln has a facade with ground floor and first floor walls that date from the late 1100s. The arch over the doorway and the two arched upper windows (one with its dividing column long gone) exhibit carving of that period. The two string courses and the chimney breast are also contemporary. All the ground floor windows are, of course, much later in date, as is the rectangular one on the first floor. Inside are three original twelfth century doorways. Though the pantiled roof looks old the Norman roof would probably have been straw or reed thatch, split stone tiles or wooden shingles. The building adjoining is called Jew's Court. The lowest courses of its facade appear to be similar to its neighbour but everything above dates from the seventeenth century and later.

Britain abounds in houses of the eighteenth, seventeenth and sixteenth centuries. Fifteenth century houses are not unusual, but buildings earlier than that tend to be churches, castles etc and houses of earlier centuries are much rarer. Consequently it's a privilege to be able to view a house such as the one shown above, and remarkable that it still finds a use in the twenty first century, over eight hundred years after it was built.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 10.4mm (28mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/125 sec
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On