March 2014: Timber-Framed – Materials and Construction Houses – Martin Higgins

We are lucky to have some fine timber-framed houses in Westcott. This meeting was the opportunity to learn how these houses were built; how the trees were grown, prepared and selected, shaped and put together. Our speaker, Martin Higgins, Surrey Historic Buildings Officer, took us through the process.

Oak was most frequently used, because of its resistance to damp. It was worked while still green, within two years of felling; after that it hardened and working it became difficult. Trunks were split along their length into baulks and roughly squared to use the heartwood for the main timbers of the frame. The timbers were then cut and shaped and the frames assembled on the ground. Joints had to meet the need; sometimes quite complex and always pegged. The joints were numbered using carpenters’ marks; frames were then dissembled and re-erected on-site before being infilled (wattle-and-daub, and later, brick) to create the walls of the house. The roof timbers followed in a similar way.

Martin then showed us pictures of timber-framed houses in Surrey, including our own Brook Farm, to illustrate the techniques he had described. These demonstrated the superb workmanship of the medieval carpenter and showed what a wealth of timber-framed heritage we have in the county. We are very fortunate. This was a fascinating talk.