Friday, 24 June 2011

A House of Two Sides

We've known for quite a while that the house was originally split in two halves, each with it's own stairwell (loads of evidence for that!), and presumably entrance door (the two centre ones, obviously). What we don't know, is when it became one, with the stairs on the right hall removed and doors opened between the halves. It was still separated in 1937, according to the plans we have from then. We've theorised about whether it may have been built in two stages, as the fachwerk, the timber construction on the facade, shows differences in style between left and right. We thought perhaps the left might be a little older, but  last Saturday morning, while talking with a expert restorer (Thanks Franz Geiger!), a bunch of clues that we'd alreeady noticed clicked into place.

The facade on the right has diagonal cross-bracing, the facade on the left has horizontal bracing. We were told that the facades are usually symmetrical, so if you look at the facade from the right edge, the diagonal braces go down, up, down, up, down... no up to the left of the window above the former entrance door. It's like something is missing.

The left facade, June 2011. Note horizontal cross-bracing.
The right facade, June 2011. Note diagonal cross-bracing.
One of the more subtle clues is the fact that the upright timbers on the right of the facade have carpenters marks on them, following a numbering system that has been used since the medieval period. The uprights on the left have none. Moving from right to left, the uprights are numbered in descending order, We have ... XIII, XII but no XI as expected left of that same window.
Hard to see, but the central post is XII, the one to the right can be seen as XIII. Note also the different thickness.

The photo above shows that the base beam on the right is thicker than that on the left (not so conducive with one building phase where they might have taken care, or perhaps even tried to use one single beam).

Measuring between the edge of the door frame and the inner wall surface on each side of the dividing wall, and taking into account the usual symmetry in such facades, the distance from the edge of the right door to the dividing wall tallies with what one might expect given the spacing of the timbers on the far right of the facade. There's a bigger distance on the left side which suggests that it's not "in harmony".

Right corner, and new upper wall from 1937.
The corners of each side have differences. The gables on each side are currently masonry, however on the left it has sandstone blocks on the edge while on the right is a large oak post. On this side, there's an oak beam running as a footing under the brickwork. Another clue here is that on the 1937 plans for works, the gable on the right is marked as red, meaning it was new (well, it replaced something that was already there). We now suspect the entire right gable was originally half timbered and one level of this, and the rear wall, was replaced with masonry in 1937. In fact, these walls are made of red bricks, not stone like the rest of the outer and lower walls.

To cut a long story short, we think the right side of the building is older than the left. We think there was a smaller building here, with upper levels entirely half-timbered, and some time in the past the left side was added on, with a stone gable, and that at this time the entire roof was replaced to make a single roof structure. The room layout is almost perfectly symmetrical on each side, but it is odd that no such attempt was made to make the facade symmetrical.

This is all based on clues above, but we'll need an expert opinion, and maybe some dendrochronology to get some harder facts. We'll also do a little more documentary research to see if we can get some earlier maps. It just occurred to me that I found some charcoal while digging a test pit in the stalls on the right of the house (it's damp there, and I was trying to see if the groundwater was a bit high), and this could be carbon dated. If I could find some on the other side...

This is what happens when you have an archaeologist (my wife) and someone who worked in archaeology for almost 8 years (me, but I never called myself an archaeologist). Old habits die hard. Still only a theory though!

Since then, Franz gave us contact details for an expert on putting together the historical story of such houses, so looks like we'll have a better idea later this year.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Half-Life 1950

We've a few old tools lying about, some of which are very odd-looking to a city boy like myself. One looked so much more like a lethal weapon than a farm implement, it put me in mind of Half-Life, and wondering what it might look like if set in an early 20th Century German farm. Bear with me for this intermission :)

The classic, and my tool of choice for the last few months. Something to set the tone. If in doubt, crowbar it.

This was hiding at the back of the barn. Might need a little sharpening, but the weight alone would carry it through alien scum (or the Marder).

An upgrade to a two-pronged hay fork would give better reach, but you'd need to be accurate.

Four have to be better than two! Skewer those headcrabs! Or muck out horse shit.

We have about five of these. Lots of prongs, but with rounded tips. Great for digging out beets (it's a Sechszinkige Rübengabel), but not sure how confident I'd be heading into that unlit cellar armed only with this.

This looks like some sort of vorpal weapon. You'd expect lightning to be shooting from it at least, but it's a Zweizinkiger Rübenheber, for digging out beets. It's heavy! They don't make them like they used to!

To be honest, this has to be one of the top tools in the armoury. That blade would actually bend pretty quickly, but really, if Death uses this as a tool of choice, surely that counts as something?

Thursday, 16 June 2011

In the Shadow of the Church

Just over two weeks ago, we moved from the highest point of the village, with houses built in the last 15 years, to the lowest, with houses, like our own, considerably older than that. It's like it's become some sort of hobby, but we're now living in a house right next door to The Bauernhaus itself. This is really handy, as we can pop over to tend the veggies, do a bit of work, and when things start going, keep an eye on the work. On the other side (south) is the Evangelisch church dating from 1473. So we are now, literally, in the shadow of the church.

Centre of Mittelschefflenz, pre 1960.
The house we're living in now was built in 1900, with a recent extension replacing the site of an older barn. The house can be seen to the left of the church in the photo to the right. I'm not sure when this photo was taken, but it's pre-1960, as it predates the town hall that was built more or less in the foreground. Where the person in kneeling, by a water trough in the centre, is where the stream, the Kertel, ran until it was culverted (thankfully, it still runs open on the south side of our land, and is really handy for hauling water from for the garden in dry weather). The half-timbered house on the right of this photo was demolished only a couple of years ago to make way for the new town hall, despite originally being a protected building. Our house is out of frame, about 40 metres to the left, but this old photo gives an idea of how open that area was in the past.

View from the Hof of number 2
This house, number 2, is also a former Bauernhaus, clearly, and there's a nice little courtyard at the back with several half-timbered and stone outbuildings and barns. A nice place to sit in the sun, but the configuration greatly amplifies the sound of the church bells. We get a ding-dong for every quarter hour, and deeper bongs ringing the hours. All night. Twelve bells was never so real! After two weeks here, we almost don't hear it any more. But at certain times, 11:00 and 19:30, it goes mad (movie below, with low resolution due to ultra-slow Internet connection, but it's the sound that counts in this case).

 In terms of progress on The Bauernhaus, I was a little premature with celebrating our planning permission, as it's only since yesterday that some of the final points were finally closed before we get the "red dot" that is the go signal. We had to meet the local Fire Commandant to look at the size and positioning of planned roof windows for the purposes of escape routes. All clear now!

In the meantime, our architect has been putting out incredibly detailed work lists, and the first set of offers from general builders have come in. A little bit shocking, and quite a range in price, but the detailed costs breakdown the architect specified is making it easy to compare. With luck, the first heavy works can begin in mid-July, just over two months later than originally planned.

Still, we're now at the heart of the village, and it's much nicer down here, with the company of the resident pine marten..