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.

No comments:

Post a Comment