Still No Gold Mine. But..
The roof above the bathroom ceiling had yet more secrets to divulge.
I’ve been doing some research. The presence of soot on the beams and roof laths suggest that the house was built in the era prior to the introduction of chimneys. In medieval times the practice was simply to light a fire on a simple hearth in the middle of the floor. There might have been some sort of louvred hatch above it but the smoke would still have filled the room, a room which at that time would have been open right up to the roof.
On open hearth at Bayleaf, Weald and Downland Living Museum
(Picture credit: Weald and Downland Living Museum, here)
Blackening of the thatch itself, as well as the roof beams, is even rarer. It’s most often found in Devon on account of the practice here of re-dressing just the top layers of a roof rather than taking all the straw off entirely each time a house was re-thatched. The open hearth disappeared in England sometime during the 16th century. So we can now date our cottage to the 1500s, if not earlier. The unstained wood on the edges of this shot, forming the ceiling beams, was added later.
Amazing to think that the blackened straw we are looking at here is likely over 500 years old. The composition of such ancient roofs has even been studied to learn more about the agricultural practices of the day, the arable crops which were commonly grown, even to the weeds that were invading the surrounding fields. It’s fascinating stuff.
Day 6. And the floor is coming up.
Meanwhile we’ve started the second week of work and the need for discussions and decisions is never ending. At a site meeting this morning (seven of us crammed into this tiny space) we agreed that this project is probably the most challenging that any of us has ever done. It’s proper seat of the pants stuff, responding to each new difficulty as it presents itself. All rather stressful. My strategy at the beginning had been to retreat to the garden. But I had just half a day out there last week. Hey ho.
We hold on to anything that doesn’t move and wait for the day when a bathroom might pop out the other end. Hopefully one that looks something like this:
I can’t help wondering what those medieval cottage dwellers would have made of it all.