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.



2018-08-22T09:04:44+00:00July 23rd, 2018|Tags: |


  1. An Eye For Detail July 23, 2018 at 6:36 pm - Reply

    Amazing…just amazing. Can’t imagine actually living with something so old! Yes, what would they make of it indeed.

    • Jessica July 25, 2018 at 9:29 pm - Reply

      When medieval dust covers absolutely everything.. it’s still dust!

  2. Penny Post July 23, 2018 at 7:14 pm - Reply

    Fascinating stuff.

    • Jessica July 25, 2018 at 9:30 pm - Reply

      Thanks Penny.

  3. snowbird July 23, 2018 at 7:16 pm - Reply

    It’s fascinating to think you still have some original parts of the house, you just can’t beat a dose of history!xxx

    • Jessica July 25, 2018 at 9:31 pm - Reply

      It’s nice to find some original features. Like so many of these old cottages it’s been heavily altered through the years. And not always for the better.

  4. justjilluk July 23, 2018 at 8:22 pm - Reply

    Wow.I think that is/was a gold mine. As you say onwards and upwards. You will do it, you always do.x

    • Jessica July 25, 2018 at 9:36 pm - Reply

      I’m glad someone has the faith! Thanks Jill. It will all be worth it. I hope.

  5. Backlane Notebook July 23, 2018 at 8:42 pm - Reply

    Fascinating bit of architectural history.
    Glad you are both enjoying the journey.

    • Jessica July 25, 2018 at 9:39 pm - Reply

      It’s been, and still is, an experience for sure. Enjoyment may come in retrospect. When the noise and the dust are but a distant memory!

  6. Kris P July 23, 2018 at 9:13 pm - Reply

    The contrast between your current space with the exposed roof and your mock-up of the hoped for future space is remarkable to say the least. The thought of 500 year old straw alone astounds me – I’d have expected it to disintegrate within that period! Now I understand how and why thatched roofs have stood the test of time.

    • Jessica July 25, 2018 at 9:43 pm - Reply

      I would have thought the same. I can only presume that in the protected environment of the roof space conditions were right for the straw to be preserved. If nothing else I’m amazed the mice haven’t snacked on it. Perhaps, fortuitously, it is out of their reach.

  7. wherethejourneytakesme July 23, 2018 at 9:30 pm - Reply

    Well Jessica I think you should go for a glass ceiling then you can lie in the tub having a soak and ponder on those wonderful beams and old thatch!!

    • derrickjknight July 24, 2018 at 9:49 am - Reply

      Just what I was going to suggest – like glass floors sometimes fitted for a similar purpose

      • Jessica July 25, 2018 at 10:18 pm - Reply

        I could even watch the mice scurrying about..

    • Jessica July 25, 2018 at 9:45 pm - Reply

      A glass ceiling! Now there’s a thought. Will you mention it to the builders or shall I?

  8. hb July 23, 2018 at 10:08 pm - Reply

    Continued amazement. Make sure you remember the rubber duckie for the bath as shown in the first sketch-up–or will it be a rusty one?

    • Jessica July 25, 2018 at 9:51 pm - Reply

      Rubber. No rust in the bath. I’ve already spent enough time getting stains off the wretched thing and it’s not even been installed yet. Which, given the compromised space in the staircase and the weight of the bath, is going to be a story in itself.

  9. bumbleandme July 23, 2018 at 10:16 pm - Reply

    Fascinating stuff, I’m on the edge of my seat! 500 year old straw… amazeballs! X.

    • Jessica July 25, 2018 at 9:53 pm - Reply

      Even after 500 years of West Country rain! It’s so dry on the inside. Amazing really.

  10. Gerrie Mackey July 24, 2018 at 3:47 am - Reply

    500 years old … imagine the people at that time & how hard their lives were…..Do you have any information on previous owners? One thing is certain … even two generation ago the owners could not imagined a gorgeous bathroom in the cottage and how tastefully you have renovated it. Quite a project!

    • Jessica July 25, 2018 at 9:58 pm - Reply

      I’ve often thought about trying to trace back the history of the cottage. One day (with more time on our hands) we will do it. Life was so much simpler back then. That does have its attractions, in spite of the hardships.

  11. Beth @ PlantPostings July 24, 2018 at 3:51 am - Reply

    Ha! I had to chuckle at the idea of the very modern bathroom in a 16th Century cottage. Your place and your project are just incredible. The stories it could/does tell!

    • Jessica July 25, 2018 at 10:01 pm - Reply

      Pulling out the history of the place is the bit that excites me most about it. I hope there is more to discover yet. In fact, I know there is.

  12. bittster July 24, 2018 at 3:58 am - Reply

    That’s really something to try and imagine your cottage back in the day. What a fantastic sense of history that surrounds you!

    • Jessica July 25, 2018 at 10:03 pm - Reply

      It’s humbling isn’t it. Are our lives easier or more difficult than back then? I honestly don’t know.

  13. Christina July 24, 2018 at 6:25 am - Reply

    Wow! That is fascinating Jessica.

    • Jessica July 25, 2018 at 10:07 pm - Reply

      Thanks Christina. It’s the discovery that keeps me going. I have to know what is hidden within the building. These projects give me that chance.

  14. janesmudgeegarden July 24, 2018 at 6:36 am - Reply

    I’m amazed to think that those roof beams have been there for such a long time. What a clever piece of research. The idea of those ancient people seeing your new bathroom reminds me of a movie called ‘The Navigator’. It’s a medieval odyssey in which a group of people in England, in order to escape the Black Death, travel underground and end up in the modern city of Auckland. (That’s a very potted synopsis). I think your previous tenants would feel the same element of surprise!

    • Jessica July 25, 2018 at 10:12 pm - Reply

      It wouldn’t take the Black Death to drive me underground if there was any chance of ending up in Auckland. Sounds a lot cheaper than the air fare.

  15. derrickjknight July 24, 2018 at 9:49 am - Reply


    • Jessica July 25, 2018 at 10:19 pm - Reply

      Makes the place a lot older than we thought. Certainly interesting.

  16. Carrie Gault July 24, 2018 at 10:36 am - Reply

    oh my, as an archaeologists wife I am getting the tingles, so much history to take in – this is utterly fascinating!!

    • Jessica July 25, 2018 at 10:26 pm - Reply

      It’s the peeling back of the layers that I really love about renovating. So much has been altered in this cottage in the past, but even here it’s amazing what you can find when you look.

  17. Mary July 24, 2018 at 11:49 am - Reply

    Thanks for providing us with insights on the tremendous archaeological history of your home. As one who lives in a community that was one of the earliest settlements in the US (established 1683) and finding out that your home predates that event by almost 200 years puts your home into quite a different perspective. As for the original residents view of the new bathroom, I am thinking they would have been blinded by the light! Best of luck during this stressful reno.

    • Jessica July 25, 2018 at 10:34 pm - Reply

      Flooding the room with light was the intention, given that it has no window. And used to be black..
      1683! There must be some fascinating history around you as well.

  18. Jayne Hill July 24, 2018 at 1:17 pm - Reply

    how wonderful, I’m guessing you are keeping a written and photographic record to pass on with the house if you eventually decide that 84 steps is a bit too much just to get the postbox. :). I’m with Carrie – tingles at the age and history of the building.

    love the glass ceiling idea – suspect if you suggest that at your next site meeting you might have something of a walk out!

    • Jessica July 25, 2018 at 10:39 pm - Reply

      The written and photographic record is the blog!
      We have enough of a challenge fitting a glass shower screen, the logistics of getting it in place keep me awake at night. Not as much as the logistics of getting the bath in place. But that’s another story.

  19. Jayne Hill July 24, 2018 at 1:19 pm - Reply

    Just thinking again about the central hearth/soot on thatch – wondered whereabouts in the building is this bathroom in relation to where a hearth might have been downstairs?

    • Jessica July 25, 2018 at 10:44 pm - Reply

      The most intense area of blackening is just above the bathroom door which would have been fairly central to the original house. That makes sense, especially looking at the drawings on the internet of the supposed structure of medieval cottages. And where they would have had the open hearth.

  20. ginaferrari July 24, 2018 at 5:58 pm - Reply

    It might be stressful but what a fascinating process too making such exciting discoveries. And what a lovely bathroom you will have eventually

    • Jessica July 25, 2018 at 10:47 pm - Reply

      I’m sure it will be worth it in the end. If it all comes to fruition. I’m just glad we’re doing it in summer. There’s a big hole in the bathroom wall tonight!

  21. Susan Garrett July 24, 2018 at 11:13 pm - Reply

    Maybe the previous inhabitants are watching with interest!

    • Jessica July 25, 2018 at 10:49 pm - Reply

      As long as they don’t get restless. There are enough things flying through the air already.

  22. Caro July 26, 2018 at 2:04 pm - Reply

    Extraordinary to think that your cottage was built up from a room with an open hearth. Even more extraordinary to think that people used to light a ruddy great bonfire in the middle of their homes but fascinating to discover the history of your home. Would be great to know more about it and the people who lived there. Good luck with Project Bathroom – I’m also guessing that it’s quite hot work in that space at the moment!

    • Jessica July 26, 2018 at 5:34 pm - Reply

      Lighting a bonfire in the middle of a thatched dwelling doesn’t bear thinking about does it. Presumably they had a bucket of water close by, just in case.
      It hasn’t been as hot down here as in your part of the world, although today it may have come close. At least the bathroom has a good high ceiling just at the moment!

  23. offtheedgegardening July 28, 2018 at 6:21 pm - Reply

    Look wonderful, can’t wait to come and see it in real life!

    • Jessica July 28, 2018 at 10:45 pm - Reply

      As soon as we are clear of dust, and have a chair for you to sit in, I will let you know!

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