Not far from Ford's Hospital, in the shadow of St. Michael's Parish Church, - now known as Coventry Cathedral, - is the fine old house shown in Fig. 37. It is probably some half-century earlier in date than Ford's Hospital, and possesses a richly carved wall-plate and corner post. The projecting joist-ends are marked with a similar coving, which appears to have been a local custom. It has a small double overhang on first floor level, but there are evidences of extensive restoration, if not of partial rebuilding. The richly pierced and carved barge boards are worthy of close examination, and the details of the buttress-uprights under the windows are also exceptional.
In the small illustration, Fig. 38, on the same page, one of these half-timber houses is shown in process of demolition. In the photograph can be seen the projecting joists with wall-plates above, also the braces, principals and purlins. The common rafters have been removed, but the roof framing has been constructed without any ridge purlin. This was a common custom with many of these houses, hence the ridge-sag, which many of these houses exhibit.
Fig. 36. Ford's Hospital, Coventry. - View of Courtyard from the Entrance. Early 16th century.
Fig. 37. An Old House At Coventry Facing Coventry Parish Church (Now The Cathedral).
Showing the carved corner-post and wall-plate with cove under, hiding the joist-ends, sorry-overhang and pierced and carved barge-boards. The buttress-plasters under the sill of the end gable window are interesting details.
Late fifteenth century.
Fig. 38. A Suffolk Half-Timber House In Process Of Demolition.
Showing wall-plate with projecting joist-ends under. Note the principals and purlins, and absence of ridge purlin. The roof is of the braced tie-beam kind. The openings on the first floor to receive the windows are shown intact. A strong wind-brace reinforces the gable-ends of the house. Part of the stud-partitioning still remains. The roof has strong collars as well as tie-beams.
Figs. 39 and 40 show two oak carved corner posts from an old house in Bury St. Edmunds, now demolished. The original owner has had his arms introduced into the decorative scheme, those of Heigham impaling Cotton in Fig. 39 and Calthorp in Fig. 40. It is possible from these posts to reconstruct the approximate height of the ground floor rooms. They measure nearly 5 ft. 3 ins. each, and allowing a brick plinth of 2 ft., with a deduction of a 6-in. step from the ground to the floor levels, it will be seen that rooms at this date must have been less than 7 ft. in height from the floor level to the under side of the joists, and this in a house of considerable importance. It will be advisable to bear this measurement in mind when a later chapter on long-case clocks is considered, as when the tall clock went out of fashion, in great mansions, during the years from 1735 to 1750, it is to houses of this type, which persisted in numbers during the eighteenth century, especially in country districts, that they were relegated, with the result that bases had to be cut and hood superstructures removed to permit of them standing upright in these low rooms. This, however, is a detail for later consideration.
Figs. 39 and 40. Oak Carved Corner-Posts From An Old House At Bury St. Edmunds (Now Demolished).
Fig. 39 has the arms of Heigham impaling Cotton, and Fig. 40 impaling Calthorp.
Fig. 39. 5 ft. 1 3/4ins. high by 11 3/8 ins. wide.
Fig. 40, 5 ft. 2 1/8 ins. high by 15 3/8 ins. wide.
Fig. 41. Framework Of Window From An Old House At Hadleigh, Essex. - 7 ft. 3 ins. wide by 5 ft. 11 ins. high. - Fifteenth century. - Victoria and Albert Museum.
The same elaboration of traceried carving was often carried into the designing of the windows of these timber houses. Figs. 41 and 42 show the exterior and interior views of an oak window from an old house at Hadleigh in Essex, of the later fifteenth century. The fact is worthy of notice that there is no sign of a glazing rebate or fillet.
Fig. 42. The Inside View Of The Window Framework, Fig. 41, Showing Shutter Rebate And Absence Of Glazing Rebates.
It is possible that sheets of parchment, or oiled linen, may have been nailed over the window apertures to keep out draught, but this window was originally made to be left open, as the tracery on both sides is carved and the mullions moulded. Interesting remains of decorated plaster-work can be seen on the inside face. The rebates shown on the interior faces are for shutters only.
Doors and door framings were treated on a similarly elaborate scale, but consideration of these must be deferred to a later chapter where the subject can be dealt with at greater length and detail.
It is obvious from a study of these half-timber houses, built for the moderately wealthy, that the low rooms which they contained must have limited the height of the furniture made for them, very severely. This low ceiling-pitch was, obviously, found desirable for two reasons. In the periods when the science of heating was very little comprehended, cosiness, or even stuffiness, was preferred to over-ventilation, and, also, in the designing of these gabled houses, it was found that a greater height than eight feet per story (as a maximum) made these houses, with their steeply pitched tiled roofs, disproportionately lofty.
The window framing from the old house at Hadleigh, Fig. 41, shows, in the same way as the Bury St. Edmunds corner-posts, that rooms must have been low in pitch, even in the timber-houses of the most elaborate kind. This window is fine and important, even for the fifteenth century, when the craft of the English woodworker was at its zenith, yet the total height is under six feet. If we allow for the cutting of the lower parts of the upright timbers, where they rested on the wall-plate, we cannot add much more than one foot, to give the total height of the room for which they were made. Doors also show, although not so convincingly, that they were intended for low ceilinged rooms. A fifteenth-century door made for a secular house of the timber kind, is rarely over six feet in height, and is usually less even than this.
A curious point suggests itself in this connection; has the stature of the English race grown since the fifteenth century, or were doors and ceilings kept purposely low ? An examination of suits of armour of this period, - the evidence of which must be beyond question, as armour must fit to a nicety, - will show, I think, that six feet was quite an exceptional height for an Englishman in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Effigies on tombs suggest the same thing, but here the evidence is dubious, as the scale of these figures may be over or under life-size.
It would be interesting, at this juncture, to trace the development of the private apartments in the direction of greater comfort, were this not to anticipate later chapters of this book. The brief outline here given, however, will be enough to introduce the reader to the early Tudor household of the wealthy type, at the date when the eighth Henry was beginning to resist the power of the Roman Church, to divide his talents somewhat unequally between the exercise of kingcraft, the marriage state, the literary arts, - such as the fulmination against Luther, which earned for the King, and his successors, the title of " Defender of the Faith " (how much of this was the work of Henry VIII or how much properly belongs to Erasmus, it is hardly necessary to surmise here), and the game of statesmanship, which caused the rise and fall of the great butcher of Ipswich and other favourites whom it pleased the royal fancy to uplift and to cast down.