IF the house built of framed oak-, with spaces between the timbers filled with brick "nogging" or plaster, had not been peculiar to England up to almost the end of the seventeenth century, the inclusion of woodwork in the title of this book would have necessitated some description and illustration of the timber house. Actually, "half-timber" is not only characteristically English in conception, but it exhibits great variety in type and in abnormalities of timber growth, and at the same time, owing to the nature of the materials employed, allows of rich embellishment in the way of moulding, carving and tracery, which the qualities of stone or brick forbid. It says much for the sturdy qualities of English oak that so many examples of work, some as early as the thirteenth century, are with us to-day. No one who has not made a diligent pilgrimage, among even tiny villages, especially in East Anglia, the Northern Welsh bordering counties, and in Somerset and Devon, and has not examined the interiors of small, and apparently insignificant churches in remote England, can have any idea of the wealth and richness in timber and woodwork which remain, from the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as priceless legacies from the mediaeval carpenters of England. One is not only amazed at both the quantity and quality of such work; there is such abundance of evidence to show that much of it must have been executed as a labour of love, good-fellowship, or of reverence for things sacred. We know that the craftsmen of the one hamlet vied with those of neighbouring villages in making their parish church a monument of beauty, and in improving on existing examples, until we get such triumphs of woodworking skill as the chancel screens at Bramfield, South-wold, Ludham, Ranworth, Atherington, Llananno and elsewhere. The task of the carpenter and carver being completed, they gave way to the artists, who, in turn, filled the panels with figures of saints, and who decorated each moulding-member with jewel-like colours and tiny Gothic patterns in raised and gilded gesso. "In those days the adornment of the church was a task in which all men took a pride. Each gave what he could, and the interiors were thus enriched with carved choir-stalls, stained glass windows, tapestries, lamps and chalices of chased silver, vestments and altar-cloths of needlework, and gilded and illuminated missals. Nowadays no price is too high to pay for such products of fifteenth-century craftsmanship, and happy indeed is the collector whose flair for the Gothic has unearthed, in some unlikely corner, a piece of work of the latteners, the luminers, the orfevers, the tapisers, the verrours or the ymagers of that golden epoch."1
Fig. 179. Paycockes, Coggeshall, Essex. - Late fifteenth century. Noel Buxton, Esq.
Fig. 180. Lavenham, Suffolk. - Houses at corner of Lady Street and Water Street. Mid-fifteenth century.
Fig. 181. The Guild Hall, Lavenham. - Porch and projecting Bay.
Fig. 182. The Guild Hall, Lavenham - Detail of Porch.
Fig. 183. The Woolhall, Lavenham. - Detail of Corner-post.
Fig. 184, The Guild Hall, Lavenham. - Detail of Corner-post.
Beside these evidences of love of, or reverence for the Church, which inspired the mediaeval craftsmen to give of their finest without reward, we see, in timber houses of the elaborate East-Anglian type, similar signs of work being done for the sake of the community, much of which must have been a labour of love. The chief point which strikes the student of the work of this period, is its conscientious character. Nothing is scamped; nothing left to chance. Joints are made as carefully in unseen positions as in work which is fully visible. Even the wood is sawn in the best manner, as described in the chapter on " The Early Woodworker," whether figure in the oak be desirable or not, simply from the knowledge that quartered oak is more durable than that cut across the trunk or log, in the obviously economical manner. When paint is removed from fifteenth-century work, where it has remained from the time when it was first completed, we find the ray figure in the wood, with the " splash " darkened nearly to black by the action of the lead. This oak was never intended to be left bare; yet it is prepared just as carefully as if the piece had to rely on the figure of the wood for its decorative effect.
1 John Warrack, Introduction to "The Cathedrals of Great Britain." 180
Fig. 185. Oak Corner-Post. - 7 ft. 3 1/2 ins. high, 15 ins. wide across cap. Mid-fifteenth century.
Fig. 186. Lavenham Guild Hall, Bay Window. - About 1486.
Fig. 187. House In Lavenham, Suffolk. - Square Bay with Mullioned Window and Entrance Door.
Figs. 188 and 189. Alston Court, Nayland, Suffolk. - Bay Windows. Late fifteenth century. - A. M. Fenn, Esq.
Figs. 190, 191 and 192. Boxford Church, Suffolk. - Porch of heavy timbers, with interior vaulted and ceiled; unique example in England. Saint's niche above tie-beam missing, but mortise still visible in collar-beam between trefoil of head. - Mid-fourteenth century.