A roof full of hammers

on Tuesday, 25 March 2014. Posted in Architecture

We were recently called to look at another old pub near Swindon which had closed down. Although it is always sad to hear about yet another community asset disappearing, it will hopefully go on in another guise as a family home.

This particular pub had a very innocent rendered face with mid-19th century windows which gave away nothing about the centuries of history inside. For me an old building is much like an onion. You can peel back the layers, the accretions of history, to the innermost core, or in this case the remains of a once-spectacular medieval hammer beam roof! What a surprise in a building hitherto thought to be 17th century date!


There doesn’t seem to me a very obvious comparison between a conventional hammer and a hammer beam roof. It consists basically of the stubs of tie-beams which are supported on brackets much like those shown in the photo. Where there is now a plain plastered 17th century tie beam, there would once have been a hammer post, or arch-bracing soaring upwards to the apex. This original arrangement allowed an unimpeded view of what would have been a carefully carpentered and decorative roof-space in a high status building.

Who the medieval burghers were that sat supping or making deals beneath such obvious wealth are not presently known. By the middle of the 19th century the range of which the hammer beam truss formed a part had become a lowly outbuilding, probably a malthouse for the pub and its former glory and status was mutilated and hidden.

There are few surviving vernacular examples of hammer beam roofs recorded by Wiltshire Buildings Record (WBR) for comparison, and as such this discovery is uncommon and of special significance.

Dorothy Treasure
Wiltshire Buildings Record


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