Discoveries from the Deverills, Part 5: Never judge a book by its cover!

on Thursday, 21 April 2016. Posted in Architecture, Archives

In our on-going investigations into the Deverill parishes south of Warminster for the Victoria County History we visited Hedge Cottage. This looks like just another charming little early 18th century rubblestone and thatched rural idyll, gable end to the road, with a rear service outshut under a catslide roof. Once inside, we had a pleasant surprise: the interior told a very different tale of a one-and-a-half storeyed timber framed house of the earlier 16th century. The 16th century structure is of four uneven bays, that is, widths between the structural cross-frames that divide it. It was entered through something called a cross-passage, a medieval plan where a passage with doors at each end divided the house in half. It was too narrow for stairs, which had no prominence at that time, and tended to be stuck into a recess between the chimney breast and outer wall. This design lingered on in some rural parts such as the Deverill Valley until the 16th century.

To the right of the passage is an originally unheated parlour with panelled ceiling of 13cm chamfered beams. The widest chamfers seem to occur in 16th century beams, and they get progressively narrower and less conspicuous down the centuries as the craft of timber-framing diminishes and is replaced by brick and stonework with plainer finishes.  To the left is the living room/hall with a later fireplace set in a deep smoke bay, just like the one at Manor Farm up the road mentioned in an earlier blog.

The extensively smoke-blackened roof at Hedge Cottage

Unlike Manor Farm, the roof is extensively sooted all through from smoke escaping from the smoke bay at the north end. This is because the trusses appear to have been open above the collar. The south, parlour end roof was originally hipped, that is a roof that sloped down on all sides at one end, but later built up into a stone gable, and this is apparent from the carpentry which shows the diagonal line dividing the smoke-blackened and the clean timbers. All small farmhouses and cottages used to be like this, having one heated room in which people used as a kitchen and living room, and one unheated room – the parlour – which often had the best decoration and was used for ‘best’ but in reality looking at old inventories, was used more for storage.

From documentary research it appears that Hedge Cottage was once the nerve centre, or capital messuage of a freehold estate called Newport Farm acquired by the Longleat estate in c1866 (source: Longleat Archives)

Dorothy Treasure, Principal Building Historian, Wiltshire Building Record

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