Features to spot on Traditional Buildings

by June Hill

Banner image: Glencoyne Farm © Mike Turner
All drawings by June Hill

How many of these features can you spot on your walks in the Ullswater Valley?

  1. Round chimneys

Round chimneys are found mainly in the central Lake District. They rise from a square stack and are made from small pieces of limestone, not suitable for building corners. This traditional feature became popular in the nineteenth century when interest grew in folklore. Round chimneys are used in some Vernacular Revival houses from around 1890 to 1910.

2. Mullioned windows

Mullions are the stone uprights which divide a window into 'lights'. Most had fixed panes of glass. Look for dripstones above the window, which date from before the introduction of rainwater gutters and drainpipes. Many such windows were replaced by sash windows in the eighteenth century and later. Look for blocked windows, replaced when bigger windows became the norm, admitting more light.

3. Datestones

Usually placed over the main doorway but sometimes moved when alterations were made. Datestones don't necessarily mark the date of the original building, but may indicate a marriage, or that major changes took place. They display a date and maybe initials with the surname at the top, the man's first name to the left and the woman's to the right. Some carry symbols or a quotation, which may be in latin.

4. Quoins

Quoins are corner stones, either emphasised or flush with the wall, they were a structural necessity. In areas where the local stone was difficult to shape, stone from further afield was used. After around 1700 it became fashionable to make quoins of squared cut stone, and even to paint them, especially when walls were rendered and of a different colour.

5. Chimney 'devils'

Inclined flag stones or slates on the top of chimney pots or round stacks, to keep out rain and to deflect smoke. They also served to prevent jackdaws and other birds from dropping nesting materials down chimneys or even from falling into them.

6. Owl holes and pigeon holes

Found in the tops of gabled barn walls, they gave access to owls which were welcomed to catch the rats and mice, attracted by crops stored in barns. Usually rectangular, but other shapes are found – ovals, squares or even hearts. Pigeons, or doves, required smaller, square holes in groups, with alighting ledges. Pigeon holes can be seen in gables and porches. The birds and their eggs were popular food items.

7. 'Diminishing courses'

Slate roofs replaced many previously thatched roofs because slate was more durable. Road improvements enabled easier and cheaper transport of the slate. Old examples of slate roofs have larger slates near the eaves, graduating to much smaller ones towards the ridge. The different sizes have charming names, such as 'broad countess' and 'small lady'.

8. Crow steps and kneelers

These are two traditional methods of securing the roof slates at the gable, especially the side facing the prevailing rain-bearing wind. Crow steps were either built-into the wall, rising above the roof level or applied on top of the roof. Kneelers ensured that the coping stones stayed in place. They could be either plain or ornamented. Some have dates carved into the stonework.

9. Bank barns

Mostly found in Cumbria, these enabled several processes to be carried out in one building, by giving direct access to both upper and lower storeys. By using the natural slope or building up a ramp, a loaded cart or wagon could enter the upper floor through large doors. Corn was threshed inside on a threshing floor. A draught needed to carry away the chaff was created by opening the winnowing door, opposite the entrance. On the lower side, livestock entered through doors leading to their stalls. Many bank barns are still in use.

10. Gate Posts

You may be lucky to find one, or even both of these gateposts still in position. They represent an early form of gate which had no need for iron hinges or fastenings. Instead, poles were used. First a pole was placed into a round hole, then the other end slotted into the angled hole. The gate was made as high as required for the type of livestock – low for lambs, higher for cows and highest for horses. Often only one post remains as gates have been widened for modern machines and conventional gates fitted.

by June Hill, Chairman of Cumbria Vernacular Buildings Group

For more information: http://www.cvbg.co.uk

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