The Tudor Housing Revolution

Little Waldingfield History Society was most pleased to welcome John Walker, one of Suffolk’s leading architectural historians, to the Parish Room on November 13th.

As previously promised, John showed us how dwellings evolved during this period and what present day medieval houses would have looked like in their original form, a feat he achieved by artfully altering numerous photos, adding or removing doors, windows, rooflines and sometimes whole ends of houses from their current layouts. It was also fascinating to discover that the developments that actually happened, somewhat belatedly by up to a hundred years in East Anglia, now make perfect sense after hearing an expert speak passionately about a subject he clearly loves.

Wood was expensive in Tudor times, so as little as possible was used, giving rise to thinner timbers, changed beam layouts and half timbered houses with wattle & daub between the timbers. Fireplaces and chimneys also rapidly evolved, leading to upper floors (because smoke from the fire was now contained), whilst larger windows with small panes became popular with the rich, giving rise to the many lovely houses seen in Lavenham, Hadleigh and elsewhere today.

Most interestingly to your writer, it appears there were many timber framed chimneys back then, though few survive to this day; apparently they were pretty good, though one suspects many must have burnt down over the years. Should any lucky reader have one in their house today, please try and preserve it for tomorrow and the day after!

We also learned that many apparently Victorian brick built houses are actually medieval timber framed buildings with a brick outer skin, and after John’s talk, the audience will be able to work this out for themselves; its all about looking at the basic layout of houses and the positions of doors, windows and chimneys – enthralling stuff.

Our next talk is on December 11th, when we are absolutely delighted to invite Jane Gosling, an expert from the National trust, to talk on “Boom and Bust” in the Lavenham Wool Industry.

In the 16th century this picturesque village was the fourteenth wealthiest town in Britain – just think about this fact for a minute – paying more tax than populous cities such as York and Lincoln. This wealth derived from the quality of its renowned blue woollen cloth, which was in great demand, and all this from a population that never exceeded 2,000, a figure that is very similar to the present day (population in 1801 was 1,776, that in 2001 was 1,750).

However, by 1525 the bubble had burst. The demise of the cloth trade, for which Lavenham was rightly famed, meant that the merchants had left, looking elsewhere for their next new venture. The local population was unable to maintain the timber-framed buildings, which had previously been funded by the enormous wealth created by the trade, and the buildings began to crumble.

By the 17th century there was a threat of mass demolition. The situation was so severe that the Lord of the Manor took his tenants to court to prevent the destruction. Thankfully, Lavenham has since recovered and its many glorious timber framed buildings and wonderful Guildhall remain today, making it probably the best preserved late medieval town in the country.

Come and hear an expert bring Lavenham’s history to life, and then take another wander round the town to savour your new found understanding and appreciation for the things that happened in our inherited past.

Some photos from last nights talk by John Walker:

Introducing John Walker

Introducing John Walker

John Walker

The talk begins

The talk begins

Sheepcotes Farmhouse

Sheepcotes Farmhouse

Baythorne Hall, Essex

Baythorne Hall, Essex

Explaining the Tudor chimney

Explaining the Tudor chimney


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