The oldest inhabited timber framed building in England.
In 1842 Fyfield Hall farm consisted of 288 acres which were in
the occupation of Thomas Horner. (Footnote 42) At that time the farm was still
owned by the Wellesley family, lords of the manor of Fyfield. (Footnote 43) By
the end of 1865, however, the farm, or at least part of it, had become separated
from the manor. J. L. Newall who was at this time purchasing the Forest Hall
estate (see High Ongar), bought part of Fyfield Hall farm in 1865 and the
remainder in 1874. (Footnote 44) Afterwards the farm descended with Forest Hall
until the estate was sold, in several lots, in 1919. (Footnote 45) At that time
the farm consisted of 224 acres which were let to G. and D. W. White at a rent
of £342 a year. (Footnote 46) Still owned by the Whites today.
Fyfield Hall (Footnote 47) is a timber-framed house of various dates. The plan is complex, having at the core part of an aisled hall, possibly of the early 14th century. This was of two approximately equal bays, the axis running east and west. The south aisle is now missing. At the east end, also on an east–west axis, is another medieval structure, probably of later date than the original hall. Parallel to the hall and built against its north aisle is a two-story range, dating from about 1500. Three more gabled wings have been added at different dates. One, at the north-west corner of the house, contains the staircase and is probably of the 16th or early 17th century. The others, at the south-west corner and across the east end of the north range, date from the 18th century or later. The early plan is remarkable for its use of the east–west axis throughout instead of the more usual cross-wings of medieval times.
The timbers of the north aisle of the 14th-century hall are mostly in position, although concealed by later work. (Footnote 48) Between the bays stands an oak post from which the curved braces forming the two arches of the 'nave arcade' spring. The lower part of this post, octagonal on plan and about 15 in. in diameter, can be seen in a cupboard on the ground floor. The capital has a 14th-century moulding and the base has long spur stops. Above the level of the springing the post has a square section and is carried up to support a massive plate running longitudinally at the junction of the 'nave' and aisle roofs. At each end of the hall the projection of the plate is over 1 ft. in length, suggesting that the original 14th-century building had overhanging gables. Most of the original timbers of the 'nave' roof, which is of the trussed rafter type, are in position, all heavily blackened with smoke from an open hearth. An unusual feature is the presence of straight wind-braces, pegged through to each rafter and crossing at the top. The bracing members of the central truss are missing but the position of mortices and slots in the main members strongly suggests that long straight braces crossed between the collar and the apex of the roof and formed a scissor truss. There are indications of smaller braces below the tiebeam. In the north aisle the position of a window can be determined by the presence of mortices for diagonal mullions on the underside of the wall plate. The south aisle has been destroyed, but the central post is still in place. It has been cut back so that its mouldings and octagonal shape are obliterated.
The structure east of the hall is divided from it by a space about 6 ft. wide, possibly an external passage. Part of it was open to the roof and at one time a central truss was fitted with a king-post. There is some smokeblackening of the roof timbers.
The two-story north range is built alongside the aisle wall but is independent of it structurally. It is of four bays, divided in the roof by three king-post trusses. The westernmost king-post is rebated and hollow-chamfered, suggesting that at this end there was an open roof visible from an important upper room or solar. The upper floor oversails along the north side and has curved brackets to the soffit. The ends of the joists are concealed by a moulded bressummer, over 40 ft. long, enriched with a running design typical of about 1500. The nail-studded entrance door is probably original.
The reconstruction of the hall probably took place in the 16th century. A ceiling was inserted and the central chimney built. The introduction of an upper story needing light and head-room would necessitate the demolition of the south aisle. The staircase wing may be of the same period but the other additions are later. The chimney in the north range was built in two stages, the older stack having a shaped panel which probably carried a date or initials. The upper part of the south chimney is now dated 1700.
The sash windows, including the splayed bays on the south front, were all inserted about 1886. The timber porch and the loggia were added after 1945. In the garden to the east of the house there is a rectangular fish-pond known as the 'Catholic Pond'. From: 'Fyfield: Manors', A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4: Ongar Hundred (1956), pp. 46-52. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=15547. Date accessed: 06 November 2005.
Fyfield Hall, Fyfield, Essex (timbers felled 1167-1185) (Figs. 2b, 4c, 15, 16, 17)
Map ref: TL 572069
This is a timber-framed manor house which has been much discussed in the past
and was thought to be 13th century (Footnote 47). The
earliest phase has been tree-ring dated to 1167 to 1185, with a major rebuilding
1391- 1416. The arcade braces formed a pointed arch.
Fig. 15. Reconstruction of Fyfield hall as built 1167-1185 (form of hip is uncertain - may have always been as in fig 16) >
Fig. 16. Reconstruction of Fyfield Hall after rebuild 1391-1416
Dendrochronology has shown that the roof, central tie-beam (which has notched
lap joint seatings and passing brace slots), and the north-east arcade post
(Post E, Fig. 17, and by implication Post A) were felled between 1167 and 1185 (Footnote
48). Major repairs were carried out with timbers felled between 1391 and
1416, when the arcade braces, central arcade posts, arcade plates and aisles
were replaced (Fig. 17). The c1400 central arcade post on the north side, which
is earthfast, had previously been dated (on the basis of its mouldings) to the
13th century. It would appear that the hall was rebuilt c1400 in an archaic
style with passing braces as shown in Fig. 16. However, it may not have been
that unique as the belfry at Navestock, Essex was built with notched lapped
passing braces from timbers felled 1352-1380 (Footnote 49).
Fig. 17. Dated timbers of Fyfield Hall
One can reject the hypothesis that the whole building was erected c1400 partly with reused timber. This is because Post A is earthfast, leaning slightly to the south, and was clearly leaning like this circa 1400 when the lower part was cut back so that new post (B) could be erected flush with its upper part. Equally the tree-ring dating could be wrong. As a Statistician, I am very aware that tree-ring dating is a statistical exercise, and by definition some significant matches will be produced which are totally erroneous. The 't' statistic only indicates the degree of match between the sampled timber and the master curve. It does not tell us if it is the correct match. However I accept Fyfield's late 12th century date because, as discussed here, other building with similar features are also dated to this period. For the later work, my measured survey of the north arcade showed that the arcade braces, central arcade Post C, arcade plate and Posts B and D were a complete set with no indication of re-use (Fig. 17). While this does not verify the late 14th/early 15th century date, the fact that the tree-ring analysis independently supported this grouping gives support to the date. A fuller discussion of this building is in Walker (2000) (Footnote 50).
The open hall is of two equal bays, and originally had rooms beyond both ends of the hall. Posts A and E are grooved for planking, showing these formed parts of closed trusses. Other planking grooves show the north aisle was partitioned off from the nave in the bays beyond both ends of the open hall. These were in return aisles, or end aisles, but their exact size is uncertain. The surviving roof is relatively complete and clearly was hipped at both ends. It may have been hipped from the top of the end rafters as shown in Fig. 15 - there are extra pegs in the top of the rafters as shown in the drawing. Alternatively it may have been hipped from lower down, as shown in Fig. 16. Either way it definitely took this form after c1400. The two end rafters each have, or had, two additional collars. The middle one in both end rafters were found to be made from timber felled some time after 1138 and 1143 respectively - neither have any sapwood. I suggest, however, these two extra collars are reused timber as they have completely different lap joints (see Fig. 16). Some timber was clearly reused at this time - the north central aisle tie, which is tenoned to the c1400 north central Post D, is of reused timber felled in the late 12th century (Fig. 17).
Each bay was 18½ft (5.6m) long between the tie-beams, by almost 16ft (4.88m) wide between arcade plates, the tops of which are 17ft (5.2m) above the present ground level. The surviving roof has rafter bracing - a diagonal timber trenched across the outside of the rafters - which proves the roof retains a complete set of rafters, apart from the two removed for the inserted chimney stack, and that the rafters occupy their original positions. The two bays form mirror images of each other; the west has its collars lap jointed to the west side of the rafters, while in the east they are jointed to the east face. The central truss is clasped by two rafters trenched across the ends of the tie-beam. Rafters a & s (Fig. 15) are clearly the original end rafters as, unlike the other rafters, both have an additional apex peg running north to south (Fig. 15) as well as two pegs in the face near the apex.
The original entrance position is not known. The entrance to the c1400 hall was at the east end and the roof is more heavily smoke blackened in the west bay.
a The arcade braces, like their c1400 replacements, must have formed a curved pointed arch. This is because firstly, Post A has the remains of a slightly curving roll moulding which would have continued up along the inner edge of the arcade brace. Secondly, the capital is 10¼ft (3.1m) below the arcade plate with a bay length of 18½ft (5.6m). Semicircular braces require a bay length about double the distance between the capital and the plate. Grooves show the brace spandrels were planked on the nave side.
b Arcade Post A has a square plain capital, decorated below with a combination of 'V' and semicircular mouldings (Figs. 4c, & 15). Post E seems similar, but is mostly covered.
c Arcade Post A is earthfast, as is the c1400 central Post C.
d Arcade Post D has a rear upstand. The top of A has broken away.
e Passing braces were used in the central truss. They are probably not used in the end trusses, though the upper faces of Posts A and D are not visible on the nave side. Post A has a square cut pegged mortises near the top on the aisle side which could have been for a brace descending across the aisle (see Fig. 15 and inset). More likely it was for an oriel window, as Post D at the east end does not have a similar pegged mortise.
f The passing braces in the central truss may have continued into the aisles as shown in Fig. 15,. In the c1400 rebuild, the upper set of braces rise only from the arcade posts with a lower set passing from tie-beam to aisles, parallel with the newly raised aisle roof ( Fig. 2b). This lower set reused the notched lap joint seatings in the late 12th century tie-beam. As originally built, the braces may have been parallel to the nave rafters. Each set of braces consisted of two blades clasping the arcade post and tie-beam.
g The c1400 rebuild had floating tie-beams across each bay, for which only the empty dovetails seatings remain. The late 12th century hall probably also had these floating tie-beams, as the dovetails are of the housed barefaced type with square entrant shoulders, a form used in other early aisled halls (Footnote 51), and the type used for the late 12th century central tie-beam (see Fig. 7a,).
h The end trusses had planking infill which rose behind the nave braces. Grooves show the spandrels of these braces were also infilled with planking on the hall side.
i No 'V' mortises are used in Post A, and the arcade and nave braces were chase-tenoned and pegged.
j Open unrefined entry notched laps are used in the central tie-beam ( Fig. 5).
k The collars are lap jointed to rafters with a housed bareface dovetail ( Fig. 15,).
l The size of the aisles is uncertain. The ends of the rafters are splayed off for aisle rafters, suggesting these continued down at the same pitch as over the nave. If the aisle wall plate was level with the top of the capital as suggested in Fig. 15, then the aisle width would have been nearly half that of the nave. However this is much greater than for any of the other timber aisled halls considered, where the width is around 35-40% of the nave (Table 2).
|Felling date||Early Dated Aisled Buildings||Type|
|1167-1185||Fyfield Hall, Essex||Manor House|
|1179||Bishops' Palace, Hereford||Palace|
|1176-1221||Knight's Templar Hall, Temple Balsall, W Mids||Preceptory Hall|
|1184-1219||Westwick Cottage, Hertfordshire||Probably not a Manor House|
|1182-1227(b)||Newbury Farmhouse, Tonge, Kent||Probably not a Manor House|
|1205(c)||Sycamore Farm, Long Crendon, Bucks||Not a manor house|
|1205-1230||Barley Barn, Cressing Temple, Essex||Barn|
|1220-1225||Harlowbury, Essex||Manor House|