A crooked cruck and a dangling header

Since I can’t think of anything except my major home renovation project, I’ll take a break from Francis Bacon’s life and show y’all some parts of houses, old and new. The two pix showing diagrams of medieval home construction methods are from The National Trust Book of the English House by Clive Aslet and Alan Powers (1985.) The old house is Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in Stratford-upon-Avon. The modern house and the photos are mine.

anne_hathaway_cottageAnne Hathaway’s House grew up the side of the hill over the course of many decades as Anne’s brother added on to it. One of the pleasures of visiting the place is walking through the odd levels and understanding how truly organic its growth was. The level of the floor depends on the slope of the hill; the curves of the walls depend on the shape of the timbers. I would need to hang brightly colored bells on those lintels to keep from cracking my forehead.

Levels aside, I could move into that house tomorrow and be happy. Lots and lots of light, even on a gray English morning. This house is one of my favorite places to visit. If you get there at 9:00, you have the place to yourself for a whole hour before the tour buses arrive. The guides know everything and they are as witty as Shakespearean actors (which they may well be.) The gardens include vegetables, flowers, a fruit orchard, a special orchard with every tree mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays plus sculptures, AND a little stretch of forest where the tree branches sway and crack in the high wind. Oh, and good coffee, which you can drink in a withy hut. What more could you want? Lavender soap, available in the shop!

Another cruck. house_cruckNote that every room upstairs has a bed in it. I don’t know how perfect these recreations are — certainly Anne’s house is cleaner and tidier than mine — but upstairs was mainly for sleeping and dressing. I don’t suppose anybody sat up there writing plays or anything. Must have been chilly!








A schematic of cruck-construction, in case you were thinking of building a hall.






 Here’s the basic plan of a basic early modern house. Looks familiar, if you watch This Old House. Our habitations have evolved by inches (or centimeters.)




And now that dangling header you’ve been wondering about. Suspense is the word. See the gap between the wide horizontal beam and the vertical studs to the right of it? What’s holding that thing up — magic? That header is supposed to support the roof over a wide opening; in this case, a passthrough.

How did it happen, anyway? Did the guy get mad and quit before setting the supports? Did he run out of 2x4s and just say, ah, heck with it? Did he go out to buy 2x4s and get hit by a truck on the way, and then the other guys were so overcome with grief they decided to leave it dangling as a sort of memorial, which only they would know about because of course it was covered with drywall for 20 years? As a novelist, I can speculate endlessly. As a homeowner, I’m glad I never thought about adding a room upstairs.

 house_modern_frameHere’s good modern framing. You can see green folders sitting on the passthrough (permits & related docs in sturdy plastic containers.) At the right end of that and leading up, you can see a properly framed pair of headers. I’m standing in the living room looking toward the hall. The wall straight ahead is the backside of the BR closet. Yes, it’s a small house; much smaller than Anne’s brother’s.


It won’t last 400 years, but then again, neither will I. 

And now you know why I’m not getting much writing done this year. Should have planned a story about a homeowner who murders former homeowners who did their own lame remodeling, tracking down every previous owner of the house and hoisting each on his or her own special petard. Hey, wait a minute —

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