IRONWORK REPAIRS IN TIMBER-FRAMED BUILDINGS.
Why should we be interested
in ironwork repairs to timber-framed buildings?
When an archaeological
excavation is undertaken professionally, great pains are taken to ensure that
the entire archaeological sequence is recorded, phased and understood. All
supporting evidence is presented and the conclusions given with provisos that
the limits of knowledge can always be expanded.
This is simply not the
case with the archaeological recording of a building. That is, one that is
standing, functioning and still developing, bound one hopes by building control
and listed building consent. Great strands of the buildings fortunes are routinely
ignored because ironwork repairs in timber frames are seldom noted by the
observer studying the building's characteristics. (Fig.1.1). The more populist
books like Discovering Timber-Framed Buildings (Harris.R, 1978) and Tracing
The History Of Houses (Breckon & Parker, 1991) simply ignore the subject
Fig.1.1 This figure
is given to show how historic ironwork is ignored in record drawings. The
photograph clearly shows a series of L-ties securing the tie-beams yet this
detail has not made it onto the record drawing. Sadly, this is normal.
There are, of course,
exceptions as a paper recently published in Vernacular Architecure 32 (2001)
testifies. J. Ray Harrisons' Acol Street Farm, Kent: Iron Straps and Paper
Roofs attempts to reconstruct the collapsed barn from its ironwork and goes
into close detail in describing the straps (Fig .1.2) and proffers a date
of use based on the age of the paper roof. He does not however try to categorise
the ironwork or make a connection between style, function and period.
J.Ray Harrisons' elegant drawings made from photographs produce a true record
of the barn at Acol Farm, Kent albeit from its remnants. Drawings like these
could serve as the basis for a closer typology.
Ironwork repairs represent
many things when they are discovered in a building. They highlight the historic
failure of the frame, be it from a defect of design, decay, overloading or
simple mishap. The structural integrity of the original design and its subsequent
fortunes can be quickly assessed by ascertaining how much iron has been placed
into the frame to maintain it.
Importantly, they indicate
the replacement of timber jointing technology with a far more elegant system
of repair. One that is low-tech, of the least intrusion, largely reversible
and of high integrity. Compare the brutishness of a trenailed timber cheekpiece
(Fig.1.3) with a slender handwrought iron-tie (Fig.1.4).and one can see that
the iron offers a much more unobtrusive and mechanically efficient system.
Also one that is, given the high quality of wrought iron and its resistance
to corrosion and stress failure, a system of repair that will outlive its
Fig.1.3. A dovetailed
cheekpiece on the arcade post of the Barley Barn at Cressing Temple. Originally
pegged with trenails, its clumsy form has been reinforced with large wrought
iron spikes. Repairs like this require the removal of timber from the arcade
post and are subject to the same weaknesses that destroyed the original tenon.
The two great barns at Cressing Temple bear the scars of all the failed timber
patch repairs. Compare it with Fig.1.4 below.
Fig 1.4. A stapled L-tie
also on an arcade post in the Barley Barn at Cressing Temple. Its neat, slender
design does not draw the eye like the heavy timber insertions above it. Vernacular
farm buildings offer the easiest study of ironwork repairs, which in domestic
situations are almost always buried in the décor.
An arcade post in the Wheat Barn at CressingTemple. The forged terminal of
an L-tie which has superseded a nailed on timber cheek piece. The broken off
nails are clearly visible and the ghost of the removed timber can just be
discerned in this photograph.
Like the frame, ironwork
repairs are subject to changes in form, function, design and material. Where
Cecil Hewett was able to date buildings by creating a chronological sequence
of their joints (Hewett. CA, 1980) we should be able to date their repairs
by closely examining the ironwork.
The ironwork will also
reflect the status of the owners and of the times in which they lived. The
quality of its fabric and its origin, its design and its method of fixing
are both chronological and economic indicators. It may also reflect the fortunes
of the industry of wrought iron itself.
Aims of this dissertation.