Chapter 1.

1.1. Introduction.

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 totally.

Ironwork is ignored in survey.

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.

Iron ties drawn by Harrison.

Fig 1.2. 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 frame.(Fig.1.5).

Cheek piece in the Barley Barn.

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.

L-tie in the Barley Barn

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.

L-tie replacing nailed on cheek piece

Fig 1.5. 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.

1.2 Aims of this dissertation.

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