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The Mount, Silchester

by Bill Fergie

The Mount Silchester

“The Mount” at Silchester is located just north of the amphitheatre of the Roman town of Calleva. It was identified as a cruck framed medieval house some years ago and is a Grade II listed building. Its roof structure had not, however, been thoroughly examined until a recent refurbishment allowed the Hampshire Buildings Survey Group the opportunity to look at it in some detail, and to take cores from the timbers in the hope of obtaining a dendro. date.

Cruck buildings in Hampshire appear to have been built from about the middle of the 14th Century to the later years of the 15th Century. Although only relatively small numbers have so far been accurately dated, a pattern for their development appears to be emerging.

Prior to about 1400 the crucks blades were of the full length variety and supported a ridge beam running along the top of the roof to which the tops of the rafters were secured. This was in addition to support for the purlins half way up the roof slope on each side.

After about 1400 the cruck blades seem to have been reduced in length to produce a so called ‘truncated’ variety. These still supported the purlins half way up either side of the roof but stopped at this point and were joined by a collar. They did not go all the way up to the ridge and there was apparently no ridge beam. The reasons for this change are not yet understood. It may have resulted from a growing shortage of timber of a suitable length. It may have been related to the use of the half hipped gable roof. The full cruck does not lend itself to this particular form of construction unless the tops of the blades are cut off on at least the two crucks forming the ends of the building.

Whatever the reason, truncated crucks seemed to have done away with the ridge beam by taking away the means of supporting it. No truncated crucks had actually been found with a ridge beam until we got the opportunity to examine “The Mount”. We suspected there might have been one at “The Nook” at Dummer (see previous edition of the Newsletter) but the apex of the roof could not be seen. The expert reader will immediately ask how there can be a ridge without the means to support it. Was the ridge supported merely by the rafters or was there some other device to hold it up? At “The Nook” there was a vertical timber rising from the collar which might have supported it. At “The Mount” the answer was more complicated and is illustrated by the drawing. In essence the crucks have been extended to act like full crucks. The extensions are in the form of separate timbers pegged to the backs of the cruck blades. These in turn support a little yoke which holds the ridge.

In addition to a possible example at “The Nook” there are two other Hampshire examples of truncated crucks where there is evidence for some sort of superstructure which might have supported a ridge. One of these is in the south of the county but the other is “Breach Farm Barn” at Sherfield on Lodden. In both cases the ridge and the structure which supported it have disappeared, and “The Mount” is therefore the only intact version of this intermediate type of structure so far identified. Other types of ‘jointed cruck’ are well known in the west of the country but these employ a quite distinct variety of structure unlike that at “The Mount”.

The dating evidence for the building was not absolutely conclusive and was given as c1405. The slight doubt arose because the tree was clearly in distress in the last few years of its life and hardly put on any growth. There is the possibility therefore that it was actually dead when it was felled and this gives a degree of uncertainty. On the assumption that the date is reasonably accurate it compares well with the 1392 obtained for “Breach Farm Barn”.

The discovery at “The Mount” has complicated the Hampshire cruck story, and more investigation and dating evidence will be required before we can hope to know all the answers.

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