A wealth of documents have survived from Stratford-upon-Avon's medieval Guild of the Holy Cross. One of the most interesting of these is the "bill of costs" for the guild's Schoolhouse.

Dating from 1427, it details the amounts paid for the building work and reveals much about the craftsmen, materials and techniques involved in the construction of half timbered buildings in the medieval English town. Here is a annotated version of the account.

The building now known as the Schoolhouse

The guild's buildings, including (on the right) the building now known as the Schoolhouse

Timber bought for making a Scholehows with a chamber above - 45 shillings

28 sparrys for the same chamber, at 3 d. each - 8 shillings 2d.

Wages of two sawyers hired for 4 days, each at 6d. a day, per 100 - 7 shillings

Paid to the same for sawing 500ft. of boards at 17d. per 100 - 7 shillings 1d.

For sawing of the standards and laces - 3 shillings 6d.

Wages of John Hasill, master carpenter, being there 35 days, at 6d. a day, by piece-work - 17 shillings 9d.

Wages of another carpenter for 34 days at 5d. a day - 14 shillings 2d.

Wages of a third carpenter for 29 days at 5d. a day - 12 shillings 3 d.

Wages of 2 labourers hired for 2 days to help the said carpenters assemble timbers, each taking 4d. a day, by piece-work - 16d.

The most abundant building material in medieval Stratford was English oak, readily available from the nearby Forest of Arden. Timber was sawn into beams either on trestles or over a pit, the saw controlled by two sawyers. The framework may well have been cut out and fitted together in a carpenter's yard, some way from the building site. Such prefabrication was common practice and explains the Roman numerals often cut or chiselled on the individual timbers to aid re-assembly at the site.

Six cartloads of stone bought at quarry at Drayton and carriage, each cartload at the quarry 4d. and carriage on each load 5d. - 4 shillings 6d.

15 cartloads of earth and clay for flooring - 2 shillings 6d.

Lytter - 2d.

Wages of 3 workmen hired for 2 days for groundsylling and flooring, each taking 4d. a day, by piece-work - 2 shillings

No foundations were dug for these buildings but the lowest part of the timber frame, the sill beam, was placed on a low stone wall, or groundsylling. Limestone, from a local quarry at Drayton, provided an effective barrier between the beams and damp ground.

600 long latten, at 8d. per 100 - 4 shillings

2,500 lattennayles at 13d. per 1,000 - 2 shillings 11d.

3,500 tiles for roofing the said house with carriage from Warwick to Stratford, at 7s. 4d. per 1,000 - 25 shillings 8d.

3 qrs. of lime at 13d. per qr. - 4 shillings 1d.

3 cartloads of sand with digging and carriage from Ingon to Stratford, at 6d. a load - 18d.

Wages for one tiler for roofing the said house, at 20d. per 1,000 - 5 shillings 10d.

Most of Stratford's houses would have had roofs thatched with straw but, whilst the guild used thatch on its almshouses, it would seem that from the start both the schoolhouse and the guildhall were tiled. Thatch increased the danger of fire spreading rapidly through the town.

The clay tiles were fastened to latten (or laths) running across the rafters with lattennayles, or wooden pegs.

800 spykyngnayles at 6d. per 100 - 4 shillings

500 seminayles at 5d. per 100 - 2 shillings 1d.

Beams were jointed together with mortice and tenon joints through which a hole was drilled with an auger. A wooden peg, or spykyngnayle, was driven home through the hole to hold the joint together. Smaller beams were pegged with seminayles.

Boards for making 2 doors anew - 2 shillings 6d.

2 pairs of hengys with 2 pairs of hokys for the said door - 2 shillings 6d.

Wages of 2 carpenters making a bench in the Scholehows and mending defects in the new parlour, for 1 day, by piece-work - 11d.

Great nails bought for footing of the sparrys and for eavespolles - 2d.

Two plasters hired for 6 days, each taking 6d. a day by piece-work - 6 shillings

The wages of their plasters hired for the same 6 days, at 5d. a day, by piece-work - 2 shillings 6d.

For 2 cartloads of plaster from Welcombe with carriage of the same to Stratford - 9 shillings

2 cartloads of fuel for drying the said plaster - 3 shillings 4d.

For one lock with a key bought for the door there - 8d.

The tall narrow panels between the wall timbers were filled with short lengths of oak laths wedged horizontally between grooves in the sides of the beams. Larger panels in external walls were filled with oak staves and hazel twigs - referred to as standards and laces at the beginning of the account - woven together. The in-filling was finally covered with plaster work.

No mention is made of glazing in the account. Instead, it is likely that window openings had thick wooden bars, such as those still in the lower guildhall, with internal wooden shutters.


Further reading

Building in England down to 1540, by L.F. Salzman
(Oxford: OUP, 1952)
The value of this classic book on medieval English architecture is that it concentrates on the process of building rather than the physical form. Drawing on the wealth of building documents available, it is able to present a detailed picture of the medieval contruction workforce, the working conditions, and the building practices for a range of typical materials and elements. A feature of this important study is the space given over to providing transcriptions of the principal documentary evidence.

Discovering timber-framed buildings, by Richard Harris
(London: Shire Publications, 1978)
How and why were half-timbered buildings constructed in medieval England? What were the people like who built and originally lived in them, and what are the various features to look out for when viewing these buildings today? This pocket-sized book provides a comprehensive introduction to a traditional and picturesque form of architecture. Varying styles to be found in different parts of England are also described together with examples worthwhile visiting. Fully illustrated with drawings by the author and a selection of photographs.

The Pattern of English building, by Alec Clifton-Taylor
(London: Faber, 1972)
In this ground-breaking book on domestic architecture, Alec Clifton-Taylor shows the close relationship between the geology of England and the traditional materials which determined regional building styles. Materials are considered in turn, concentrating on differing stone deposits but also covering timber, thatch and man-made materials such as plaster and glass. Copiously illustrated, well indexed, and with a glossary and bibliography.

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