The English House

The English House, or An Englishman’s Home is his Castle

with Keith Cattell
Thursday 28 March 2019
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The VEHS welcomed back Keith Cattell for the March meeting, this time to give a talk on “The English House”.

Keith began with a look at one of the oldest habitations thus far discovered, a floating house found at Langorse Lake in Wales. This contained several aspects of design that persisted in construction for many centuries, namely its timber framing, thatched roof and also its focus on defence. The timber construction of houses became much more complex with time, and required special oak trees to form crook beams: the construction of so-called half-timbered buildings remaining the same for 400 years.

The “Jew’s House” in Lincoln is one of the earliest stone houses still standing and has been in continuous use from 1180 to the present. Stone then became the material from which many large houses were constructed. A standard layout of the house then emerged, as exemplified in Stokesay Castle, based around a central hall – a design which continued with the reuse of monastic buildings after the Dissolution. As houses became larger more rooms were added to the plan leading to such buildings as Blenheim Palace, still based on the hall, although this had now grown and lost its original use.

More recently houses have followed design movements such as “Arts and Crafts” and “Art Deco”, and older styles Jacobean and Italianate have been re-invented. This was also true for smaller houses.

The use of glass as a building material, exemplified by picture windows in houses and flats, reflects the change over the centuries from a defensive need to that of good light rooms and a good view out of the property. The opposite is also becoming more likely, with underground houses built to conserve energy and for example the use of straw and small windows to the same end. As Keith so rightly said in the introduction to his talk “from cave to cave”.