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The Great Rebuilding


Although there is evidence for modifications to the farmhouse in the first quarter of the sixteenth century, from 1550 to 1640 there was rapid acceleration in improvement and upgrading by the yeoman farmer. What were the reasons for this acceleration?


Until the middle of the sixteenth century, farmhouses in Devon were of the open hall type, characterising the medieval period. However, something changed as the population began to recover from the Black Death, the demand for food began to rise, and this, combined with the availability of cheap labour, meant that the farmer made greater profits from his land.


Some authors believe that this was only a contributory reason for the increased expenditure on the farmhouse at this time, citing the good size of some earlier vernacular houses as evidence of wealth, prior to these new social changes. However, it is difficult to believe that human nature has changed much - just like today, when people have money to spend they will often spend it on home improvement, particularly home improvements which carry increased status value.


Another reason for change may have been the fact that the country was also experiencing a period of cold climate, which lasted from the early fourteenth to the end of the sixteenth century, so there was additional modernisation pressure due to the need for improved heating.


The yeoman farmer wanted to reflect the manorial status of the great halls by the inclusion of the open hall in his own house. This consisted of a large room open to the roof with a central hearth for both heating and cooking, with the smoke from the fire escaping through gaps in the thatch, or perhaps a purpose made smoke louvre in the ridge.


Although the hall was certainly impressive it still lacked something that the gentry and nobility enjoyed, which was privacy. The open hall was an all-purpose room, used not only as a kitchen, but also for socialising, other daily activities, and sleeping, and therefore privacy was virtually impossible, particularly when guests were staying.


Before 1550, a degree of privacy was afforded by the inclusion of an oak stud and panel (also called plank and munting) screen inserted at one end of the hall, forming an inner chamber or area, behind which the master and mistress could sleep away from other members of the family and guests. These screens were not always fixed at first, and could be moved around as the need arose, for winter and summer positions. The uses of rooms at this time were considered to be interchangeable.


The forming of a chamber that provided total privacy was the first major change characterising the Great Rebuilding. This took the form of the insertion of a first floor chamber, called the solar. Occasionally the solar would also serve as an area for storage and was called a “tullet” in Devon.


The solar was usually situated over the inner room, sometimes “jettying” out into the open hall. The use of “jettying” was not just a functional means of extending the floor area of the solar, but also a status symbol reflecting the fashion for first floor jettying in London


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