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and other large provincial cities of the time. This room was totally sealed up to the roof to prevent smoke from the central hearth getting into it. Jettied solars were constructed from 1525 to 1575.


A substantial fixed or movable ladder provided access from the open hall floor. Until the eighteenth century, stairs were merely a functional addition, and not considered an attractive feature. A stud and panel screen was used to seal off the hall below up to eaves height, and the rest filled in with wattle and daub up to ridge height.


A second jettied chamber was sometimes added over the cross passage, again extending into the hall. These cross-passage rooms never extended into the inner room, and although no known reason for this is ever cited, I believe that to see your “jetty”, confirmed the high status of this architectural feature.


The hall was always the last room to be sealed. It can again be assumed that the status value of the open hall was protected until the very last.


On the other hand, by inserting a first floor above the hall there were consequences for smoke escape, so perhaps this was the main driving factor behind leaving it until the last. The way round this of course, was to build a fireplace and stack. Some fireplaces were inserted before the hall was sealed, but the majority were fitted at the same time.


There are some extremely rare cases where the hall was never sealed. These can be seen at Hill, Loxhore, and coincidently, the same owner left to buy another example - Hill, at Christowe. However, most halls were sealed by the early seventeenth century.


The new floor insertions were supported by oak beams, the earliest being quite heavy and often over-engineered for the job in hand. The roof structure of the old open hall was now, of course, hidden and any quality joinery or decoration was never again to be seen from the ground floor. This encouraged the decorative


element to be transferred to the newly-inserted hall ceiling timbers. Many contain decorative scratch carvings cut with simple tools. More commonly, others have chamfers and end stops, the style of which can help date the ceiling. Panelled ceilings with complex joist construction, where it could be afforded, also compensated for the loss of the open hall grandeur.


Floorboards in the early seventeenth century were mainly made of elm, and wide. Sometimes the joists were fitted close enough together to allow the boards to be laid in the same orientation on top. The boards were not even nailed, and this enabled the owner to move them around and even will them to relatives, along with the leaded window lights, in the event of their death. The “sealings”, or ceilings, were referring to as wainscoatings in old wills. However, the term “underdrawings” used in the old wills are what today we understand as the ceilings.


Access to the first floor chambers was made possible by providing a square aperture in the new ceiling called a “stairwell”, where a fixed or movable ladder could be placed. Later, when a permanent staircase was inserted, the stairwell was filled in, using smaller pieces of timber, often by necessity in a different orientation to the main ceiling timbers, and therefore easily identifiable where the timbers are left exposed.


When a permanent staircase had been fitted, a “lobby” landing could also be constructed, allowing access and privacy to the first floor chambers. “Lobby” landings tend to be of the seventeenth century.


By the start of the Civil War in 1642, the open hall house had been transformed from a cold, draughty and smoky communal environment, where rooms had interchangeable use, to one which had many additional rooms which were heated with more efficient smoke disposal, enjoyed privacy, and maintained their new function more rigidly.


Paul Wheeler 29


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