Building Beginnings

Tag Archive: timbers

  • Ships’ timbers

    shipwreckIf I had a fiver for every person who’s told me their house was built from ships’ timbers, I would probably have enough money to buy my own boat. It’s a romantic notion and part of the appeal that old buildings often evoke along with priest holes, bread ovens, and blind passages and blocked-up doorways in cellars. Lying in bed staring up at unexplained slots and grooves in the aged beams above your head you could be forgiven for thinking of storm-lashed vessels broken up on a rocky shore or an old ship being taken out of service and its salt-washed timbers recycled. If you think it through though, the probabilities just don’t add up.

    Ships’ timbers, if they were going to be re-used, would surely have been so employed on the coast, not 150 miles inland along green lanes and unmade roads nowhere near a navigable waterway. Transporting massive heavy timbers across country to a remote location would have been logistically difficult and prohibitively expensive. In any case, salt-hardened wood would have been as hard as iron and difficult to work with the hand tools employed by the craftsmen who built timber-framed houses.

    Most old timber-framed houses were built from local timber, used green, for obvious reasons of minimising cost and using available materials. The most common explanation for apparently redundant slots and grooves in house timbers is that they have been re-used from another building in the vicinity or even a previous house in the same place. Now, about that smugglers’ den at the end of the garden …

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