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The ‘Open Hall’ and the standard ‘tripartite’ plan
In order to understand societal complexities of the evolution of English carpentry, it is important to understand the social forces that dominated domestic timber-framing, until the early 16th century - „the open hall‟ within the standard „tripartite‟ plan (Courtenay 1984, 301; Currie 1989, 7; Fairclough 1992, 362; Harris 1978, 31; M. Johnson 1993, 55; Rippon et al. 2006, 35; Edward Roberts 2003, 126-7).
Social theories In the late medieval domestic plan, the social structure was articulated by employment of the main structural posts of the timber frame, in order to provide clear divisions of space (Gardiner 2000,159). Although the term „feudal‟ is often used to describe the social and military structure of the late medieval period - especially in older textbooks - modern thinking tends to “shy away from the term „feudalism‟” (Abels 2009, 1009-10). Matthew Johnson suggests that „patriarchal‟ is better suited to describe a system of “good governance and public rule”, which he takes from Mertes‟ book, The English Noble Household 1250-1600: Good Governance and Politic Rule (Mertes 1988). So, if the house is then subdivided into a patriarchal structure, spaces of restriction and openness can be created (Quiney 2003, 135). Traditionally, the house is divided into two social spaces, the „upper end‟ to the right of the hearth and the „lower end‟ to the left of the hearth, in Figure 1. Often, this division is delineated by the open truss that runs through the centre of the property (see Error! Reference source not found.). This central truss forms a fundamental element of the English open hall (Harris 1978, 13; M. Johnson 1993, 59) and is a topic that will be revisited many times during this thesis.
Figure 1 The typical medieval tripartite floor plan, the parlour, the hall and the service end
It can be argued that the traditional two-way split of the late medieval tripartite plan into bipartite social divisions – „low‟ and „high‟ - is far too simple and does not take into account what the building is actually articulating. However, there is little doubt that the service rooms are of low status and the parlour of high status; it is the crosspassage, and the space between it and the hearth, which is open to reinterpretation (see Figure 2 Traditional bipartite divisions of space). This area, by its very nature, is one of openness used by all who enter, regardless of gender, status and, in some cases, species (Martin 2003, 37). To merely call this area „the low end‟ does not reflect its openness, communality and, ultimately, liminality. It exists „betwixt and between‟ the social divisions inferred by the tripartite plan and acts as an area of transition between inside and out, social hierarchy and being welcome or not (V. Turner 1967). If, for instance, the head of the house was to receive visitors of higher or equal social standing they would not be expected to enter a house via, what is traditionally regarded as, the low or inferior end: Surely then, this area needs reassessing. Johnson (1993, 59) begins the argument by suggesting that the hall represents space in three ways:
1. at a physical level a. by the structural elements that frame the space b. physical demarcations of space 2. patriarchal symbology a. the dais and the embedded code of social hierarchy
b. metaphysical demarcations of space 3. “spatial text” a. commonality between like structures and the landscape b. remembered demarcations of space. His argument can now be taken forward - with the idea of Foucault‟s liminality (Szakolczai 2000, 187-9) - and the three levels rewritten as:
1. physical liminality a. once again articulated by the structure itself b. physical demarcations of space 2. taught liminality a. passed down by one‟s peers, employers and family b. metaphysical demarcations of space 3. cognitive liminality a. subconsciously formed by our social environment b. remembered demarcations of space.
In doing so, the traditional bipartite social structure becomes tripartite divisions of space - the low end, the liminal or transitional zone and the high end. In labelling the open areas as liminal (V. Turner 1967), the need arises to define how this relates to the building, as a whole, by using the three levels of liminality set out above.
Liminal level 1 Level 1 is fairly easy to understand as the divisions can be translated directly onto the plan, in Figure 2 and Figure 3, by using structural elements.
Figure 2 Traditional bipartite divisions of space within a tripartite plan
Figure 3 Proposed tripartite divisions of space within a tripartite plan
The high end remains unchanged in both diagrams and translates to an area occupied by the patriarch, his immediate family and any high or equal status guests who may visit. Naturally, the servants would have to enter this area to clean, serve food and wait on the family but it would remain an area solely reserved for the interaction of the elite. The low end is now reduced in size to encompass only the service rooms and servants quarters above. It is doubtful whether the head of the
house would ever enter this area, thus, maintaining an air of social segregation from his servants. Access analysis can be used to shed light on the movement of people through the building (Fairclough 1992, 348; Richardson 2003, 373). This also suggests that, although the air of power relationships is always maintained, the cross-passage is communal and is the main area of interaction between the social spheres. Therefore, it can be argued that this space cannot be simply high or low. In Figure 4, adapted from Amanda Richardson (2003, 380), it can be seen that the screens-passage, or cross-passage, exists as an area by which all others are reached.
Figure 4 Access analysis dendrogram of the movement through a tripartite plan Adapted from (Richardson 2003, 380)
So, now there is a tripartite definition of space to fit a tripartite structural plan, including the liminal zone - an open area that transcends the social and physical boundaries suggested by previous scholars (Grenville 1999; M. Johnson 1993; M. E. Wood 1964). An area that is neither truly in or out, it is, perhaps, where one is greeted, or removes outdoor attire, as happens in the modern hall: It serves as a point from which all of the ground floor rooms can be reached and transitioned (Martin 2003, 39). Whatever takes place in this zone is clearly performed by all levels of society, in order to access their socially demarcated areas Figure 5 (Ibid).
Figure 5 Access plan of movements through a typical tripartite house (Martin 2003, 39)
Liminal level 2 Level 2 is similar, in many ways, to level 1, except that now the social and hierarchical boundaries are metaphysical and must be taught to the individual by their peers, parents or employers. Here, once again, the liminal zone is an area of transition where all can mix in order to access their own social space (Martin 2003, 39).
Liminal level 3 Level 3 occurs on a cognitive level; that is to say, the boundaries exist in the subconscious and enter the mind as one naturally matures and engages with the social environment around them. In moving around and interacting with their surroundings - both physical and metaphysical - a cognitive map of one‟s environs is created, by recording landmarks or, in this case, spatial boundaries and cognating them, into physical boundaries within the real world (Broodbank 2002, 23). It can be argued that this is only possible as an outcome of the previous explanations but, if the belief is that the house reflects the greater social picture, it must be assumed that this is already imprinted on the mind at an early age, before entering the household.
Summary Whether or not liminality is chosen to explain the cross-passage, it can be argued that this issue needs to be addressed, in light of this discussion. If the house is referred to as being tripartite - consisting of three structurally defined areas: the service, hall and chambers - then is a tripartite social definition also needed? For example, if John the Tanner visited Harold the Smith, one could expect him to be brought into the cross passage, while his presence was announced to the head of the house. Whilst in the cross passage, John the Tanner would not yet be considered a guest; he would be neither outside or in but „betwixt and between‟: A welcome guest or a passing stranger? (V. Turner 1967). Clearly, this area does exist, liminally, between the social extremes of medieval society and medieval house plans: How then is it to be referred to?
This section has produced evidence for the social meanings embedded in the tripartite plan and, also, developed a discussion on its theoretical significance, relating to the transitional socio-economic world of the late medieval period. This dialogue will continue in the following section.
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