4 Recalibrating the literature

Prior to the creation of an English tree-ring chronology in the late 1980s, typology
was the main method by which to date a timber structure. Cecil Alec Hewett (1926-
1998) pioneered buildings typologies for medieval carpentry joints and timber-framed
buildings in south-eastern England (Gibson and Andrews 1998, online). In Hewett‟s
seminal work English Historic Carpentry the inner sleeve reads “he [Hewett] has
shown that the methods of assembling timber buildings, particularly the joints used,
follow a strict historical sequence, as datable as ceramics” (Hewett 1980a, inner
sleeve). In the case of Hewett, typology is defined as being “historically diagnostic
because they are historically unique, that is, they are „peculiar to a given time and
place‟” (Sackett 1977, 371) and therefore, progress from the archaic to the
mechanically advanced in a datable sequence of „style and function‟ (Ibid.).

In 1990, Matthew Johnson warned of relying on typologies to date buildings
(Johnson 1990, 247-8) primarily because they are not always reliable and are based
on assumptions rather than science. This Chapter will address some previous errors
made under the auspices of chrono-typologies forwarded by the likes of; Henri
Deneux, Cecil Hewett and J. T. Smith, by applying corrected dates derived through
the scientific practice of dendrochronology (Pearson 1997, 30-3; VAG 2000). By
„recalibrating‟ the existing dates arrived at by typologies and informed judgement by
Hewett et al, with new solid dates derived from tree-ring analysis, it is hoped
Johnson‟s warning can be put to one side. This Section will also provide a response
to a comment made by Sarah Pearson in which she suggested “one important
aspect of construction which is likely to be considerably advanced through tree-ring
dating is the typology of timber jointing techniques” (Pearson 1997, 32).

Hewett‟s pioneering works have been a starting place for many research projects
including this one. Because this thesis aims to test Hewett‟s hypothesis that late-
medieval timber framed structures can be dated by the joints and carpentry
techniques used in their construction in the light of recent dendrochronological
advances; it is important that his typology is also informed by tree-ring dating. Hewett
himself was unable to achieve this in his lifetime, but this thesis will address by re-
visiting his data and updating the chronology based on recent tree-ring data. Once
completed (see Table 2) this Section will then retest some of Hewett‟s typological
assumptions. In doing so, some of his original work will be brought into question and
modernised. The resulting recalibrated data will then be compared against the
Hampshire data to test for similarities and anomalies.

4.1 Recalibrating Hewett
Hewett‟s research focused mainly on the south-eastern county of Essex, though he
also carried out various works in other counties – including Hampshire. Before
Hewett, very few people would dare ascribe a date for a building to before the 15
th
or
16
th
century based on style alone (Gibson and Andrews 1998, online). Hewett
changed this by firstly studying the barns at Cressing Temple, Essex, then taking the
study further afield and dating other buildings based on the carpentry joints present
in them. Using the Cressing barns as a starting point, Hewett would date a building
based on whether the joints therein appeared older or newer than those at Cressing
Temple. His assumption was that the more advanced a joint or structure appeared,
the newer in the sequence it must be –i.e. built after the Cressing barn (Hewett 1962,
240). It can be suggested that Hewett‟s methodology was one of teleological
progression based on “The hypothesis that carpenters‟ joints underwent processes
of development towards mechanical efficiency” (Hewett 1980a, 325).

As the table below shows, his technique‟s often yielded reasonably accurate results.
He could however, be very inaccurate. In several instances he was out by over a
hundred years and in one case by as much as 350 years (Table 1).

Table 1 A list of buildings dated by Hewett based on typology and compared
against recent tree-ring data
Building name OS
grid
Hewett's
date
based on
typology
source Dendro
date
source
(VAG -
vol/pag
e)
margin
of error
+/-
(years)
13-15 The Abbey,
Romsey, Hampshire *
SU
352
213
c. 1230
(Hewett
1980a, 89)
1342 -
1374
35/105 >112
Abbey Barn, Bradwell,
Buckinghamshire
SP
827
395
1350
(Hewett
1969)
1320-
1420
12/39 >30
Building name OS
grid
Hewett's
date
based on
typology
source Dendro
date
source
(VAG -
vol/pag
e)
margin
of error
+/-
(years)
Barley Barn, Cressing
Temple, Essex *
TL
799
188
late 12th
century
(Hewett
1980a)
1205 -
1230
24/50 > 5
Bishop‟s Palace,
Farnham Castle,
Surrey
SU
837
474
1115-
1145
(Hewett
1980a, 39)
1180+ 27/91 >65
Boyes Croft Maltings,
Great Dunmow,
Essex
TL
629
221
late 17th
century
(Hewett
1971)
1557 -
1575
30/87 > 94
Chichester Cathedral,
West Sussex *
SU
859
048
1290
(Hewett
1977a)
1287 23/54 3
Crepping Hall, Wakes
Colne, Essex
TL
909
284
1290 -
1325
(Hewett
1980a, 266)
1301 -
1337
34/102 >-11
Granary, Cressing
Temple, Essex
TL
799
188
1623
(Hewett
1969)
1409 21/45 214
Grange Barn,
Coggeshall, Essex *
TL
849
222
1140
(Hewett
1969, 1989)
1237 -
1269
28/141 >-97
Great Coxwell, Barn,
Berkshire
SU
269
940
1200-35
(Hewett
1969)
1305 11/33 <-105
Headcorn, Little
Hearnden, Kent
TQ
825
464
1450
(Hewett
1969)
1493 34/96 -43
King Arthurs Round
Table, The Great Hall,
Winchester,
Hampshire *
SU
477
294
1250-
1350
(Hewett et
al. 2000,
103)
1250-65
(Barefo
ot 2000,
192)
~0
Marvels Green
Farmhouse,
Pebmarsh, Essex
TL
851
327
16th
century
(Hewett
1973a)
1458 -
1459
35/98 ~42
Monks Barn,
Netteswellbury, Essex
TL
455
094
early 15th
century
(Hewett
1962)
1439 -
1469
28/141 ~0
Paycockes,
Coggeshall, Essex
TL
847
224
1500
(Hewett
1969)
1509 36/81 -9
Prior's Hall Barn,
Widdington, Essex *
TL
537
318
1340
(Hewett
1962, 1969)
1417-
1442
31/122 >-77
Rookwood Hall,
Abbess Roding,
Essex
TL
562
111
1440
(Hewett
1969)
1527 -
1572
24/50 >-87
Salisbury Cathedral,
Tower & Spire,
Wiltshire
SU
144
294
1334
(Hewett
1977a)
1344 35/102 >-10
Building name OS
grid
Hewett's
date
based on
typology
source Dendro
date
source
(VAG -
vol/pag
e)
margin
of error
+/-
(years)
St Clere's Hall, St
Osyth, Essex
TM
126
148
1350
(Hewett
1969)
1500-
1532
36/90 >-150
St Mary's Church,
Sompting, West
Sussex *
TQ
161
056
950-1050
(Hewett
1989)
1300 -
1330
21/45 >-350
St Paul's Barn,
Belchamp, Essex
TL
797
434
pre-1181
(Hewett
1962)
1240 -
1275
24/50 >59
St Thomas the
Apostle, Navestock,
Essex
TQ
540
984
1250
(Hewett
1980a, 264)
1365 -
1391
30/118 >-115
Tithe Barn,
Upminster, London
TQ
565
877
early 15th
century
(Hewett
1969)
1423 -
1440
28/143 ~0
Ware Priory,
Hertfordshire
TL
353
143
1283
(Hewett
1977a)
1391 -
1416
33/109 >-108
Wells Cathedral Nave,
Somerset
ST
551
458
1180
(Hewett
1980a, 66)
1212 -
1214
29/125 ~32
Wheat Barn, Cressing
Temple, Essex *
TL
799
188
1250
(Hewett
1969)
1257 21/45 -7
Wingfield College,
Suffolk
TM
229
768
1430
(Hewett
1977a)
1379 -
1383
30/88 >51
*Indicates a building surveyed as part of this research


Following on from the above table, it is now possible to recalibrate Hewett‟s
chronology into one informed by science. The results are shown below, in

Table 2.

Table 2 Hewett's chronology recalibrated by recent tree-ring data and placed in
chronological order
Hewett’s chronology
Building name
Hewett

Tree-ring chronology
Building name
Dendr
o-date

St Mary's Church, Sompting,
West Sussex
950 Barley Barn, Cressing Temple,
Essex
1205
Grange Barn, Coggeshall,
Essex
1140 Wells Cathedral Nave,
Somerset
1212
Barley Barn, Cressing Temple,
Essex
1180 Grange Barn, Coggeshall,
Essex
1237
Wells Cathedral Nave,
Somerset
1180 St Paul's Barn, Belchamp,
Essex
1240
St Paul's Barn, Belchamp,
Essex
1181 King Arthurs Round Table, The
Great Hall, Winchester,
Hampshire
1250
Great Coxwell, Barn, Berkshire 1200 Wheat Barn, Cressing Temple,
Essex
1257
13-15 The Abbey, Romsey,
Hampshire
1230 Chichester Cathedral, West
Sussex
1287
King Arthurs Round Table, The
Great Hall, Winchester,
Hampshire
1250 St Mary's Church, Sompting,
West Sussex
1300
Wheat Barn, Cressing Temple,
Essex
1250 Crepping Hall, Wakes Colne,
Essex
1301
St Thomas the Apostle,
Navestock, Essex
1250 Great Coxwell, Barn, Berkshire 1305
Ware Priory, Hertfordshire 1283 Abbey Barn, Bradwell,
Buckinghamshire
1320
Chichester Cathedral, West
Sussex
1290 13-15 The Abbey, Romsey,
Hampshire
1342
Crepping Hall, Wakes Colne,
Essex
1290 Salisbury Cathedral, Tower &
Spire, Wiltshire
1344
Salisbury Cathedral, Tower &
Spire, Wiltshire
1334 St Thomas the Apostle,
Navestock, Essex
1365
Prior's Hall Barn, Widdington,
Essex
1340 Wingfield College, Suffolk 1379
Abbey Barn, Bradwell,
Buckinghamshire
1350 Ware Priory, Hertfordshire 1391
St Clere's Hall, St Osyth,
Essex
1350 Granary, Cressing Temple,
Essex
1409
Tithe Barn, Upminster, London 1400 Prior's Hall Barn, Widdington,
Essex
1417
Monks Barn, Netteswellbury,
Essex
1400 Tithe Barn, Upminster, London 1423
Wingfield College, Suffolk 1430 Monks Barn, Netteswellbury,
Essex
1439
Rookwood Hall, Abbess
Roding, Essex
1440 Marvels Green Farmhouse,
Pebmarsh, Essex
1458
Headcorn, Little Hearnden,
Kent
1450 Headcorn, Little Hearnden, Kent 1493
Paycockes, Coggeshall, Essex 1500 St Clere's Hall, St Osyth, Essex 1500
Marvels Green Farmhouse,
Pebmarsh, Essex
1550 Paycockes, Coggeshall, Essex 1509
Granary, Cressing Temple,
Essex
1623 Rookwood Hall, Abbess
Roding, Essex
1527
Boyes Croft Maltings, Great 1650 Boyes Croft Maltings, Great 1557
Dunmow, Essex Dunmow, Essex


If Table 2 is examined, it can be noted that Hewett has two buildings dated to the
Anglo-Saxon era. Based on these two buildings - The Church of St. Mary, Sompting,
Sussex (Hewett AD950-1050) and the barn at Paul‟s Hall, Belchamp St Paul, Essex
(Hewett pre-AD 1180) Hewett named Chapter 1 of his Seminal work English Historic
Carpentry - “Examples from the Anglo-Saxon Period (AD 449 to 1066)” (Hewett
1980a). Of Sompting, Hewett suggests “the structural method at Sompting is
competent, and the workmanship wrought with an assurance that must indicate the
previous existence of a long tradition” (Hewett 1980a, 29). Therefore according to
Hewett, carpentry was introduced into England in the early Saxon period and
reached a „competent‟ level prior to the Norman Conquest (1066). Both buildings
have since been dendro dated to 1300-30 and 1240-75 respectively and therefore,
not Saxon carpentry at all. Instead Walker suggests carpentry entered England via
the Norman‟s around AD1180 (Walker 1999, 28).

Four examples of Hewett‟s work will now be analysed in greater detail to illustrate
both how accurate, and inaccurate, his dating could be. All four buildings were also
surveyed as part of this research in order to gain a greater insight into Hewett‟s work
and the buildings which formed his research. The four buildings are listed
chronologically:

1. The barley barn, Cressing Temple, Essex
2. Grange barn, Coggeshall, Essex
3. The wheat barn, Cressing Temple, Essex
4. St. Mary‟s Church, Sompting, West Sussex


The barley barn, Cressing Temple, Essex
The barley barn is another example of the three different types of dating - typology,
radiocarbon dating (
14
C) - and much later - dendrochronology; all being used to
investigate one building.

 Hewett suggested late 12
th
to early 13
th
century (Hewett 1980a, 59-63)

14
C dated the barn to 940 +/-70 (c.1023) (Hewett 1962, 271)
 dendrochronology 1205-35 (Tyers et al. 1997, 50)

If the dendrochronologically derived dates are taken as the most precise (see
Section 2.3) Hewett‟s suggestion was very close. Unfortunately, Hewett would never
have known how close he was to tree-ring date. Radiocarbon dating, however, was
over 200 years out with an unacceptable date range. These three examples, of
various dating techniques, highlight the importance of the ability to rely on precise
dates, as the implications of inaccurate dates can be profound. Although Hewett was
sure his date was accurate, it did lead him to write “this [the radiocarbon date]
suggests a date in the eleventh century, centring on 1023, for the felling of the oaks
used in its original building. It is perhaps surprising that this date is earlier than the
gift of the estate by King Stephen to the Templar‟s, but there is no obvious reason
why the barn should not have been built whilst the estate was in the possession of
the Crown” (Hewett 1962, 271). This would imply that although Hewett doubted the
radiocarbon date, he was open to the idea that it could be validated.

Grange Barn, Coggeshall, Essex
Grange Barn was, originally, Radiocarbon dated (
14
C) to 1130 +/-90 (Essex SMR
8808). Oddly though, Hewett reports the
14
C date as being 1020 +/-90 (Hewett
1980a, 47) but later in the same publication he agrees with the
14
C date (Hewett
1980a, 289). The associated Savignac Abbey was formed in 1140 and although
there is no documentary evidence that gives a construction date for the barn, it was
assumed that the building was contemporary (Ibid, 47-8). Hewett had noted the use
of open lap joints in its construction (Figure 1) and therefore, based on this joint and
its use in the barley barn at Cressing Temple, he suggested the barn was built soon
after the formation of the Abbey in the mid 12
th
century (Andrews 1984). The barn
has subsequently been dendro-dated to between 1237 and 1269 (Tyers et al. 1997,
141) and therefore, a late example of an open lap joint (Andrews 1984). Hewett also
wrote that “the main posts stood upon stone stylobates about an inch larger all round
than the posts‟ feet” (Andrews 1984, 49). A stylobate is a raised stone pad upon
which the upright post is placed to mitigate rotting. However, the Essex SMR
suggests that “observations during restoration suggest the arcade posts were
originally set on base plates, as proposed initially, and not on stylobates as
suggested by Hewett in 1980” (EssexCC 2003).


Figure 1 A refined entry lap-joint noted by Hewett at The Grange Barn,
Coggeshall in Essex c.1237
(Author 2008)

What should be noted though is that this building, although framed and free-standing
does not employ a ground sill for stability. Whereas the Barley Barn at Cressing
Temple, Essex (c1200 +/-60) of a slightly earlier date does (Hewett 1980a, 49). The
notch lap joints found in this barn, can also be seen at Wherwell „stables‟ in
Hampshire (Figure 2) dendro-dated to 1250 (Roberts 2003, 248). This shows two
very similar and coeval joints in separate parts of the country - Essex and
Hampshire. This type of joint is also common amongst the majority of the buildings
examined by Walker (Walker 1999, 28). Six of the eight buildings used notched lap
joints; the implications of which are explained by Walker:

“These dated buildings do not support Cecil Hewett suggestion that there was a
development from the late 12th century in the notched lap joint from unrefined entry
to secret notched lap. If there was, it was before the late 12th century. Both the
unrefined entry and refined entry were being used in the late 12th and early 13th
century”. (Ibid.).


Figure 2 A typical notched lap joint with open refined entry from Wherwell
Priory stables, Hampshire (1249)
(Author, 2006)

The wheat barn, Cressing Temple, Essex
Hewett dated the wheat barn to around 1255 (Hewett 1980a, 102-5). The barn has
since been scientifically dated, by dendrochronology, to 1257-80 (Tyers et al. 1997,
51). As Hewett was fairly accurate with both the barns at Cressing Temple, Hewett
had a solid datum by which to date other buildings. By his own admission, Hewett
would date buildings based on them appearing less advanced, or more advanced
than the joints at Cressing (Hewett 1962, 240). As he was so accurate with Cressing
Temple barns, one would assume the rest of his chrono-typology would be fairly
accurate too. However, the following case study tells a very different story and
highlights the need for his work to be recalibrated now dendrochronologically derived
dates are available.

St Mary’s Church, Sompting, West Sussex
The timber frame that supports the western tower at St. Mary‟s church, Sompting,
West Sussex is of a Rhenish helm type (Figure 3). Hewett suggests a date
“somewhere between c AD950 and c 1050. It is unlikely to be later than this” (Hewett
1980a, 15). Due to Hewett‟s belief that this church roof dated to pre-conquest
England, he wrote “The architectural and structural concept of the Rhenish helm is
extraordinary, but its execution in carpentry at Sompting is a work of such assurance
and competence, achieved with such economy of means, that it both indicates the
work of a master and suggests the previous existence of a tradition of framing such
works” (Hewett 1989, 15). If this statement were to be true, it would put the
introduction of framing back from AD1180 (Walker 1999, 28) to AD950, before the
introduction of the French style, even before the Norman Conquest (Hewett 1982,
341). Clearly then it is essential to the understanding of the evolution of carpentry,
that this building be scientifically dated, in order to validate whether 950 or 1180 are
to be used as the start of the carpentry tradition in England. Indeed, Hewett assumes
“the structural method at Sompting is competent, and the workmanship wrought with
an assurance that must indicate the previous existence of a long tradition” (Hewett
1980a, 29). Therefore, Hewett is suggesting carpentry existed in England before AD
950 based on Sompting alone suggesting “it is no longer possible to ascribe the
introduction of any types [of carpenters‟ joints] to the Conquest, or the Normans”
(Ibid.).

Hewett also notes the use of carpenters‟ marks in the form of chisel cut Roman
numerals, suggesting that the frame was measured and framed elsewhere.
Therefore, Hewett suggests the carpenters who constructed the frame at Sompting
had “anticipated ensuing carpenters‟ methods” which would not be seen again until
1180 (Hewett 1989, 15). Even though Hewett was convinced the roof was Saxon in
origin, he noted that some of the joints – “a tenon with one shoulder „scribed‟ to fit
over a waney edge” – are unknown elsewhere until the 13
th
century, yet he remained
convinced he was looking at a Saxon roof.

Fortunately, Hewett‟s date was off by around 380 years (Aldsworth and Harris 1988,
140; Pearson 1997, 33). In 1985 two timber samples were Radiocarbon dated to AD
1323 +/-51 by Jill Walker. A tighter date range was sought and in 1987, 17 samples
were taken for dendrochronological analysis giving a new date range of AD 1300 to
1330, by Ian Tyers (Aldsworth and Harris 1988, 140-3; Tyers 1990, 45). It should be
noted that the main body of the church is of a pre-conquest date, it was added to in
the later part of the 11
th
century which, it seems, Hewett based his date on
(Aldsworth and Harris 1988, 139). Before the recalibration of Hewett‟s dates for St
Mary‟s church, it is plain to see the implications that an incorrect date can have our
knowledge of the past. 380 years in the medieval to late medieval period sees many
profound historical changes - from Saxon England, through Norman occupation, to
the beginning of the 14
th
century dominated by famine, plagues and war.


Figure 3 St. Mary’s church, Sompting, West Sussex (1300)
(Author 2007)


4.1.2 Summary
Hewett has published many articles and books, mainly on the subject of joints and
structural carpentry. Any student of structural carpentry is therefore, a student of
Hewett‟s work. Thus, it is important that his dates and assumptions are re-examined
in the light of dendrochronological data when, and if it becomes available. This
needs to be done to forward the discipline, not prove Hewett right or wrong. Hewett
worked with the data available to him and when Radiocarbon dates were available,
he would use them, or at least acknowledge them, because as we have seen the
14
C
data is often more inaccurate than Hewett ever was. This Section has highlighted
how important the recalibration of his chrono-typology is. When fundamental
principles of carpentry are pinned to an inaccurate timeline and alternative method of
dating must be sought. For now, that method is dendrochronology. With it, previous
dates, such as those given by Hewett can be revisited and updated in the light of
recent advances in the field.

This Section has illustrated several inaccuracies in Hewett‟s method. The two
structures he suggested provide evidence for an Anglo-Saxon carpentry tradition
were misinformed by inaccurate dates. Instead, it would appear that carpentry
developed in England around 1180 (Walker 1999, 28) and not prior to 950 as Hewett
suggested (Hewett 1980a, 29). The following Section will also prove Hewett‟s
evidence for a transitional scarf c1350 from splayed to halved scarf is also
misinformed. It must be noted though, that Hewett was right about a great deal of
other important facts relating to joints. Much of which shall be evidenced in the
following Sections regarding joint typologies and chronologies.

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