When we began house hunting on our return from Bermuda, if a house was “Listed” I didn’t short-list it for viewing – the idea conjured up prolonged battles with planning offices, drafts, spiders and an endless need for money for repairs. Two years down the line I find myself owning and living in a listed building, and still a little stunned as to how it happened. I am pleased to say that my fears were not (quite) realised – we have discussions but not battles with the planning office, the drafts are kept out by thick curtains and we don’t have spiders – woodlice, yes but no 8-legged creatures. There is, I am afraid, a probably endless need for money for repairs!
So what is a “Listed” building?
It began in 1882 when the need to protect England’s heritage was realised and powers to do so established in law. First listed were pre-historic monuments but then shortly after the war began a 25 year project to determine which buildings were of significant historic value. The system of grading was introduced initially to help define whether a building damaged by bombs during the war was worth salvaging. This first survey resulted in some 120,000 listed buildings, most of them built pre-1750s.
Further surveys were undertaken in the 1960s and 1980s, increasing both the number and also the detail recorded for each property. In 2011 the full list was made available online and in 2016 a project to “enrich the list” began, where people are encouraged to add photographs and knowledge to listings.
The list can be found at Historic England
Grade 2* Listed
“Grade Two Star” – “particularly important” or “more than special interest”
Thats our home, and I confess to feeling a sense of pride as well as privilege that for a while we are tasked with caring for a nationally important property. When in Bermuda I worked for the National Trust as a guide to three of their historic buildings – Verdmont, Tucker House and The Globe Hotel. My favourite was Verdmont, built in the 1690s, home to a wealthy adventurer; when visitors waned then I sat in the hall imagining myself as owner dreaming in the smell of well polished cedar furniture and the creaks of floorboards. Living in our home in Devon is that dream – I have my own historic house, beams, creaks, oak and granite.
What makes it Grade 2*?
Fistly it is old – built in early or mid-16th century, 1500-1550s. In perspective: Henry VIII was crowned (1509), Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa(1505), Magellan was exploring the Pacific, Copernicus suggested the earth moved round the sun (1543). Bermuda had not been discovered!
It is built of cob and stone, vernacular architecture, using granite from South Dartmoor and local mud! It is thought to have been in the style of a medieval hall house with three rooms and a through passage. The large granite fireplace in the rear wall was most likely built with the original house.
This original footprint is still apparent with a lower room, hall and upper room. The through passage has to either side “stud and panel screens” – effectively wooden walls that are still standing almost 500 years after they were made. Some of the terms used to describe the features I still need to look up – for example the listing mentions “diagonal cut stops” and “ovolo moulding”. Maybe I will tackle them in a later post.
So we have the design, the wooden panels and the fireplace all adding “special interest” but it is upstairs where most of our visitors way “wow”. The room above the hall, the middle room of the house, is open to the roof so one can see all the beams, the jointed crucks, cranked collars and butt purlins. At the lower end of this roof structure there is evidence of a previous wattle and daub partition, the stake holes being visible on the underside of the tie beam. That partition would have been a wall for what is commonly called a “minstrels gallery”, the upper storey room above the lower end of the house. The other upper rooms would have been floored in later times and later still staircases put in place for access.
In the lower room there is a small door leading to the remains of a stone newel staircase set into the thick wall. The steps are steep and have little space for placing your feet and the upper part has been lost to modernisation that occurred before listing.
The final notable feature of the house is its front door:
Four granite steps lead to what is described as an “original inner doorway” with a chamfered round-headed door frame with durn jambs and a plank door with short strap hinges. It is what you might expect to find in a Hobbit House.
Woodlice – I will explain them later, but they are quite large and live in the parlour!
Cob – composed of earth and straw mixed with water like mortar , beaten and well-trodden, usually placed on a foundation of stonework some two feet thick.
Ovolo moulding is apparently just curved!
Crucks and Purlins – now that will take a whole post to explain!