We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

Somerset · 25 August 05

"We comes down from Zomerset"

I heard some heavy accents while we were there, but they weren’t characterized by promiscuous voicing of sibilants or fricatives. One stereotype down.

"Where the Zider apples grow."

One stereotype up. Every pub we went in had two or three ciders on tap. And several bitters. No mild ale, though. Taste in England has changed from my youth.

"We’re all King’s men in Zomerset"

It’s still conservative. The village shop carried precisely one lone Guardian (which I bought) of a morning.

"As we were so long ago."

Historical remnants endure in Somerset. We stayed in Croscombe, on the A371 between Shepton Mallet and Wells, on the southeastern edge of the Mendip Hills:

Above Croscombe there’s the remains of a Roman Road (from the Fosse Way to the Mendip lead mines) and the path of a dismantled Victorian railway (including a magnificent viaduct across Ham Woods). Between them, there’s an Iron Age fort.

Croscombe is not large. There’s two churches (C. of E. and Seventh Day Adventist), two pubs, a post office, a village shop, a garage and several dozen houses. Walk a block from the main road and you’re among fields.

We stayed in a house that had originally been the great hall of an early fifteenth century manor house. There were originally both eastern and western cross wings and an oriel in the angle between the great hall and the west wing. In the nearly six hundred years since it was built, the wings and oriel have been taken down. In place of the east wing a small lean-to has been added.

The Landmark Trust has restored the house. It is now, as it was six hundred years ago, open to the roof:

The archway to the oriel has been left apparent. Much of the material in the trusses and windbraces is original. The stainless steel rods you can see connecting the bases of the trusses are there to hold the (unbuttressed originally!) walls together.

The windows are immense:

This last picture (the northeastern window) gives some idea of the height of the hall. It is, of course, uninsulated. The underfloor heating that Landmark Trust installed is quite inadequate in winter (it was fine for a cool evening in late August, of course). So they brought in a Gurney Patent Stove:

which sits in the lord’s place at the high end of the hall where the dais would have been.

The heraldry on a surviving candle sconce on the south wall helped to date the building:

The building survived because it was used for something like two hundred and fifty years as a Baptist church. There is a tablet on the north wall, over the door, memorializing the man who gave it to the church:

and part of the garden is a graveyard:

which we could enter:

though we sat out in the other part of the garden for tea (or occasionally something stronger):

The low end of the hall, beyond the screens passage, Landmark Trust turned into a kitchen:

and the room above it, which was originally the chamber of Sir William’s steward or chamberlain (Sir William’s chamber itself would have been in the oriel), into one of our bedrooms. The lean-to provided the other bedroom, a bathroom and staircase.

One of the uses of staying in a Landmark Trust property is that one gains a deeper understanding of an example of an architecture. By living in it, day by day. Feeling the space, lounging on a settee. Shuttering the south window on a hot afternoon. Bringing dinner from the service end across the screens passage into the main hall. One adds the experience of this house to the theoretical knowledge of medieval houses gained from books.

That experience is not, of course, itself medieval. There is a modern bathroom, not a medieval garderobe. One cooks in an electric oven, not over a hearth. Indeed, one cooks for oneself; there are no retainers sleeping on the hall floor.

But the experience of the architecture is authentic (apart from the Gurney) and so is the understanding gained.

Posted by: Jim

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  1. Good to see the Somerset retreat Jim and yourselves so well disposed in it. Very fine pictures.

    Eagerly awaiting your views of Stonehenge and Avebury et al.

    angela richardson    Sep 12, 2:48pm    #

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