Ludlow has timber framed building that date back to the 15th century. Its an ideal spot to explore the myths and misconceptions of the timber framed building.
The earliest timber frame building is the cruck frame. Constructed of two curved timbers (the cruck blades) using the natural shape of a tree sliced long-ways down the middle so that whatever the shape of the curve the two sides are symmetrical. Look out for identical knots on either side. The two beams are joined together at the top by a ‘collar’ or tie-beam to make an A frame.
By the eighteenth nineteenth century the box frame had also become popular for residential buildings because it allowed the building of second and third floors and, being a square construction, made more use of town-centre space above the ground floor. The upper storeys often overhang the lower; this is called ‘jettying’ and can be seen all over Ludlow. Box framing also made it much easier to add extra wings to a building.
Because timber was a premium item, the owners would show off their wealth by incorporating more timber than necessary to provide structural integrity. Hardwood timbers are a highly durable material which can last for centuries. If you give oak a good hat and coat, it will last for 200 years or more. As a result of this, many impressive medieval timber frames are still standing.
The panels were infilled with wattle and daube, a woven lattice of wooden strips called wattle is daubed with a sticky material usually made of some combination of wet soil, clay, sand, animal dung, animal hair, straw or grass. The use of dung, blood or urine in the mix was due to the use of old straw from animal sheds, saving money on buying fresh straw. The daube was finished with Limewash, a traditional lime-based paint with a high porosity and permeability that enabled walls to breathe, reducing the risk of damp.
The oak timbers were left bare as built and would develop a wonderful silvery colour that needed no maintenance. It was the Victorians who started painting timber framed building black and white. Doing so inflected more damage to the structure than a thousand years of the glorious British weather could throw at it. Victorian renovation has a lot to answer for.