The Medieval Hall at Lewknor – Recognition that the large Barn at Church Farm, Lewknor, includes what was formerly one of England’s most impressive Halls is a surprising & important Development. The surprise is that it escaped Detection until 1969, while it is important in adding to Oxfordshire’s scanty Heritage of major Medieval Timber-Framing. Both the Documentary’ and the Architectural’ evidence recently presented leave, disappointingly, the origin and approximate date as well as the purpose and fate of the Hall in doubt. In her paper on the Documentary Evidence ‘Hilary Turner established that what she calls the ‘Great Barn‘ is and was part of Church Farm, that is the Rectorial Farm acquired in 1440 by All Souls College from Abingdon Abbey with the Glebe Land, Rectorial Tithes & Advowson. However her suggestion that the Abbey constructed the Hall has no Documentary evidence to support it and in this case seems particularly unlikely as the Abbey by the 14thC was nominating a Rector as well as presenting to the Vicarage which had been established in 1241. A different explanation is offered by the conclusions that were reached about the Lewknor Rectory by Sir Edmund Craster in his scholarly & detailed research on the Parish for the Victoria History of the County of Oxford.
Church Farm Barn is Approximately 30-Metres East South East of the Church Farm House
The Hall, now Barn. Mid/late 14thC now has 20thC Weather-boarding over heavy timber framing on a Brick base; with a half-hipped Roof, old Tiles to the left and 20thC Tiles to the Right. An Aisled 3-Bay Hall, with 20thC plank double doors.
Interior: left End Wall has 8-Panels of which Top 4 are cusped.
Left Truss: Arch Braces from wall to Tie-beam were reset to Centre when Aisle Posts were inserted to support a long Tie-beam; Queen-post Truss with tension-braced Collar & Arch Braces to Tie: Arch-braced Collar above with Clasped Purlins, diminishing Principals and Wind Braces. Right Spere Truss: of similar construction, but lower aisled part has Arch-braced Aisle Posts flanked by trefoil-cusped Aisles. Probably built by John de Lewknor, who rebuilt the East end of the Church (q.v.) in the Decorated style c.1320-40.
Church Farm was acquired by All Souls College from Abingdon Abbey in 1340. Morrey and Smith date the Barn to between 1350 & 1440. (Buildings of England: Oxfordshire, p.684; J M Fletcher, The Medieval Hall at Lewknor
The Hall-House, for that, is undoubtedly what it was originally created as, comprises 3-Bays which vary in length between 15 & 18½ft. Its Plan is of the End-Hall Type, that is to say, that such Minor or Service Rooms as there were, stood at one end.
The Main Hall itself, about 34-ft long, and open from Ground to Roof, comprised of 2-Bays divided by an Open Truss with a clear Span of about 29-ft.
A Spere-Truss divided the Hall from the Cross-passage and whatever Rooms lay West of it, but since this part of the Building is now occupied by large agricultural bins its recording & interpretation are inevitably inadequate. From a Structural standpoint, the Hall was remarkable principally for the span or the East Central Open Truss, which is quite unusually wide for a Timber-framed Building.
This Truss, like the others, was of Tie-beam Type, with very large Arch-braces from Wall-posts to Tie-beam. Although it was reconstructed as an Aisled Truss when the Hall became a Barn, its form can be reconstructed thanks to the re-use of the original Arch-braces. The Braces have 2 Chamfers and their Soffits are trenched & morticed to take other Timbers which have been removed. (Below A)
Since such Decorative Timberwork as survives in the Building is extensively Cusped it can be presumed that the Open Truss was treated similarly with a series of Cusps, perhaps 7, matching those which survive in the Topmost part of the Truss. (Below B)
They were evidently secured in place by the extensive use of Buried (or slipped) Tenons, i.e. Tenons morticed into 2 Timbers and Pegged through to hold them together, and probably the Peg-holes which now help to secure the Braces reset in their present position were originally cut for the Tenons at the Upper End of the Cusped members. Above the Tie-beam the Roof was of the raised-Aisled type, that is to say, it is in effect an Aisled Hall raised high above the Ground.
The Aisled Frame thus formed has Square Posts, Chamfered on the inner edges, which support plate and a slightly cambered Tie-beam and which are themselves propped by Braces, tenoned into the ends of the Tie-beam below. In the Arch-braces which join the raised Aisle-posts to the Tie-beam are a series of peg-holes and tenons which must have been intended for applied cusping like that below, The topmost part of the truss comprises short Principal Rafters into the top of which Purlins are slotted; the Principals are linked by a Collar-beam which is supported by cusped Arch-braces and there are cusped Wind-braces from Principals to Purlins. The Topmost Tie thus forms a clasped-purlin roof. In its original form, the Open Truss must have been an impressive & richly Ornamented Structure, hardly paralleled for size in English Timber-Framed Buildings.
As an indication of its pretensions, its clear span of 29-ft may be compared with that of such Stone buildings as Stokesay Castle & the Old Deanery, Salisbury, with spans of 291-ft & 31-ft respectively. Presumably, the intended aesthetic effect of the 3 progressively slighter Tiers of cusped Timberwork was to lessen the feeling of weight & heaviness which Tie-beam Trusses almost inevitably produced and which is very apparent in the mid-19thC drawing of a Hall at Great Malvern Priory. It is rather surprising that the Longitudinal Members of the Roof, the raised Arcades, were left completely Plain when so much effort was devoted to enriching the Truss and even the Wind-braces because these Timbers must have been quite conspicuous in the middle plane of any view of the Roof.
A fuller appreciation of the aesthetic possibilities inherent in a very complicated Roof was shown at Fiddleford Manor House in Dorset, where transverse, lateral & longitudinal Timbers alike were Cusped to produce an extremely rich effect although the Arch-braces were merely chamfered and not Cusped, so that all the Ornament was concentrated above the Purling. The Spere-Truss (West Central Truss) was treated in broadly the same way as the Open Truss, except that the open panel at the top of each of the flanking Aisles’ had Cusped Braces forming a small Ogee at the apex. (Below)
A comparable treatment is apparent in the East-end Wall, which is divided by Posts and a Rail into 2 Registers of 4 Panels. Each Panel of the Upper Register has Cusped curved Braces terminating at a little Ogee at the Head, and evidently, the Lower Register was treated similarly. (Below A)
A few structural points deserve comment. The Arch-braces of the Spere-Truss are each formed of 2-pieces of Timber held together by Buried Tenons, the presence of which is revealed by 2 adjoining peg-holes, one in each member. This feature, though not common, seems to occur in Roofs where large Members have to be built up from Timbers too small for the purpose, such as one or 2 of the Collar-beams in the Roof of Stokesay Castle. No doubt it made for the economical use of Timber. At Lewknor a 3rd Timber, Cusped, was attached to each Brace by means of both buried & normal Tenons. There was also a form of horizontal bracing at the Corners of the Hall, using large solid Brackets laid flat & butting, on the Wallside, against a massive Cornice which for part of its width rested on the Wallplate. Unfortunately, it is not possible on the evidence at present available to reconstruct the appearance of the long Walls. That they incorporated big Braces is clear from the mortices in the Principal Posts of the Trusses, and there were probably 2-large Windows, one on each side of the Open Truss.
The Date of the Building is difficult to state with any precision. The best evidence is provided by the profuse Cusping of the Timbers, which is a kind of Ornament common in the 2nd half of the 14thC and which persisted for much of the 15thC; closely dated examples, unfortunately, are hardly to be found. A limiting upper Date is provided by the acquisition of the Glebe Land by All Souls in 1440 (see above) since the College is unlikely to have Built so Large a Hall on a Farm Leased to Tenants. It may be one of those Large Houses Built by Wealthy Members of the Clergy in the 14thC, such as the Parsonage Houses at Coningsby (Lincolnshire) & Marlow (Bucks), but a lower term for the Date Bracket is hard to define- it could be as early as the mid-14thC, but is likely to be nearer the turn of the Century. The Date cannot be refined by the typology of the Roof because Raised-aisled construction is found over a long Period. It is a not uncommon technique in East Anglia and a different form of this same principle has been recorded in Oxfordshire; whereas the former group is in every way part of the great Family of Rafter Roofs and its derivatives the latter is more distantly allied to it, showing its affinity in such matters as the Clasped Purlins, and the absence of a Ridgepiece.
The later History of the Building can be dealt with briefly. It became a Barn without ever having the ignominy of having been altered by the insertion of a Chimney-stack and an Upper Floor, which is the usual fate of Medieval Halls at hands of a an opportunist Developer. Perhaps because the Open Truss was already showing signs of weakness as the Arch-braces were replaced by Posts, so producing the deceptive appearance of a true Aisled Hall. Equally uncertain is the Date when the West end of the Roof was cut back to give a hipped end. The Cladding of Weather-boarding, which was put on in the 19thC replaced the Original, but vulnerable to damage, infilling of Wattle-&-Daub.
Wattle & Daub is a composite building material used for making walls, in which 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 & straw. Wattle & Daub have been used for at least 6,000-yrs and is still an important construction material in many parts of the world. Many Historic Buildings include Wattle & Daub construction.