Building the Vernacular: the CBA North West Autumn Conference

Kirk Mill, Chipping. This 1780s Arkwright-style water-powered cotton spinning mill was built using local craftsmen.

Kirk Mill, Chipping. This 1780s Arkwright-style water-powered cotton spinning mill was built using local craftsmen.

CBA North West likes to rove the region with its conference venues so this November we arrived at the club hall in Waddington Village, north of Clitheroe. A day of tremendous hail, thunder, and lightning storms with angry livid skies, feathered clouds and the occasional rainbow seemed to fit the rural mood and an underlying theme in the day of folk magic and buildings.

An audience of 80 gathered to hear five talks in the morning and to take part in a tour of the village in the afternoon. The first two talks had the linked theme of folk magic and buildings. Carolanne King, looked at a range of protective marks that could be found on vernacular buildings across the region, using examples from Carrbrook in Tameside and Ordsall Hall in Salford amongst others. Such marks include circles with a central dot, spectacle marks and ‘marian’ marks – an ‘M’. Protective marks can be difficult to locate and can be con fused with other marks, such as carpenter’s assembly marks or mason’s marks, but they are often found next to openings where malevinant influences could get in. Craig Brisbane followed next with two examples of folk magic in buildings in Prestwich. Crabtree Cottage, when excavated in the 1970s, produced a Neolithic Handaxe found on the floor surface of one room. This may have fallen from the thatched roof, where such objects have been recorded from other cottages. Known as a ‘thunder stone’ these were secreted in the roof to ward of lightning, possibly. A ‘witches’ cache of five objects from the Church Inn were found a few years ago in a bricked-up recess in the pub cellar. These objects were a mummified cat, dried rose petals and three wooden female figures no more than eight inches high each.

After the break the remaining three talks looked at different vernacular building types. I reviewed one of the most common timber-frame building types in the region, the cruck. Using the recent work of the University of Salford at Newton Hall in Tameside, and the growing body of tree-ring dated cruck sites, it’s possible to view this building type as an indicator of late medieval settlement, especially in urban areas where other forms of late medieval buildings or archaeology are lacking. This is because two-thirds of all dated crucks pre-date 1500 and 95% pre-date 1600, making the rediscovery of such a building a powerful marker of earlier settlement. Nigel Neil looked at medieval deer parks and their structures, taking as case studies Leagram and Radholme deer parks in Bowland in the Ribble valley. Deer parks encompassed a variety of landscape types and dedicated buildings, many of them highly localized in design and style. Finally, Ian Miller of Oxford Archaeology finished off the morning talks with a study of Kirk Mill in Chipping, one of 100 Arkwright-style water-powered rural cotton spinning mills known from late 18th century Lancashire. Kirk Mill was built in the 1780s when there were no mill architects so local materials and craftsmen were used. The detailed archaeological survey of the mill revealed the local design quirks: no columns supporting the original phase one mill structure; wooden line shafting; and a ramshackled extension in the 1790s to accommodate mule spinning and a supplementary steam engine.

All the talks, but especially the one on Kirk Mill, were a reminder of the wealth of local building styles and materials that can still be studied, not just from the medieval period but into the industrial era as well. Since many of Lancashire’s early buildings and industrial sites still await detailed archaeological survey isn’t it time we founded a Lancashire vernacular architecture group to begin this work?


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