A Lockdown Lost Cruck Building Mystery

Three lockdowns over 12 months have provided plenty of time to go through archaeology archives and backlogs. I have spent a lot of time sifting through photographs from the South Trafford Archaeological Group archive as part of my research into the lost cruck-framed building at No. 20 Old Market Place in Altrincham (see elsewhere on this blog). Inevitably, the chances of being diverted by archaeological sites, long overlooked, were high. Thus, I was brought to halt by four colour prints of another cruck-framed building: images of a partially demolished timber building somewhere on the urban fringe of Bowdon, Altrincham.

The fire-damaged cruck building in Bowdon, 1980s. Note the white farmhouse to the right.

The pictures show two cruck trusses roughly five meters apart, aligned at right-angles to a road, but set back from that road by several meters. The trusses were, at ground floor level, roughly 5m apart, the truss facing the road resting on stone blocks, whilst the truss furthest away from the road sat on a handmade brick plinth at least three courses deep. The cruck blades were braced by a tie-beam and a collar beam. In both cases the blades were a single smooth curve, categorised by Vernacular Architect specialists as Alcock Type C. The top or apex of both cruck trusses were different. The truss facing the road had blades truncated above the collar beam with the ridge tree supported by a single upright timber, categorised as Alcock’s Apex Type F1. However, this may have been the result of later alterations to the roof. The other truss, which was furthest away from the road, had a design whereby the two blades were tied at the very tip with the aid of a short brace, categorised as Alcock’s Apex Type L1. Internally, a single ceiling beam at first floor level also survived.

Both trusses had spurs, short horizontal timbers to brace an outer timber wall. Remains of that exterior timber wall survived on one side of the building, with the wall plate and an upright timber at one end visible in the photographs. Fragments of the roof structure also survived on the same side of the building with a purlin and a curved brace. The cruck trusses were still braced by the ridge tree, although addition temporary softwood bracing had been placed on the opposite side of the structure. The original roof line was visible as blocking in the cruck truss furthest from the road.

The two cruck trusses had both handmade brick and wattle-and-daube infilling, whilst the truss facing the road also had stone courses on the ground floor next to a doorway. The stone walling at this point projected at right angles slightly beyond the line of the cruck truss, suggesting that a second bay existed at the road end of the structure. There was also a doorway at first floor height in the truss furthest from the road. This, together with the surviving ceiling beam, showed that the timber building had a ground and first floor, though whether the first floor was a later insert is unclear. It also showed that there was a third bay to the structure, lost by the time the photographs were taken. The mixture of fabrics suggests periods of repair and alteration.

The cruck truss furthest from the road. Note the Victorian housing to the left.

So, we have a two-storey domestic cruck building at least three bays long, aligned with its gable to the roadway. But where is it? And is it still standing? Here in lies a frequent problem with uncatalogued archives. The photographs, as is often the way with old archives, have little written data to go with them; in this case simply a note to say that this was a cruck building in Bowdon that had been burnt down. The style of the prints suggested a date sometime in the 1980s. It was also clear from the photographs that one side of the road was bordered by fields whilst the other had brick-built Victorian housing and a large L-shaped two storey farmhouse. Cruck buildings are not uncommon in the Altrincham area, of which Bowdon forms a part, and STAG has recorded a number of these since 1979, including Moss Farm Barn and Moss Farmhouse, both on South Downs Road in Bowdon. But this was neither of those sites. Other known examples in the area have long since been demolished.

So, if you recognise this site please let me know. In the meantime, I’ll keep looking through the archives for further clues.

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