Steve is a ‘maker’ by nature: art, music, pottery, carved objects. It was natural that he would want to build something: a building that was beautiful as well as functional. Jude has a love of storytelling and of drama: creating a narrative. Both are fascinated by history, particularly of the early medieval era.
For some time the family had been engaged in re-enactment and craft activities at historic sites. Steve fletched arrows and the boys learnt to shoot longbow and fight with quarterstaffs.
Having acquired four acres of Lincolnshire countryside the next logical step was to create a woodland and build a Saxon house.
In the beginning
Research . . research and more research: books on early medieval history, culture and archaeology; books on woodworking and tools; specific research on Lincolnshire archaeology. Timber was sourced. Contact was made with archaeologists and woodworking experts.
Forest Enterprise supplied green oak for the main structure, ash for the rafters and aspen for lats. Tarred hemp was sourced from a ship’s chandler in Immingham. The Courtaulds Institute put us in touch with a supplier for earth pigment colours.
Damien Goodburn, Museum of London Archaeology, had been excavating and cataloguing timbers which had formed revetments to the Thames in the middle ages. These turned out to be recycled house timber from the period we were exploring. Taking an interest in our project he sent us drawings of the posts he had excavated, which gave us some blueprints.
The work was laborious, as Steve had to learn the skills as he progressed and also source tools and materials. Timbers were split with wedges and worked with axes and frows. Roof beams were shaped, raised traditionally with ropes and muscle power and secured with pegs and hemp rope.
With the builders also being fulltime teachers, the building did not go up as quickly as a Saxon community would have achieved. Nonetheless each stage added to the satisfaction of building using traditional methods.
Whilst the research and notes were invaluable there were points where progress was made on the basis of logic alone. If we have these tools, this material and this technical problem to overcome, this is the only way this process will work!
After the wooden structure was built, the two long sides were coated with daub (mud, hair, lime and horse poo!). The two shorter sides were planked. Finally the building was thatched.
Making Saxonhouse a home
Having built Saxonhouse, it was important that the building was dressed in such a way that visitors could imagine the day to day life of someone living in the early medieval period. Consequently household artifacts and tools were both made and bought from a variety of sources. (Some we are still waiting to acquire – like a large loom!)
Family and friends chipped in with their knowledge and expertise: the fire (a very interesting idea suggested by his time in Uganda) and the bed were created by Luther; the wooden food utensils were turned by brother-in-law John; niece, Kylie, created the herb garden.
A local film company used Saxonhouse as a location – and in return, their costume designer, an expert in period costumes, created our costumes.
Thank you to:
All our family who put time, effort, support and love into Saxonhouse, particularly Arthur, Luther, Becky and Kylie.
Pat and Annie Delap, for their generous gift of skills, expertise and sheer hard work throughout all the early stages.
Andrew Bramley, Lincolnshire thatcher, who gave his time and skills for free, working on the first quarter of the thatch.
Damian Goodburn, MOLA archaeologist, who sent working notes and came to take an interest in the development of the project. Kevin Leahy, archaeologist, Anglo Saxon expert (he catalogued The Staffordshire Hoard) and author, who visited, showed enthusiasm and made some helpful suggestions.
Pauline Loven, Period Costumier, who researched and created the garments for Aelric and Elfrida. Click here and here to find out more about her work.