Wattle & Daub

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Traditional Building Technique

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Wattle & Daub

  1. 1. TradiTional Building MeThods Wattle and daub Used in Britain for around four thousand years, wattle and daub is a cheap, quick way to build walls out of little more than twigs and mud. The Ye o man’s house © Engli , Bigno sh Herit a ge . N M r R applying the daub to the wattle © Owlsworth IJP Ltd What is wattle and daub? Building with wattle and daub A ‘wattle’ is a woven lattice of willow or hazel striplings (young, thin branches). ‘Daub’ is a sticky mixture of sub-soil (the layer of earth beneath the ‘top soil’ where plants grow), clay and straw, sand or animal hair, very similar to cob. The saying, ‘if you throw enough mud at a wall some of it will stick’, is thought to have been inspired by the way wattle and daub walls were made. Wattle and daub was often used to fill in the spaces between the vertical beams of a timber-framed house. Once a wattle panel had been woven between the timber beams, a pair of ‘daubers’ would stand on either side and throw the earth mixture at the wattle as hard as they could. Materials and preparation The willow or hazel striplings for the wattle came from local coppiced woodland. Coppicing willow and hazel trees involved cutting them down to their stumps and only allowing thin new branches to grow back, which could be used for weaving and wattling. Daub was made using the same ingredients and method as cob, except precisely what went into each daub depended on what was cheap and easily available at the time of building. The force with which the daub was thrown would help it wedge in the spaces between the willow strips of the wattle and stay in place and eventually enough would stick to create a solid wall. Once it had dried, which took around 3 weeks, and if the builder could afford it, the wattle and daub would be painted with several coats of limewash to protect it from damp. Where can i see wattle and daub? It is hard to find wattle and daub walls as even in timber framed houses where they once existed, they have often been replaced with newer materials. In very old wooden buildings look for wall panels that are uneven or bulging, and are covered with limewash – there’s a chance they could be wattle and daub. a wattle made of woven willow advanTages Because it did not require any specialist skills and used free or very cheap materials, wattle and daub was a building method available to the poorer members of society. Wattle and daub walls could be made quickly and most people could afford to build and maintain them quite easily. disadvanTages Wattle and daub walls needed regular patching up and to be carefully protected from the damp and rain to keep them in good condition. Although well-maintained wattle and daub should be able to last forever, in practice it is the traditional building method that has survived the least well.
  2. 2. TradiTional Building MeThods Willow weaving An ancient craft requiring strength and skill, willow weaving is a bit like weaving cloth, except using young tree branches instead of thread. Willow for sale in l a u ncesto n Weaving with willow © Cornish Willow What is willow weaving? Building with willow Willow weaving is the skilled craft of twisting young willow branches together to make fences, animal pens, shelters, gates, household furniture, baskets and more. Willow weaving was even used to make walls for houses, as it was used to make the ‘wattle’ in wattle and daub. Willow is still woven in the same way as it was at the time Launceston Castle was built. To make a woven willow ‘hurdle’, or fence, thicker branches of dried willow are stuck in a frame, called a ‘jig’, and then thinner willow ‘withies’ (young branches) are woven in between the vertical sticks. Once the hurdles were ready to be put in place, wooden posts were driven into the ground and the hurdles tied to them to create a fence. Materials and preparation Young willow branches would have been gathered from areas of local woodland that had been coppiced. To coppice a willow tree, it was cut right back to its stump, which encouraged it to grow lots of new branches quickly. These young thin branches, which were perfect for weaving, were then harvested and, once soaked in water to make them more flexible, could be used straight away. In marshy flat areas willow could also be grown in ‘willow beds’. In a willow bed, live branches of willow were planted upright, where they took root and grew quickly. They were then harvested annually and used in the same way as willow from coppices. To make willow baskets and furniture more decorative, the willow withies could stripped of their bark, leaving the white wood underneath, or steamed which turned the bark black. A combination of colours could then be used. Where can i see willow weaving? Exposed to the elements, woven willow could not survive decades, let alone centuries. However, if completely covered up, as it was in the case of wattle and daub walls, it could last for a very long time. Wattle and daub wall panels, with woven willow centres, still exist in some very old timber-framed buildings but you cannot see the willow underneath the daub. advanTages Woven willow, whether in a fence or a basket, looks very beautiful which is why people still use it today. disadvanTages Willow was not a long-lasting material for outdoor structures like fences.
  3. 3. TradiTional Building MeThods Thatch Reeds and grasses have been used in Britain for thousands of years to make warm, waterproof roofs for all sorts of buildings. a thatcher sews courses of straw onto a roof What is thatch? Thatch is a roof covering usually made from straw or reeds. In Devon and Cornwall thatched roofs were made from ‘combed wheat reed’, actually wheat or rye straws with long stems that were grown locally. Materials and preparation After harvesting wheat or rye and ‘threshing’ it to remove the grain, the remaining straw was arranged with all the stems the same way up and ‘combed’ to get rid of any short or broken straws. Finally, it was tied in large bundles, called ‘nitches’, ready to be used on a roof. Building with thatch Different thatchers had their own methods of roofing, but they all started by fixing a layer of straw at the eaves (lower edges of the roof) and then working their way along and up in layers or ‘courses’. The ridge of the roof was covered with a long horizontal roll of straw, over which more straw was folded and tied down. These days, thatched roofs often have patterns sewn into their ridges, but in medieval times they would have looked much plainer. The courses of straw were sewn onto the wooden frame of the roof with cord made from hedgerow plants or straw, using a special giant thatcher’s needle. The expression ‘like finding a needle in a haystack’ comes from the fact that thatchers, who had to do all their work from the outside of a roof since medieval houses rarely had lofts, often had difficulty finding their needle again once they had pushed it under the straw and roof timbers. The straw is pushed tightly into position using a leggatt Once they had finally been secured, each course would be pushed tightly into position with a special tool called a ‘leggatt’. Lastly, the straw would be trimmed at the eaves with a sort of sickle called an ‘eaves’ or ‘shears hook’ to make it look neat and tidy. A well-thatched roof had steep sides with even, flat surfaces so that rain ran quickly off the roof and did not sink into the straw. To stop the rain running off the roof onto the building’s walls, the thatch also jutted far out over the tops of the walls. Where can i see thatch? There are about 4,000 thatched buildings in Devon – more than anywhere else in Britain. Around Launceston you can see thatched houses in villages like Yeolmbridge and Daws House. advanTages The material needed for thatch was cheap (or free), easy to transport and readily available locally, which made it a good choice for poorer people to roof their houses and barns. Thatched roofs also look beautiful, which is why people still like to have them today, even though they are no longer cheap to build and maintain. disadvanTages Rain and fire are the enemies of thatched roofs. Before modern fire-resistant chemicals were invented, thatched roofs had to be protected from fire more carefully. Thatched roofs in very rainy areas need repairing and renewing more often, which can be expensive because nowadays the materials and craftspeople who know how to use them are fewer and more expensive. a thatched cottage in Werrington, north Cornwall © Jo Gorman. Source English Heritage. NMR
  4. 4. TradiTional Building MeThods Cob Britain’s very own version of mud huts, Cob buildings are literally made from the ground beneath our feet! dressing the cob Compacting the cob by thwacking © Kevin McCabe What is cob? Building with cob ‘Cob’ is what people in the South West called the mixture of sub-soil (the layer of earth beneath the ‘top soil’ where plants grow), straw and water that was used to build houses and other buildings in the area from the 13th century until the Industrial Revolution. It was a particularly popular building method in this part of Cornwall because there was just right amount of clay in the soil here to make a good, strong cob. Cob walls usually rested on a stone foundation and were built up slowly in layers, called ‘lifts’ – a bit like making a coil clay pot. After each ‘lift’ was added it was squashed down as much as possible by beating it with a flat paddle and then allowed to dry out. As the vertical sides of the lifts were very uneven, the workman would trim them back with a sharp spade to give smoother walls which could finally be waterproofed with limewash. Cob buildings were usually covered by thatched roofs. A local saying goes, ‘All cob needs is a good hat and a good pair of boots’, the boots being the stone foundation and the hat the straw thatch. Materials and preparation First, soil was dug from the ground and the top soil and any large stones removed, leaving a sub-soil containing lots of small stones. Then, fresh, dry straw was added to give the soil mixture extra strength, help it bind together and to prevent the clay in the soil shrinking too much when it dried. It was very important to mix the cob well so all the ingredients were evenly distributed. To do this, a thin layer of the earth and straw mixture was spread on the ground and water poured onto it. Then people, and sometimes animals, trampled all over it, squelching the cob with their feet. Sometimes the animals added their dung to the mix! Where can i see cob? Cornwall has the most cob buildings in Britain. Dockacre House in Launceston, Cullacott Farm in Yeolmbridge and many old farm buildings around Launceston have cob walls. dockacre house, launceston © Bryon Mason. Source English Heritage. NMR Mixing b the co Trimm i ng bac k th © Kevin e cob M cC a b e advanTages A simple but very effective building method, cob required few specialist tools and cheap (or even free), locally abundant materials. This meant that people could build their own homes. If properly made, a cob building could last for hundreds of years. And because cob walls were very thick, they provided good insulation and retained a great deal of heat. disadvanTages Slow and labour-intensive, cob building is out of favour in our hurried modern world, where labour is expensive and we like to use machines to do jobs quickly. Cob buildings need regular maintenance to keep them sound – and these days very few craftsmen know how to build with cob, so it is difficult and expensive to repair old buildings or build new ones.
  5. 5. TradiTional Building MeThods Lime mortar Before cement was discovered in the 19th century, limestone was used to make the mortar, render and paint for building. applying lime render to a wall © Clayworks Ltd Cullacott house in north Cornwall © Cullacott Farm What is lime mortar? Building with lime mortar Not to be confused with the bright green fruit, the ‘lime’ in lime mortar, is limestone, otherwise known as chalk, that has been processed and mixed with water to turn it into a useful building material. ‘Mortar’ is the squidgy filling between bricks or stones in a wall that holds everything together when it sets (goes dry and hard). ‘Lime mortar’ was a mixture of the processed limestone and water, plus sand and animal hair to add strength and prevent cracking. Although it is a very different product, lime mortar was used in a very similar way to how modern builders use concrete and cement; to build walls and plaster over them. Perhaps the most fun part of using lime mortar was ‘harling’ the first coat of render on a wall, which involved adding extra water to make it runny and then flinging it with a special trowel onto the wall to give a textured surface. Materials and preparation The base of lime mortar is a cream cheese-like paste called lime putty, which is made by putting limestone through a series of chemical reactions. First, the limestone (calcium carbonate) is burnt in a kiln, a sort of large outdoor oven. As it is burning, the limestone gives off carbon dioxide, changing into calcium oxide, otherwise known as ‘quicklime’. Water is then added to the quicklime to make calcium hydroxide, or ‘fat lime’; a process known as ‘slaking’. The fat lime is then left to mature and dry out for several months, ending up as ‘lime putty’. Where can i see lime mortar? Right here at Launceston castle! All the stones in the castle and its walls are held together with lime mortar. If you walk up the steps in the high tower, you can also see the white limewash coating on the walls that would have originally covered the whole castle, making it look a bit like a giant wedding cake! g a rd e ner ’s C ottage , Pelyn, Cornw a © Engli sh Herit a ge . N M ll R advanTages Lime mortar was the only option for builders before the 19th century invention of cement. It is much better for the environment than cement because it can be recycled and does not need as much energy to be manufactured. disadvanTages Lime mortar is not as strong or hard as modern materials and so will need repairing and renewing more often. It takes much longer to set (go hard), especially in wet and cold climates, where extra ingredients must be added to make it set. The lime putty is mixed with animal hair and sand to make lime mortar and render (another name for plaster, which we use to create a smooth surface on a wall). The putty can also be thinned with water to make ‘limewash’, a sort of paint. launceston Castle © English Heritage Photo Library
  6. 6. If you would like this document in a different format, please contact our Customer Services department: Telephone: 0870 333 1181 Fax: 01793 414926 Textphone: 01793 414878 E-mail: customers@english-heritage.org.uk

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