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Sunday 19 June 2016

Timber-framed houses along Friar Street in Worcester- wonky buildings, planning using geometry and the daisy wheel

Worcester has quite a few surviving timber-framed buildings and many of them can be found along Friar Street, in the city centre. Halfway along the street is Greyfriars, which was built in 1480 as a merchant's house and has been in the care of the National Trust since 1966: 

Not as old (but also looking great) is the facade of this pub on the corner of the street.

One thing that I noticed was how wonky the jettied first floors on some of the buildings were...

The building in the lower photo shown above makes me wonder if the builders got hold of the longest suitable piece of oak that they could find to support the front wall of the first floor and then built the rest around it. The slope on the first floor of the building in the photo above it makes me wonder if they had just been on the ciders beforehand!

When these timber-framed buildings were constructed, timber didn't usually come in regular sizes. Since everything had to be cut, split or hewn by hand, carpenters would make use of what they had available and so if a beam was a bit uneven, that would just be accounted for when building around it. 

I went to a very interesting talk by Laurie Smith a while ago. He is an expert on the geometrical methods that builders used to plan constructions throughout much of history. 

When factors such as irregular sizes of materials meant that exact measurements using units such as inches were not as useful in planning a construction, things were laid out using geometry.

Laurie Smith showed us how proportions and angles were worked out using simple geometrical techniques, meaning that they could be planned using just a ruler, a pair of compasses and a scribe (such as a piece of chalk). 

At one point, he remarked that he enjoyed looking at old buildings and working out how they had been altered from their original form over time. This could be done by a knowledge of the use of geometry in planning. He could tell if a gable had been removed or rooms added because they didn't follow the patterns that were easy to spot if one has the knowledge of these procedures.

One reminder of these planning techniques that can be seen in some old buildings is a 'daisy wheel', like this one from Court Farm at Himbleton in Worcestershire:

Image from:

Some believe that these daisy wheels were used to ward off evil in old buildings. Laurie Smith said to me that he hadn't delved into that possible side of their history, but that they certainly were an example of a design used in planning geometry as well.

A pub on Friar Street called 'The Cardinal's Hat' proclaims that it is 'Worcester's Oldest Inn'.  

Apparently there has been a pub on the site since the fourteenth century, when the inn catered to pilgrims and visitors to the nearby Friary (which ended with the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII). The current building dates to the mid-seventeenth century and I took a moment to check out the carvings in the spandrels around the front door. These are over a window to one side:

These carvings are over the main entrance. I wonder if the letters 'D' and 'CB' refer to the pub's owners at the time, the carvers or to something else?

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