This town is crooked!
March 28, 2015 4:17 PM   Subscribe

Lavenham was a wool boomtown during the 15th and 16th centuries. It grew so fast that many of the houses were hastily built with green timber that proceeded to twist and warp.
posted by Blue Jello Elf (40 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
 
Go home, Lavenham; you're drunk.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:21 PM on March 28, 2015 [28 favorites]


In that style of construction, what fills the gaps between the timbers? Some kind of plastering?
posted by Dip Flash at 4:22 PM on March 28, 2015


It's charming! :)
posted by little_dog_laughing at 4:23 PM on March 28, 2015


In that style of construction, what fills the gaps between the timbers? Some kind of plastering?

Wattle and daub, bricks and plaster, flint and plaster. Take your pick.
posted by Thing at 4:25 PM on March 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Does anyone have a cite on the "using green wood" theory that's a little more solid. My Google-Fu has failed to find one and I'm skeptical that that's the specific cause.

In that style of construction, what fills the gaps between the timbers? Some kind of plastering?

My guess, and not the only possible answer, is wattle-and-daub walls, which are actually surprisingly pliant and easily repaired/patched/filled-in over time.
posted by thegears at 4:26 PM on March 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Looks like my apartment complex...
posted by jim in austin at 4:31 PM on March 28, 2015


It would be interesting to see interior photos.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 4:34 PM on March 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


They don't look quite as frightening without Vincent Price strolling around there.
posted by dng at 4:36 PM on March 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


So awesome. Janky photoshop in real life.
posted by EatTheWeak at 4:46 PM on March 28, 2015


Never will I feel bad about not finishing a DIY project.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:50 PM on March 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


These are great and I enjoy the green wood explanation but I'm also not sure I totally believe it - wouldn't this have happened equally elsewhere then? Also look at the window and door frames relative to the timbers. I guess the facades we're seeing have been redone to square the windows and doors, but not change the timbers?

I do love the idea of a "lavishly constructed wool church". The mind races.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:51 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


The references to church towers and wool had me thinking about Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth and World Without End, though my cursory research doesn't imply any direct inspiration.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:00 PM on March 28, 2015


Maybe the green wood story is a coverup and actually the "timbers" are made of felted wool?
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 5:02 PM on March 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


I also doubt that it's anything to do with moisture. Most timber framing would have been with green lumber because thick slabs and beams take decades to reach true equilibrium. Also, the shrinkage in squared timbers isn't generally the same action as can be expected from a piece of flat sawn lumber. The outsides will crack open but the overall shape isn't going to change enough to be entirely responsible for the wonkiness in the pics.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:09 PM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Reporting back: Cursory internet research supports the green wood story, or at least I don't find anybody giving another explanation.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:21 PM on March 28, 2015




(a nice little street view tour of high st reveals quite a few crooked houses, though)
posted by pyramid termite at 5:54 PM on March 28, 2015


Maybe the green wood story is a coverup and actually the "timbers" are made of felted wool?

This is what happens when those "wood for sheep" trades get out of hand.

Well, one of the things that happens.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:58 PM on March 28, 2015 [25 favorites]


"A wool church is an English church built primarily from the proceeds of the mediaeval wool trade."^

As to the houses, a more general explanation seems to be the Dutch settlers in Colchester Walmartizing the wool trade and leaving the owners of many half-timbered houses bereft of repair funds. Though this still doesn't seem like it fully explains why so many are in this particular town.

My experience with a "crooked barn" supports the maintenance idea, though, and it looks like many of the walls are just out of kilter due to combinations of settling, lack of proper bracing, and other engineering-related issues. If the city hadn't come in and razed my building, I had a plan to straighten it using chains and ratchets, then add the necessary counter-bracing to keep it from returning to its listing state. Harder to do that with an occupied residential building, though.
posted by dhartung at 5:58 PM on March 28, 2015


This reminds me of the Church of St Mary and All Saints, Chesterfield. I remember staring out the train window wondering if I were somehow drunk at ten in the morning.
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:59 PM on March 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


The outsides will crack open but the overall shape isn't going to change enough to be entirely responsible for the wonkiness in the pics.

Could be they used beams cut from horizontal branches, which have all kinds of stresses in them that cause twists and bows in drying. Generally the trunk goes into boards and the branches go to firewood. Might be they ignored that rule in the rush.
posted by echo target at 6:22 PM on March 28, 2015


Yeah, I really want to see what the interiors look like.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:33 PM on March 28, 2015




Google street view has caused me to fall in love with this town.
posted by double block and bleed at 6:42 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


They apparently filmed the Godric's Hollow scenes for the Harry Potter movies here, too!
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:51 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wish we could see inside the houses.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:27 PM on March 28, 2015


I wish we could see inside the houses.

Check out the link that Thing posted three comments above yours. There are lots of photos of at least one house, and they're twisty and charming inside, as well!
posted by xingcat at 7:28 PM on March 28, 2015


Thing, thanks for the link. It's a beautiful house.

I'd still like to see more, especially of the leaning places and the ones with the extreme bends in the exterior frames.

My question is are the floors level inside, and why do the windows and doors look square on the exterior?

Unless they replaced all the exterior framework for windows and doors, I can't believe they would work effectively. And wouldn't your floors be so warped as to be useless, unless they were either straight to begin with, and remained straight, or were replaced. How can the second floors be safe if joists are separated or warped? I want to know how these places work and what the scoop is, dangit!!
posted by BlueHorse at 8:29 PM on March 28, 2015


It was normal for half-timbered houses to be made with unseasoned wood, because the oak was too difficult to work with when seasoned. It's also normal for them to be twisted and distorted. You'd just patch up the plaster and everything would be fine. Ideally, in the case of cruck construction (in which curved timbers are used to make an A shaped frame) you'd find timbers matched well enough that the warping would be minimal. At any rate, wattle and daub walls were well suited to move with subsidence, and as the Medieval foundation was pretty basic (stone plinth with a wood sill) that is probably as much the cause of these houses twisting as the timbers. These houses just happen to be more distorted than most, but it is likely they were built by less experienced people on a bad foundation, because all houses of the time were built with green wood.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:42 PM on March 28, 2015 [13 favorites]


If you look at streetview, you can see how old windows and doorways have been filled in and the new straight ones placed, which explains why the houses are so crooked but the windows true up.
posted by tavella at 9:54 PM on March 28, 2015


Somewhat related (as it's not the same construction technique but is still green wood). I also have the PDF of the entire book from the author, which he is giving away to anyone that asks as a celebration of it's publishing 10 years or so ago per his comment at the bottom of the article.

It's an interesting topic to me, mostly because my dad and I have plans to build one in the intermediate future and I want it to have as good a chance for success as possible.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:57 PM on March 28, 2015


Ideally, in the case of cruck construction

Read that as "crunk" construction, in which the warping would make perfect sense.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:53 PM on March 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


So...are they inhabited by crooked men and their crooked cats and crooked mice?
posted by happyroach at 4:03 AM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you want more of this style of construction, Normandy is filled to the brim with it. I took a day trip to Rouen last year and came home with dozens of pics, just love the colors and shapes: Rouen, July 2014. My favorites are the home with angles for the stairs and windows, a home replete with window boxes, and yes, the warping you see sometimes!

I too doubt it's "just" because of using green timber – probably people didn't stay long enough to genuinely take care of their homes.

In French it's called maison à colombages, which in English is translated by Wikipedia as the rather generic "timber framing". There are different sorts of timber framing; most homes in the Pacific Northwest are woodframe, after all. Comes from ye olde Vikings! Which is really frickin' awesome because basically wherever I go, I find relatives, heh: my great-grandfather got free passage as ship's carpenter from Norway to New York to settle in Canada, where he had to Anglicize the family name because those damned foreigners – Scandinavians – were "stealing all the good jobs" (in construction). He eventually moved the family to Oregon, where, if you live in Eugene, as I mentioned recently in Ask, you can see my paternal grandfather's handiwork in many places. Such as the REI building. I hope they still have that grand old wood staircase; he loved making it.

You do have to treat wood properly over time for it to stay straight etc. You can see in Rouen that it's much straighter and with fewer cracks – they took the time to prepare and teach people (I assume, given experience) how to treat it properly. If in Eugene, again, you can see an example of wood that wasn't treated properly in the Hult Center. It ended up with huge cracks, for several reasons. My grandfather had tried to talk them out of it. Every time we'd go, he'd be all "LOOK HONEY, JUST LIKE I TOLD THEM, HUGE DAMNED CRACKS 'CAUSE THEY WOULDN'T LISTEN." He was mostly deaf, so he always talked in all-caps. (And those "woven" panels in the concert halls? One of my uncles installed those.)

The buildings in Rouen date from the 1300s (the Auberge La Couronne), 1400s and 1500s.
posted by fraula at 5:49 AM on March 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


I come from round those parts and while Lavenham is beautiful and fascinating, staying there for any time longer than three hours is a wonderful way to discover what England would be like if the country was governed solely by retired military officers and their good lady wives.
posted by bebrogued at 8:50 AM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]



So...are they inhabited by crooked men and their crooked cats and crooked mice?

If so, I would like to see crooked cats sitting crookedly in the windows, so I can smile crookedly at them.
posted by louche mustachio at 9:30 AM on March 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


This mirrors my experiences of contemporary English trades circa 2009. My rectangular kitchen window in Birmingham was part of a brand new renovation when I moved in and it was a rhombus. Or rather the kitchen window's frame was a rhombus. The window itself was a rectangle. The mismatch was rather bracing in the winter given that the kitchen also had no radiator.
posted by srboisvert at 11:10 AM on March 29, 2015


There's a house like that beside an alleyway in York, next to a stone planter where the bones of plague victims are interred. The other buildings are straight enough; the crooked one is so bent it forms a sort of rainshed over part of the alley. As with these, the windows are all true.

Supposedly this was a poorhouse, and during the plague people blamed the poor (as Americans blamed Africans and gays for the AIDS epidemic, in its early days). So, the good people of York did the only sensible thing: they forced all the indigents into this poorhouse, and bricked it shut.

When it was finally opened, there was obvious evidence of cannibalism. Can't really blame those poor souls.

But, as others have noted, the green wood explanation makes no sense. Essentially all carpentry of the day was done with green wood - in fact, prior to water-powered sawmills, the typical "sawmill" was constructed in the forest, reducing the amount of material to be dragged out. I can't speak to the seasoning of timber used in house framing, though, but horizontal limbs just aren't likely to be large enough for house framing.

So what does cause this problem? The fact that the York house was a known poorhouse suggests it might have been built with inferior materials (assuming it was built to be a poorhouse).
posted by IAmBroom at 8:25 AM on March 30, 2015


Don't worry mate, mine bends a bit too.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 9:39 PM on March 31, 2015


The funny thing I noticed tonight is that my building from the outside has all sorts of straight lines, and inside there isn't a right angle to be found.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:16 PM on March 31, 2015


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