Catherine, an Abberley resident who has kindly given permission to have her house surveyed by Duncan James the building chronologist working on the Medieval Abberley Revealed project, gives an account of the experience below:
Is it a priest hole? I queried, heart thumping ever so slightly. The reply was less than gratifying – Mmmm, looking at its position, he said, it may well have been a lavatory. They say pride comes before a fall and I then had to recall all the times I had announced to people that I had a priest hole in the house. But, of course, hope springs eternal and it wasn’t long before I was imagining all sorts of other romantic histories for The Old Village Stores.
Thus was my introduction to that wonderful world where looking at a piece of timber could unlock the mysteries of the past and what had appeared to my eyes to be indecipherable notches and scratchings were, in fact, the language of builders who, even to this day make their mark on walls and boards. And who knew that the direction of a saw’s blade could offer up such a wealth of knowledge as to the time and date of construction.
Indeed, we have entered a world where words such as truss and plinth, Flemish bond, ogee curve, ovolo moulded finial, trenched purlin and chamfer and stop pepper the conversation leaving the uninitiated with a perpetual look of puzzlement on their faces. Or, as in my case, a slightly stupefied grin.
Understanding this arcane language and translating it is the province of Duncan James who is, expertly, making his way around the village, looking at buildings and presenting a picture of what once was. His talk, the other night at the village hall, was filled with many insights into how various buildings might have looked using a marvellously clever device that filled in what the imagination couldn’t conceive. And what clues there are for we amateur sleuths to solve.
We have a wealth of wonderful structures in Abberley holding fast to their secrets but not for much longer. Hunters of history unite.