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BINGHAM’S OLDEST HOUSES

BHTA commissioned Trent & Peak Archaeological Unit to carry out a survey of three of the oldest houses in Bingham. Richard Sheppard carried out the surveys. Robert Howard of the Nottingham Tree-ring Dating Laboratory inspected the buildings to see whether they might be dated through dendrochronology. BHTA is grateful to the owners of the houses for allowing this intrusion into their homes and for permission to publish the reports on them.

There are several candidates for the title “oldest house in Bingham”. Among them are Beauvale House, The Manor House and number 19 in Market Place, and the Post Office House in Long Acre. Research on these has not yet been started. The three chosen for this survey are 21 Long Acre, 61-63 Long Acre and 23 Long Acre East.

Despite a spread of modern housing around its flanks, at its centre Bingham retains its original medieval rectilinear street pattern with the most important streets running east-west. One of these is Long Acre (formerly known as Husbandman Street) and still the principal east-west route through the town. At its east end its alignment continues as Long Acre East, now just an access road for local inhabitants. This former lane once continued through the deserted medieval village in Crow Close ending roughly where Carnarvon Primary School now is. The three properties examined for this report lie along this general route-way and both the present and earlier names for the road reflect the largely agricultural background of the area through which it passed.

There are no detailed maps of Bingham that survive from before the tithe map of 1840. A survey carried out in 1586 for Sir Brian Stapleton, the then Lord of the Manor, showed that the annual rentage then due to him was £95-14s-7½d. Ownership then passed to the Stanhope family (Earls of Chesterfield) who owned Bingham until 1871. It then passed to the Earl of Carnarvon and eventually the Crown in 1925. The latter still owns some of the property in the town, including one of the buildings covered by the survey (Craddock 1980). Open field agriculture had ended by 1684 and many small privately-run tenanted farms had become established. Wills and inventories surviving from the 17th-18th centuries show that most Bingham people with property were involved in agriculture. The Hearth Tax returns of 1674 listed 117 households, and with an estimated population of 500-550 based on an average figure of 4.5 persons per household, Bingham was bigger than most other villages to the east of Nottingham, including Radcliffe-on-Trent and Cotgrave, although not necessarily any wealthier.

Dating the Bingham buildings

The problem of dating is fundamental to building archaeology. The late Maurice Barley pointed out that buildings like those in Bingham are very rarely documented or have any inscribed evidence or dateable fittings or mouldings, and as a result are usually impossible to date to within less than 50 years (1986, 243). This highlights the continuing importance of dendrochronology where oak timbers survive and are of suitable age when felled. This can often provide major surprises: both 40-44 Castle Gate and 40-44 Cartergate in Newark were thought to be late 16th – mid 17th century on stylistic grounds but were found to be of mid-14th century origin when tree-ring dated (Arnold et al 2002, 58, 90). Tree-ring dating has provided one clear and precise date for 61-63 Long Acre and a possible date-range for the cottage. Otherwise, it is a consideration of other factors in an archaeological approach that has to be employed here to date the remaining building (21 Long Acre) and the alterations to the others.

Bricks are difficult to date, as their size could vary from place to place. Early 17th century bricks used in the general area around Bingham were generally no more than 2-2¼ins (50-57mm) in thickness and local tendencies suggest that bricks that were 2 3/8 ins (60mm) in thickness are uncommon in the 17th century. Bricks in Bingham may show a tendency to be both thicker and longer than elsewhere, possibly due to local production methods and the continued use of similar moulds in brick kilns. This continuation is evident at no. 21 Long Acre as it occurs in the upper walling rebuild mentioned above, in the addition in the north-west corner and the building added on to the south end (the latter two with English garden bond coursing). A brick of similar dimension was also used in a barn built after 1776 at Cooper’s Cottage in Bingham. Further study of older buildings in Bingham may establish how widespread this brick size was and its longevity.

The bricks used in the three buildings surveyed are of the following dimensions:

• 61-63 Long Acre: 2 3/8 ins (60mm) thick and just under 9ins (229mm) long. Random coursing with some multiple headers. The later wing has bricks about 2½ins (57mm) thick and 9½ ins (241mm) long, set in Flemish bond.
• 21 Long Acre: between 2¼ - 2 3/8 ins (57-60mm) thick and about 9½ ins (241mm) long. Random coursing with indications of a Flemish garden wall bond (e.g. Monk bond: two stretchers to each header, per course). Similar sized brick used in later phases of building. Thicker brick in Flemish stretcher bond in upper part of Room 7.
• 23 Long Acre East: 2½ ins (63mm) thick and 9¼ ins (235mm) long, but higher up walling bricks are nearer to 2¾ ins (70mm) and 9½ (241mm) respectively. Variation of Flemish stretcher bond, with alternating 2-3 headers and 2 stretchers in one course, and then 1-3 stretcher courses.

Summaries of the findings of this survey are given below, but the full details for each house can be had by clicking onto the address. If you want to read a short comment on housing in the 14th to 18th centuries in the East Midlands click here.

21 Long Acre is a two-storey house at the north end of a range of adjoining brick-built buildings, which together are Grade II listed. The house is of L-shape plan, with a row of three ground-floor rooms of differing sizes and a short east wing featuring a basement-cellar and an upper room; there is also a later single-storey room attached at the north-west corner. The brick walls of the main row sit on a part stone - part brick plinth, and straight joints attest to various changes to the upper part of the building. Internally, there are timber beams, back-to-back fireplaces and plank doors that indicate a building of some age. Unfortunately, the building’s timbers consisted mainly of softwood or young oak and were unsuitable for tree-ring dating.

The building is something of a conundrum. There are indications of former timberwork in the walling and some internal timbers have clearly been moved from elsewhere. The presence of a plinth, a low floor level relative to outside the building and indications of an internal division reminiscent of late medieval influence – a communal ‘low’ end with a central hearth (here the back-to-back fireplaces) and open to the roof, and a partitioned-off ‘high’ end with an upper chamber, are perhaps suggestive of a 16th century origin. Otherwise, the brickwork, the L-shape plan, the internal layout and suggestions of symmetrical positioning of doors and window openings date the building to somewhere after 1650. The upper brickwork was altered, a floor was inserted or replaced and the building re-roofed in the 18th century. Straight joints, changes in the brick coursing and a dip in the roofline show that this was carried out in two separate phases. Apart from the replacing of its thatched roof with pantiles, the building has changed little since then.

61-63 Long Acre is an L-shaped two-storey building, which is Grade II listed. Its roadside frontage and gable-ends date from the late 19th century when it was refurbished to a vernacular revivalist design, probably on behalf of its then owner Lord Carnarvon. The building consists of three rooms of similar size and a larger room that was added to the north-east corner, forming a wing. Now divided into two residences, the building has been further extended in recent years. During an inspection by conservation officers to approve proposed improvements, the building was found to contain part of a cruck frame, an old building method where pairs of large timbers are joined together to form the apex of a roof.

The plan of the building conforms to that of most farmhouses built in the 17th century, with a large chimney-stack and back-to-back fireplaces set between two rooms, and a third room with an end fireplace, in this instance probably added later. The remaining part of the main range’s rear elevation not now obscured by later additions has early brickwork and some timbers showing. Dendrochronology has dated the main part of the building precisely to 1617. Whether the brickwork is original to that date or was added later, replacing earlier mud and stud infilling between timberwork, remains unresolved. Some of the internal wall-faces may be hiding parts of the original timber-framing beneath their plasterwork. The building was originally 1½ storeys high, with lofts or garrets beneath a steep thatched roof. The first-floor bedrooms date from the 19th century improvements. The rear part of the building was probably added in the 18th century, by which time farmhouses required more space for dairies, washrooms and for housing farm labourers.

23 Long Acre East is also known as Donkey Green’s Cottage after a late 19th century occupant who is recorded in an early photograph, with other family members, standing beside the building. This building is small, and originally consisted of two rooms and an upper loft beneath a thatched roof. It is typical of many small buildings built before 1750, most of which have since been lost or been altered beyond recognition. This cottage has a number of timbers showing in its east frontage, which now consists mainly of brickwork, and others remain within an inner passageway. The building has been fully modernised inside and other single-storey extensions have been added to its north end.

One of the internal timbers, a post supporting a remaining cross-beam, has been dated to somewhere between 1570 and 1590. Whilst this sample alone cannot convincingly date the building, the building is of a type that existed then. Although now called a cottage it could then have been used by a small farmer or tradesman. Probably originally built solely of timber studs and mud infill its main walling was refaced and in places fully replaced by brick in the 18th century. Later still, the south gable wall was rebuilt. The inside now has modern partition walling but timbers remain to indicate the position of the original room division, the floor level and a wall-plate shows where the roof started. Despite modernisation it retains its original form and something of its earlier character.

A recent history Donkey Green’s Cottage drawn up from documentary evidence is also available.


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