Donkey Green’s Cottage


Donkey Green’s Cottage is a building that began as a small cottage but has since more than tripled in the area of its ground plan. The original cottage is well set back from and at a right-angle to Long Acre East. The earliest part is only 8.4m (27ft) long, and averages in width about 4.15m (about 13½ft), a ratio of 2:1. A detached brick shed by the lane, now used as a garage, was probably a cart shed or store. The cottage was captured in a photograph taken before 1900 (Plate 16), which shows a small service addition at its north end and a hand-pump not dissimilar to the listed one at no 21 Long Acre, but neither now remain. It is still known as Donkey Green’s Cottage after Robert Green who is shown to the left of the photograph on a cart pulled by a donkey. The building was sold by the Crown Commission to a Leonard Saxon Braithwaite in 1931 and today it is owned by Ann Hancock (see house histories page). In recent times the cottage has received considerable modernisation and has been extended northwards with a range of rooms and a west wing, all of one-storey construction. The only upper room is in the roof-space of the original cottage.

The photograph shows a thatched cottage with an east frontage that can still be identified today. Timbers can be discerned in the walling, there are three ground-floor windows and possibly a higher one showing, and a woman stands in the doorway close to the corner of the cottage. The now removed addition was brick-built and had a thatched covering in poor condition, with odd tiles patching holes in it. The far south end gable shows as a jagged outline of bricks, their angle of pitch slightly steeper than the present pantiled roof (set at 50º), and the north end of the roof appears to show a stack, since removed.

The south frontage today has an irregular collection of vertical and horizontal timbers showing and bricks that vary in size. Below the window sills the bricks tend to be 2½ ins (63mm) thick and 9¼ ins (235mm) long, but higher up they are slightly bigger at nearer to 2¾ ins (70mm) and 9½ ins (241mm) respectively. The coursing is a variation of Flemish stretcher bond, with instead of having a standard Flemish course (alternating headers and stretchers) and then 1-3 stretcher courses, here the Flemish courses run as 2-3 headers together and then 2 stretchers. The west face has similar brickwork, several modern windows (one a bow) and an infilled one towards the south end. There is only a single horizontal timber showing. The south gable-end has been rebuilt with a more modern brick (27/8ins; 73mm thick) and this shows as a scar near the end of the east wall. It was not possible to determine whether the same had happened to the north gable-end.

On the east frontage there are several casement windows, the one nearest the south end an enlargement of what was there before (see Plate 16). Towards the north end of the original building there are two straight joints that indicate a former doorway, 85cm (33ins) wide. The brick infill is similar to those in the south gable end, and there are timbers which may be what remains of a door-jamb, a lintel and possibly the bottom rail of an upper opening. Behind the infill there is the cross-beam and its vertical support post which implies that the door opening was fairly constricted, to a width of about 55cm (22ins). This part of the walling also displays a significant bulge or angle change in plan (Fig. 9), which suggests movement and perhaps explains why both the doorway was filled in and then later the walling to the right was rebuilt when the building was being extended. A turn in the wall, although now consisting of modern brick, marks the position of the original cottage’s north-east corner. Beyond here there is a range of single-storey rooms extending for another 14m to the north, and with a wing extending 6m to the west. In keeping with the original cottage these parts are whitewashed and have pantiles on the roofs. There is an enclosed garden on the west side.

Internally, the original part of the cottage is now used as sleeping quarters with bedrooms at ground-floor and attic level, the latter reached by stairs in a dressing room (Room 2). The original north end-wall of the cottage has been removed at ground-floor level and a steel beam probably now supports the remaining upper part of the wall. Non-structural half-brick thick walls now divide three rooms (Rooms 1-3) from a passage and a hall, and enclose a kitchen and shower-room (Rooms 5, 6). The attic area still has a small window at the north end and the south wall has an infilled window and open brickwork suggestive of former chimney-flues. Apart from these and surviving internal timbers and the position of windows there is little remaining of the cottage’s pre-20th century internal layout or fittings.

Development of the building

There are enough timbers surviving both on the outside and the inner face of the east elevation to show that this building was originally timber-framed with probable mud infill, and that it had a steep thatched roof. Its original form is not dissimilar in appearance to that showing in the photograph from just before 1900 (Plate 16). Most of the timbers are still in their original positions. Three internal timbers were sampled for dendrochronology but only one (sample 2, Fig 9) could be dated, to somewhere in the 1570s or 1580s. The timber in question (in the foreground of Plate 14) is a vertical support for the cross-beam still attached to it. Whilst it not inconceivable that the cottage dates from then, proof cannot be carried on one sample alone; the timber may conceivably have been reused from another building.

The brickwork in the south gable wall (2 7/8 ins; 73mm thick) is later than the side walling (its scar is shown in Fig. 10), and this might suggest the earlier presence of a timber truss and possibly a cruck-frame that had to be replaced; if so, this would support an early date for the building. It was not possible to determine whether the brickwork at the north end was a similar replacement of earlier walling.

As with many timber-framed structures, the infilling was eventually replaced by brick, although parts of the original material may survive behind the bricks and explain the variations in the east wall’s thickness and undulating nature, which is especially pronounced near the south-east corner of Room 1. Two of the east windows are set in a central length of thinner walling only a half-brick thick where the original walling may have been removed en block below where new casement windows were inserted

The brickwork dates from somewhere in the 18th century, as indicated by the brick size mentioned in the description above. Most of the west wall was rebuilt or re-faced and only one timber remains on show; other may survive under the plaster on the inside faces. This wall is straight whilst the east wall has bowed. This kink shows inside too, on the left of the passageway in Plate 14. This view also shows horizontal wall timbers plates, one joining the cross-beam at the same level, and another just beneath the ceiling. These are in original positions – at joist level (other joist seatings show in the top of the cross-beam), and at wall-plate level, where the roof begins. The cross-beam, although it has been moved slightly is still at its original height, and the ceiling would have been about 2m (6½ft) above ground level, which is comparable to the floor heights in the other two buildings surveyed.

The cross-beam spanned the building rather than set axially as found in the other buildings surveyed. It has been moved slightly at its west end when a window was inserted. The second vertical timber in the passageway (Plate 14), a sizeable timber that still extends through to the outer face, may mark the position of a stud-wall and a north-south room division; it has mortices from adjoining partition timbers still showing (Plate 15). If so, the cottage would have had two rooms, the south one about 13½ft (4.1m) long and the other about 11½ft (3.5m) long, both with a width of about 12ft (3.65m). Today, the roof still starts from about the position of the earliest wall plates and the angle of the roof replicates that of the earlier structure. The building would have been 1½ storeys high, with an upper garret / loft, open to the roof and used principally for storage, or perhaps for sleeping. Today, this area, with its floor higher than previously and with probably less headroom, is used as a bedroom.

A cottage such as this may originally have had a single hearth. The end stacks, for which there is evidence of one at either end, may date from different periods. Plate 16 shows the outline of bricks at the south gable-end but no stack. This wall was probably replaced after 1900 as the bricks used are similar to those infilling the doorway where of the woman stands in the photograph. These are a standard 3 x 9ins (76 x 229mm) in size. More recent developments in the original building have included the heightening of the ceiling level (section in Fig. 10) with the insertion of a completely new upper floor, supported by 3ins (76mm) timbers, and a new room layout. The building has been extended in at least two phases – the first for Rooms 3 and 4, and secondly for Rooms 6 and 7, and the wing, Room 7. The first phase had occurred before 1964 when the extended property is shown on a sale plan, and the second phase is relatively recent as the brickwork is stretcher bond, indicative of breeze-block construction.


There is a strong possibility that this building dates from the late 16th century, although one tree-ring date alone is far from conclusive. Its brickwork is of 18th century date, which is a period when many older buildings were ‘improved.’ The building was subjected to further structural alterations in the 20th century, culminating in a major re-roofing and extension in recent times.

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