The Building Conservation Directory 2020

48 T H E B U I L D I N G C O N S E R VAT I O N D I R E C T O R Y 2 0 2 0 C AT H E D R A L C O MM U N I C AT I O N S 19th CENTURY TIMBER FRAME REVIVAL BUILDINGS TIM NICHOLSON A RCHITECTURAL WRITERS have used various terms to describe the proliferation of late 19th and early 20th century buildings often referred to as ‘half timbered’ but few give these buildings more than a cursory mention. Sometimes considered as 19th century architectural imposters, these products of the Arts & Crafts movement differ significantly from the timber framed buildings typical of the 16th and 17th centuries in construction and material, yet anyone involved in the care of these buildings will find little published material to help them understand these differences. DEVELOPMENT Timber frame or ‘half-timber’ revivalism superseded the high Victorian style of architecture typically characterised by the Gothic Revivalism of the mid-19th century. By the 1860s half-timbered buildings were becoming common, although elements of Gothic are often included in the architectural composition. Some of the best examples of timber frame revivalism can be found in Chester. Its much-photographed city centre is largely the result of a small number of 19th century architects including John Douglas and Thomas Lockwood who used ‘half timbering’ to produce the iconic streetscape that can be seen today. Many of these buildings rub shoulders with earlier timber frame buildings and the casual observer can be forgiven for mistaking the Victorian picturesque style for something much older. Urban post-medieval timber frame buildings were often given a 19th century makeover to match the newer surrounding half-timber building, although the earlier origins of the building are normally apparent from an internal inspection. Many of these buildings are very high quality in their design and execution and despite some early criticism from architectural commentators, many now receive statutory protection. While there are certainly similarities between these buildings and the earlier timber frames, a number of differences are not necessarily apparent from a purely visual assessment. Early post-medieval timber buildings are the result of a constructional expedient rather than any deliberate design intent. Timber was abundant at that time and usually available locally, and despite carpentry skills being well established, embellishment of the frame was mostly reserved for the very highest status buildings. This position contrasts noticeably with the 19th-century timber frame buildings where decoration of the exposed timber is often profuse, even on fairly modest buildings. By the 19th century, the old building traditions had mostly been replaced and architects were routinely being used to design everything from country houses, pubs, farms and schools, many of these using elements of timber framing. Stylistically, the framing conforms to the close stud or box frame patterns and the two are often blended within the same building, sometimes incorporating elaborate carved details. It is only when the original architect’s drawings are inspected or where a building is opened up for alteration or repair that the constructional differences between these buildings and the earlier timber frames become apparent. Unlike the earlier timber frames, 19th- century timber framing is often confined to a single elevation, typically a prominent gable. Significantly the timber frame is usually only partly structural, with elements of the framing providing little or no support or bracing. Architects were fond of incorporating the more technically challenging and visually A black and white timber frame gable in Port Sunlight, typical of late 19th and early 20th century construction, with rough cast render panels on a brick backing (All photos: Tim Nicholson) Working drawings made in 1906 for housing in Port Sunlight (Reproduced by kind permission of Unilever Archives and Records Management)