33 High Street: 1300-1499

This building starts out as a magnificent open hall of two-storey height, using large structural timbers with decorative carving which would have been intentionally visible to show the high status of the owners, constructed in the spring of 1340 using oak timbers from trees felled in the autumn of 1339.  At 23 feet or 7 metres in width (south to north), it is impressive structurally (other buildings of this width require intermediate structural support), with a length of over 25 feet or 7.6 metres (west to east).  It is acknowledged as a striking example of high-quality mediaeval carpentry.

There were other parts of this building complex  on either side of the hall, to the west and east:  a service range to the east, of two storeys with probably two rooms on the ground floor and one or two chambers above, now No. 35; and possibly an early 'solar' range to the west which may have been replaced by the current two-storey solar cross-range, now No. 31, dated on stylistic grounds to around 1400.

No 33, the hall, was two bays in length (west to east), with a central 'open' (unfilled) truss between 'closed' (filled in) trusses at the west and east ends.  The vertical wall posts of each truss would have rested on a horizontal sill or sole beam.  The floor could have been of beaten earth covered in rushes which were changed regularly, or, more likely in this high status building, ceramic floor tiles as these were being produced in Worcester at that time.

This is a photograph of the central truss showing the cusped principal rafter to the right (south side) and cusped struts in the centre above the horizontal tie beam, and the arched brace below the tie beam going downwards.  (The thinner timbers and infill were added later in the 16th century when a first floor was created with spaces partitioned to form individual rooms.)

The structural timbers of the hall's central truss - vertical wall posts, curved or arched braces from wall posts to tie beam, horizontal tie beam - and the horizontal wall plates at the top of each wall were chamfered (trimmed off at an angle of 45 degrees) on their inner or lower edges and then further carved, which would have unified their appearance and added to the impression of an arch within the central truss.  All the timbers used were massive, giving the building immense strength structurally, which is why it has survived much alteration but still stands today. 

This is a drawing of a post truss like the central truss in 33 High Street with a red outline to show what remains in the building today at first floor level (see photograph above), and a green outline to show where the arched brace branches out from the north wall post at ground floor level (see photograph below).

This open hall would almost certainly have had a hearth placed centrally (west to east) in one of the bays, probably the west bay, and the smoke from the fire would, in theory, have exited the building via a louvre or covered gap in the top of the roof - chimneys were rarely found in domestic buildings at this time.  In practice, over time all the timbers would have become blackened with the smoke, but any evidence of this was removed in recent years by a previous 'restoration'.  The roof could have been covered with thatch, or with tiles, as roof tiles were being made in Worcester at this time. 

The arched braces of the central truss survive in the building.  The north arched brace survives completely and its starting point on the north wall post appears in the photograph.  This also shows the chamfering, decorative carving on this timber, which extends to the tie beam and the wall plates, integrating all the timbers in appearance.  The wall post and lower part of the arched brace are visible in the shop at ground floor level.

Above the horizontal tie-beam of the central truss, the principal rafters and internal struts were cusped on their lateral (sideways) faces (otherwise called scalloping) which added to the decorative effect.  The struts would have gone up to another horizontal 'collar' beam which joined the principal rafters at a higher point, and gave additional structural strength to the roof part of the truss.  The pitch of the original roof appears to have been approximately 51 degrees up from the horizontal, giving the steeper slope characteristic of mediaeval buildings.

This is a photograph showing the north wall plate, the beam at the top of the north wall of the timber frame of the original building, which in the photograph is the horizontal timber above the opening to the stairs and extending to the right beyond the other doorway visible.  This is the timber which when sampled for dendrochronogical analysis (tree-ring dating) gave the date of 1339 for the felling of the oak tree from which it was cut.  As the other surviving main structural timbers of the building are (or were) all jointed to this wall plate and have the same decoration (chamfering and moulding), the conclusion is that they all date from the same time, making this the oldest domestic building in Droitwich.

The entrance door to the hall from the street frontage (on the south) was most likely at the east end of the hall, and there is evidence for another door opposite on the rear (north) side.  This suggests there may have been a passageway between the two, with an internal screen on its west side to cut down on drafts going into the rest of the hall; the screen would have had one or two door openings into the rest of the hall.  Such a 'screens passage' is often found or evidenced in open hall buildings of this time.  A partition wall is present in the building today in the eastern end, extending from the north wall southwards for a short distance, and this may be a survival or partial replacement of the supposed original 'screen'.  Some evidence exists also for a window on the north wall of the eastern bay of the hall (the only part of the original wall framing to survive), and there would have been other windows on both north and south sides to give light to the interior. 

The open hall would have been the main 'reception' space of this building complex, designed to impress visitors by displaying the wealth and status of the owners, and this was also where the family, visitors and servants lived, ate, and possibly in some cases slept.  The solar cross range to the west (No 31 now) provided private [alone = 'sole', hence solar] accommodation at first floor level for the family, both living and sleeping space and very likely a private chapel, with the ground floor used as retail space fronting the street and probably storage in the rooms behind.  This part of the complex included on its east side a 'through passage' from the street (south) frontage to the north side of the building.  From the open hall (No 33) there must have been at least one door into the solar range (No 31); the 'through passage' in the solar cross-range suggests there was a door at ground floor level between the two.  Similarly, there would have been one (or more) doorways from the 'screens passage' in the open hall (No 33) into the service range (No 35) at ground floor level. Both the solar cross-range (No 31) and the service range (No 35) would have had a stair or ladder from their ground floors to their first floors.

Like many mediaeval building complexes, it is quite likely that a detached kitchen was situated at the rear as, given that most cooking was done on an open fire, this reduced the risk of fire damage to the main buildings.