Construction Update

All of our houses are nearing completion, some are almost finished!

House 1 – we have laid the floor and made the hearth, also the furniture has been fitted and fires have been lit to test the smoke levels.

The freshly laid floor in House 1.

The freshly laid floor in House 1.

Houses 1 and 3 almost finished.

Houses 1 and 3 almost finished.

House 3 – we have finished thatching the roof, putting a straw cap compared to the rush on House 1. The floor has been laid and a hearth created along with all of the plank built furniture installed. Fires have also been lit to check smoke levels. This building has a completely different feel to House 1.

Interior of House 3.

Interior of House 3.

House 5 – this is the smallest building of the five, the evidence for which shows no stakeholes around the floor. Our rationale for building this structure is explained below. This House has been thatched in the same style as House 3 and we have also added a doorway made from woven hazel and which has then been daubed.

House 5 thatched with the wattle and daub doorway.

House 5 thatched with the wattle and daub doorway.

We are continuing with House 4, the daub has been completed and we are very close to finishing the thatching.

The thatch is nearly finished.

The thatch is nearly finished.

House 2 is currently being daubed and the roof is being thatched at the same time. The thatch is being ‘dressed’ back to look more like a you would expect a thatched building to look like.

A more traditional style of thatch on House 2.

A more traditional style of thatch on House 2.

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One thatched roof finished.

Over the last two weeks there has been some amazing progress on the houses.

The progress so far.

The progress so far.

We have completed the knotted straw thatch on House 1 complete with a rush capping on the ridge. This effectively holds down all of the knots preventing them from being lifted by the wind.

House 1 with it's completed thatched roof.

House 1 with it’s completed thatched roof.

We have also finished daubing the walls on House 3. This has had the effect of making it feel like a finished building – even though the thatch hasn’t yet reached the top!

The completed daub walls on House 3.

The completed daub walls on House 3.

Both House 2 and House 4 have started to be thatched. These will be thatched in the same way as method 3 in our post about thatching here.

The thatch has been started on Houses 2 and 4.

The thatch has been started on Houses 2 and 4.

More Houses being thatched.

The focus of the next few weeks will be on getting the roofs thatched on the buildings. We will be staggering the start of the thatching on each roof by one week.

Two buildings at different stages of thatching.

Two buildings at different stages of thatching.

The latest roof to be started is House 3 which will have it’s thatch applied in a more traditional method. The bundles of thatch are sandwiched between a sway on the outside and the main roof structure on the inside. The sways are kept in place by being tied on with willow, finished with a ‘rose knot’. We have managed to complete two layers in the first week.

A second layer of thatch being added, held on by hazel sways.

A second layer of thatch being added, held on by hazel sways.

A rose knot tied inside of House 3.

A rose knot tied inside of House 3.

We have also continued with the thatching on House 1, with it progressing nicely towards the top. The inside of this roof is looking very interesting with ears of the wheat visible.

The progress on House 1.

The progress on House 1.

The ears of the wheat visible on the inside of House 1.

The ears of the wheat visible on the inside of House 1.

A nice surprise this week was a stunning rainbow that appeared over the site!

A rainbow over the Houses.

A rainbow over the Houses.

Meet the team of Neolithic House Builders! Nick Beeton

nick beeton 

What made you want to get involved with the Neolithic Houses project?

A desire to learn something practical about how our ancestors lived and fitted into the local landscape and to attempt to replicate some of the skills necessary to survive in that period.

What are you enjoying about the project so far?

The comradeship of fellow travellers uniting to learn new skills and to put them into practice.

Is there any part of the project that you’re particularly looking forward to or that you are particularly interested in?

Having done the “dry run” at Old Sarum, it is fascinating seeing all our newly acquired skills coming together in the finished article. I find all aspects of the build intrinsically interesting.

In what ways has being involved in this project made you think differently about the people of Stonehenge and their lives?

How efficient and durable were their “temporary” domestic structures.  I am sure that they were erected in less time than we took (bearing in mind that our group of volunteers were perhaps at least double the age and perhaps not so physically able as the original builders). I also find it amazing that so much skill and experience could be transmitted from one generation to the next under what we would consider arduous (and brutish) conditions especially when at the same time they had to forage/hunt for food. The building of Stonehenge indicates a high level of organisation with the ability to generate the requisite amount of time required to plan and execute the original concept and for generations following to expand that into the final form we have today.

What do you do when you’re not building Neolithic houses?

Being one of the many retired OAP’s I do nothing else – except being a Salisbury Cathedral Tower Tour Guide (since it was built…), play badminton, engage in other local activities, sail our sloop (tide and wind permitting), travel through France for up to six weeks a year (in search of ancient ruins and wines), very amateur local historian, keen visitor of historic sites that were once in the care of the Ministry of Public Buildings & Works (but are now split up into EH, CADW and Historic Scotland amongst others), etymology -with a keen interest in place names in England especially those indicating the routes taken by successive economic/social/military incursions throughout our history,  making and playing music of most persuasions (fumbling bass player of various stringed instruments ), film maker extraordinaire, keeper of useless facts and figures.

 What would you say to people who are tempted to volunteer at Stonehenge?

With my recent experience dress up warmly with waterproof clothing!  Stonehenge is a unique structure which is gradually unveiling more of it’s past so therefore it’s story is continuously unfolding.  It has a wealth of information already in the public domain, and it requires people with the skills and enthusiasm to convey this information in a simple and easily digestible form for the general public.  I do not believe in “experts” (disassembling the word gives you a has-been and a drip…) Simply put, an unlettered person with a love of the subject who can convey this effectively to a general audience is the ideal person.  Having said that, there are also many other aspects of the whole visitor experience where a volunteer does not come into direct contact with the general public, but whose worth is as valued.

Additional Volunteering Opportunities

If you are interested in beoming a Stonehenge Neolithic House Interpretation Volunteer, you can find out more on the English Heritage website. As a Neolithic House Interpretation Volunteer you will be responsible for maintaining the Neolithic houses once they are built (which weather permitting will be by the end of April), by lighting fires and assisting with the building maintenance.  You will bring the stories of the Neolithic people to life in our external galleries and provide a warm and friendly welcome for all visitors, helping us to deliver a world class visitor experience.

Thatching!

We have had a very productive two weeks since our last post. We have finished weaving the roofs on three of our buildings, with all of the eaves put in and the binding weave attached. We have also made good progress with the weaving of the roof on the fourth building.

All of the main buildings are taking shape.

All of the main buildings are taking shape.

The thatch in the sunshine.

The thatch in the sunshine.

Thatching has begun on building 1 using the wheat straw thatch that the volunteers have spent so long knotting. We are expecting this to take a few weeks to complete.

Carefully placing the knotted thatch into the roof weave.

Carefully placing the knotted thatch into the roof weave.

The buildings are being taken down.

Demolition starts today!

After several weeks of the public enjoying the reconstructed buildings, the time has finally come to demolish them.

Building 851 before the demolition starts.

Building 851 before the demolition starts.

We started today by removing the furniture from inside building 851. Once this was completed we moved on to stripping the thatch off of the roof, this was much easier to take off than it was to put on! By the end of the day we had a completely cleared the roof of thatch.

Building 851 with the thatch removed.

Building 851 with the thatch removed.

Building 547

With the end of this phase of the project in sight, and the buildings almost finished, we thought it would be a good idea to dedicate the next few days blogs to each building.

Building 547

The north-west corner of the building.

The north-west corner of the building.

This building has been used to test a lot of our construction theories. A different method was employed in each quarter of the building. Two sections of wall were woven with a diagonal weave and two were woven horizontally.

The doorway in the south wall. Two different weaving styles can be seen.

The doorway in the south wall. Two different weaving styles can be seen.

The roof was also divided into sections which allowed us to experiment with rafter placement, ways of attaching the ringbeams and different thatching materials.

the different thatching methods that we tried.

the different thatching methods that we tried.

We also used this building to test our daub material before we used it on building 851.

The chalk daub test section.

The chalk daub test section.

One floor is finished

After a day of grading, crushing and mixing chalk we have now finished laying the floor in building 851. We were quite amazed at the quantity of chalk that was needed in the floor.

Keith and Gareth mark out the hearth.

Keith and Gareth mark out the hearth. Photo by Briony Clifton

The finished floor complete with hearth.

The finished floor complete with hearth. Photo by Briony Clifton.

We also completed another section of thatch on the roof of building 848 today, this section also uses wheat straw but the method used is similar to that used yesterday on building 547.

Bob finishes another thatched section of building 848.

Bob finishes another thatched section of building 848.

Starting on the floor

Another section of roof has been finished. The water reed thatching on one of the roof sections building 547 was completed today and now has a neat stepped finish.

Janey and Guy tie on a sway on building 547.

Janey and Guy tie on a sway on building 547.

With the roof now complete we started to prepare the ground for the chalk floor in building 851. Our buildings are situated on a sloping site and so the first job today was to remove some of the turf from the upslope section. A layer of dry chalk was tamped into place to create a level surface then a wet mix of chalk is being laid on top, the smoothing of this with our hands is producing some lovely squelchy noises!

The dry chalk tamped into place.

The dry chalk tamped into place.

The chalk floor being laid in building 851.

The chalk floor being laid in building 851.

A finished ridge

We have completed the ridge on building 851 today!

The sways were put in place over the folded rush and secured through with willow ties. We have also trimmed the ends of the wheat straw that were projecting out from under the rush.

Luke trimming the wheat straw at the ridge.

Luke trimming the wheat straw at the ridge.

On building 848 we have finished two sections of thatching. One of the completed sections involves using grass to cover the roof structure, the other section is thatched using wheat straw.

Another two different thatching methods on building 848.

Another two different thatching methods on building 848.