Iron Age Roundhouse

Roundhouses in the forestUntil the railways and fast road transport brought mass production and homogeneity to the materials we use to build our homes, most people lived in houses that were constructed from local materials lying readily to hand. Thus log cabins and timber frame buildings sprung up in forested areas, stone constructions where only stone was available, earthen structures in clay-rich areas and so on.

A tour of the UK reveals a vast range of historic vernacular architecture that changes from area to area according to the terrain, the underlying geology, the climate and the locally available materials. We admire the quaint ‘olde world’ villages that seem to have grown from the landscape in which they are located – although, of course, we tend to prefer the comforts of living that standardised materials and components have brought to modern buildings. But as we think about re-localising our lives, there is still much of value to be learnt from the organic materials, the technical knowledge and the building skills that went into these old structures.

In 2003, I was commissioned to research and draw up plans for a roundhouse reconstruction in Galloway, Scotland. This was to be used as an unusual venue for overnight stays at an outdoor education centre, providing an experience of how our distant ancestors lived close to nature. The construction had to meet 21st century planning and fire regulations so the final roundhouse had a second entry/exit that would not have existed in the Iron Age original.

Steve and me testing rafter anglesUpright posts were of oak embedded into postholes in the ground. Rafters were of larch encircled by hazel wands to support the thatch roof covering. The hazel purlins were lashed to the rafters using tar impregnated hemp twine. Walls were of hazel wattle and clay daub, limewashed on the interior to maximise the light. Construction was commenced by Steve Chaplin and myself assisted by volunteers and, as I was then moving away from Scotland, completed by Steve with thatching by Jem Cox.

The finished roundhouse provided cosy accommodation for groups of up to twelve. With the exception of the thatch, all the building materials were sourced from the local area from thinnings and coppice timber. Clay for the daub came from a disused local brick-clay pit. A simple shower and composting toilets were erected nearby in the forest.

 

Sadly a couple of years ago the fire burning in the central hearth was stacked too high and left unattended by a visiting group – and flaring sparks set the thatch alight. The roundhouse is no more! And the fire exit wasn’t even tested. Despite a large reservoir dug adjacent to the site as a fire precaution, it was too late to save the thatch but the oak frame survived and it is intended to rebuild.

(Roundhouse Links follow Gallery Pictures at the bottom of the page)

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GALLERY:

Rebated joints fixed with oak pegs

Rebated joints fixed with oak pegs

Me trimming uprights while Steve guides their fall!

Me trimming uprights while Steve guides their fall

Fixing first rafters

Fixing first rafters

Pond dug for water supply in case of fire!

Pond dug for water supply in case of fire!

Wattle walls, larch rafters and hazel purlins lashed with tarred twine

Wattle walls, larch rafters and hazel purlins lashed with tarred twine

Interior walls daubed and limewashed

Interior walls daubed and limewashed

Completed roundhouse with surrounding berm

Completed roundhouse with surrounding berm

 

LINKS:

Roundhouse Construction and Research

Butser Ancient Farm – http://www.butser.org.uk/

Castell Henlyss – http://www.castellhenllys.com/

Tony Wrench – http://www.thatroundhouse.info/

The Scottish Crannog Centre – http://www.crannog.co.uk/

 

Living in a Roundhouse or Timber Eco-Build

 Ben Law – http://www.ben-law.co.uk/

Judy of the Woods – http://www.judyofthewoods.net/

 

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