Building Wooden Houses

Before the Fire of London, in AD 1666, almost all the houses were built in timber and thatch. Trees were grown to about 200 mm (8 inches) diameter, felled and squared with an adze. This gave posts about 150 mm (6 inches) square and usually about 2-2'/2 metres long (6'/a-8 feet). Bigger trees could have been grown, but this took a long time, so most trees were cut as soon as they were useable.

The length controlled the height of the ceilings in the houses and also the shape of the buildings. If two timbers were placed end to end, the joint where they met became permanently damp from the rain, so rot set in. Therefore upper storeys were jettied out beyond the lower ones so that rain could drip off. This and the thatched roof made it easy for a fire to spread. Wooden cities all over the world have had devastating fires. After the Fire of London, new Building Regulations were imposed and they, repeatedly updated, have governed London building ever since.

The Rules

  • All houses were to be in brick or stone.
  • No wooden eaves were allowed to project beyond the walls.
  • Roofs were pushed back behind brick parapets.
  • Wooden window frames were reduced in size and later, were recessed behind brick
  • Thatch was forbidden.
  • Party walls between houses had to be thick enough to withstand two hours of fire, to give the neighbours a chance of extinguishing the blaze.

With these new London Building Relations the face of London was changed for ever.

We hoped to obtain a large oak beam but could never afford the transport to the Garden. It is described below as an idea which someone else may be able to achieve.

The huge oak beam in the Geological Garden was removed when a house in Essex Road. at the corner of Dagmar Terrace, was restored. The original house had been built in the early 18th century and it was a re-used beam then. The new house was in brick, with a parapet wall to conform to the new building regulations, but its main floor and roof joists were from an old wooden building. Char beam may have come from some old demolished house in the City of London when wooden houses were banned. It is a very old piece of wood indeed. It could have watched Dick Whittington ride by.

A similar beam in the roof of the restored building has been left exposed in the top floor of the restored building.


Medieval craftsmen cutting and preparing timber. From the Bayeux tapestry

 

Houses before and after the Fire. of London, AD 1666

Before the Fire of London, in AD 1666, almost all the houses were built of timber and thatch. Trees were grown to about 200mm (8 inches) diameter, felled and squared with an adze. This gave posts about 150mrn (6 inches) square and usually about 2-2.5 metres long (6.5-8 feet). Bigger trees could have been grown, but this took a long time, so most trees were cut as soon as they were useable. The length of the trunk controlled the height of the house storeys and also the shape of the buildings.
If two timbers were placed end to end, the joint where they met became permanently damp from the rain and then rot set in. Therefore upper storeys jettied out beyond the lower ones so that rain could drip off. This and the thatched roof, made it easy for a fire to spread. Cities were enclosed by city walls, so space was limited and streets were narrow. The jettied houses were so close together that people coud shake hands across the street from the upper floors. The streets became narrow wooden tunnels and fire could spread rapidly from one street to the next. Wooden cities all over the world have had devastating fires.

The Result of the Fire

A pre 1666 wooden house
with a jetty


A post 1666 brick house with the
roof behind a parapet
Pages 32-33

Pages 36-37