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By the time of the medieval period in Hackney there were several large settlements of wooden houses, mainly around streams. Villages often sprang up around a stream or a manor or farmhouse, or along a popular road, and the church would be the centre of the village. Hackney village, the largest of these settlements was built around Hackney Brook and by 1275 had its own church, St Augustine's, and there were several manor houses in the area.

Being rural settlements these houses would have been built using the cheapest and most abundant local material. In the case of Hackney, still a wooded area, this was oak. Wooden houses would have prevailed for the whole of the medieval era as wood was quicker to work with plus stone was not locally available. The use of oak meant that frames were much lighter than the dark timber we are used to seeing on timber framed houses. In the later medieval period an upper floor may have been added.

The timber frame was filled in with wattle and daub. As well as the timber being lighter than we are accustomed to the wattle would not have been white either. The lack of any chalk or lime in Hackney would have meant that the daub was the colour of the clay or brickearth used to make it, so a grey or dark ochre colour respectively.

It was house size, not design that varied according to class, except for the very well-to-do. Houses consisted of one or two rooms per floor, the front door opened into the main room, or ‘hall’, in the centre of which was a hearth. Even when advances in building technology made fireplaces and chimneys possible the hearth prevailed well into the fifteenth century as the central focal point of this communal lifestyle. This made the hall very smoky with the only ventilation coming from small windows. Roofs were thatch, or later shingle (wooden roof tiles). Floors were mud or clay, perhaps strewn with hay or rushes.

Medieval home
Timber and thatch single storey Medieval dwelling. Click to see an interactive version.

Medieval interior
Interior of rural Medieval home. Click on the image to view a larger version and the artefact within it. © The Building Exploratory.

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