Beeston Bronze Age Structure: Construction Week 5

1st – 5th April 2019

Phase 1 Construction Week 5

This week, we return to late winter once more, with rain and cold.  

The tasks before us remain the shaping and fitting of the wall plates and purlins that form the horizontal elements of the main structure.  

Our two day delay from high winds is still with us, so we are due to finish Phase 1 building (the structural frame) by the end of Tuesday and then we can move on to Phase 3 (the roof frame) from Wednesday onward.

Creating and fitting the mortises, tenons, and half joints that make the interlocking framework of wall plates (a bit like a giant timber bicycle chain that sits on the post tops) is a technical process that can’t be rushed.  Each timber requires various shapes to be cut into it, and then to be matched with both of its adjoining timbers to ensure they act as a single unit. This involves an initial fitting at ground level to get the basic fit correct.  The aim is to them put them in place at the post tops, interlocking them as we go to form a chain.

The worst possible outcome at this stage is to undercut the joints – thus creating a situation where they don’t fit first time, have to be removed, re-cut, and fitted again, so we are taking time to try and ensure a “First Time Fit”.

Tuesday afternoon saw the first wall plates being lifted into position – most of them fitting beautifully.  It was great to see the volunteers work so well as a team to lift the timbers into place, and the obvious pride they felt (as do I!) at their achievements so far.  Wednesday saw the completion of the wall plates – the continuous and sinuous shapes of the circular timbers now mark the outline of the building and its scale and beauty are impressive!

The weather has certainly not helped us this week.  Cold and wet are not the best conditions to be attempting detailed joinery in large timbers, but despite this, the volunteers have soldiered on to produce good work.

The installation of the purlins (the horizontal timbers that link the three tall central posts) has been understandably delayed slightly as the height of the construction increases and the weather has deteriorated.

A drainage gully, filled with loose stone has been started on the quarry side of the structure, with a view to taking some of the rain water away from the eventual building interior.  

The square tenons have also been pegged using freshly made oak pegs.  These will not hold the building up, but simply prevent movement in the mortise and tenon joints.

Work has also begun on the construction of a more fitting gateway to the compound, with volunteers hewing oak posts and a lintel to form a frame.  The dead hedge that mostly surrounds the site can then be run up to the gateway and allow us to remove the slightly incongruous paling fence.

The week ended on a high with the completion of the main timber frame and the pegging of all the square tenons – and doesn’t it look fantastic!

Next time we begin the process of installing the 24 Ash rafters to form the basic roof shape!

Well done All!  


Beeston Bronze Age Structure: Construction Week 4

25th – 29th March 2019

Phase 1 Construction Week 4

We have a calm and dry week forecast for this construction week – which will be in contrast to the high winds and rain of last visit.

We are picking up where we left off with the erection of the final posts – and the preparation, shaping and installation of the wall plates that will link the post tops to form a strong support for the roof frame to sit on.

The placement of the first 8 wall posts last week raised a couple of issues that we will need to solve.  The first is the issue of materials versus archaeological evidence. We are unable in 2019, to understand precisely some of the construction decisions made by those Bronze Age builders, simply because we no longer have access to the specific timber that was available to them.  In consequence, we are faced with post holes that require very particular shapes of wood to join them together, and although we might understand what those specific pieces of timber would look like, and what dimensions they would have been, we do not have the luxury of hunting through the local forests to find them.  Such an issue faces us between Posts 8 and 9 (the proposed door location), where the span of the gap between posts would require a very particular shape of timber to maintain a doorway, span the posts, and keep the roof pitch at a feasible pitch. This is not available to us, and so I have looked again at the evidence to see if any solutions offer themselves to us.

As it happens, the evidence shows a posthole (F28) that sits at the very centre of this span – and would support two wall plates in exactly the right place – but which has a later infill.  The arguments surrounding the use of this post hole are many and endless, but at this stage, and given our constraints in material selection – imposed by our modern landscape – I am happy to go ahead and place F28 as a structural post.

We now face the challenge of selecting wall plates to span the gaps between posts, and to mortise and tenon them so them overlap each other,  fit well, and provide the correct support height for the rafters to achieve their pitch of around 45 degrees.

This work has been carried out with bronze tools in places, to test the time and effort required to produce accurate circular mortises in both Ash and Oak timbers.  Each mortise effectively cuts through one half of each log, allowing two timbers to overlap and the mortises to match. Measuring and marking out is critical at this stage to limit any errors to a minimum.  That said, even the most carefully measured joints will inevitably require adjustment once we begin to fit them into position. This is done approximately on the ground first, overlapping the timbers at somewhere near their correct angles and matching the mortise holes.

We have also solved a remaining issue with the post positioning.  The gap between posts 10 and 1 is wide (over 4 metres) and relies on the installation of a long and very bent wall plate to maintain the imaginary circular line of the walls.  Our available materials do not give us the freedom to achieve this, so we have to solve this problem in another way. My solution is to place a Prop at mid point between the posts, but on the imagined carving line of the walls that will maintain the roof pitch at around 45 degrees.  This prop will sit on a pad stone and be linked to posts 10 and 1 with two mortised wall plates. I suspect this issue is one of available materials, and at least our solution will not change the available archaeological evidence – in terms of post holes that weren’t there!

The sound of mauls hitting chisels, axes, bronze tools and wooden wedges fills the air as teams of volunteers split larch Larch logs in preparation for furniture and interior fittings, trim the tenon pegs to size on the post tops, cut deep circular mortises into our remaining wall plates, and hew the tricky half joints that will allow the wall plates to meet as pairs over each post.

Our aim is to prepare and match the wall plates on the ground first, and then to have a couple of lifting days when the building will lurch forward again in visible progress!


Beeston Bronze Age Structure: Construction Week 3

11th – 15th March 2019

Phase 1 Construction Week 3

Our false spring last visit has given way to far more seasonable weather this week.  High winds and heavy rain are forecast for the middle of the week.

Our aim (weather allowing!) is to put in as many of the structural posts as we can – starting with the three tall central ones.  As always when lifting heavy things vertically, we need to take things steady, with safety being paramount on site.

Monday saw the team prepare the site.  Holes were widened, small “A” frames were constructed to support the posts at the correct angle on their prepared ramps, and the directions of pull were finally chosen and rigged to enable the most efficient raising possible.  A Large “A” frame was also constructed to provide a better pulling angle to each post. The issues with raising 6 metre timbers vertically focus around the acute angle of pull from the pulling team to the top end of the post. The more acute this angle is, the more effort is required to make the post move.  To alleviate this, we have ramped the post holes in order to take the lying posts from a horizontal position to around 10 degrees off the ground. The second step is to increase the angle of pull further (to around 45 degrees) by running the pulling rope from the post top – through the apex of a large “A” frame and then down to the pulling teams.  This should (theoretically) make the pull as efficient as possible. However, this operation is not only theoretical. It requires many things to come together in one glorious moment, including volunteer strength, weather and ground conditions, and some would believe a nod from the Gods!

Tuesday saw the gathering of around 30 volunteers to assist with the raising of the three central posts.  By far the most complex stage of construction, these three post (previously jointed with tenon pegs and mortises) needed to be positioned in their prepared holes at exactly the right angles to make their joints work.

Our first lift failed due to several factors.  The sides of the prepared post hole were too soft to hold the post upright without continued support, the movement of the post from its central axis of lift as it came up to vertical, and the weight of the ash pole “A” frame, once it was past vertical, was enough to drag the post out of its footing.

We put the failed post to one side and thought again.  This time with a main pulling team (pulling the white rope – through the “A” frame and to the post top), two lateral teams (pulling blue ropes from each side of the post to keep it in line with its main axis), and a backstop team – holding a red rope (to stop the post moving too far forward under the load of the main “A” frame.

This time, with small movements and continual checking and adjustment, the post inched its way to a vertical position where it was held by the 4 teams while soil was tamped in around its base in thing, well compacted layers.

The process was repeated perfectly for the remaining two posts, and as the thin crescent moon appeared overhead at 4.30pm, all three posts stood magnificently at the centre of the building footprint.

What a team! – great effort, patience and ideas to make the task work.

Wednesday and Thursday saw the forecast arrival of storms across the UK and high winds at Beeston Castle, so, as expected, the site was closed to construction.

Friday saw the team pressing on with the placing of wall posts in their prepared holes.  Compared to the tall central posts, this proved to be less of a challenge, although care and patience was required to lift properly and tamp the soil around their bases firmly.

The wall outline takes shape…

While this was happening, I was assessing the overall shape of the building, and the pitch of its potential roof at various points.  From the outset, this project and its evidence has raised difficult questions in terms of reconstruction.

The apparently sporadic spacing of wall posts in a rough circular arrangement, combined with what appears to be a triangular central post arrangement, has always raised issues of creating some kind of uniform roof pitch.  During the drawing and model building stage of the concept, I solved these issues in various ways, but (as is always the case), the difference between a model and the real timbers is always a further step along the chain of complexity that results in a building that works. My job next week will be to work out how to solve some of the full scale issues that are becoming visible to us on the ground.

Despite the two day weather setback, we have had another great week.


Well done team!


Beeston Bronze Age Structure: Construction Week 2

25th – 29th February 2019

Phase 1 Construction Week 2

The weather is incredible with unseasonable warmth and sun bathing the tor in golden light.  This week, the remaining posts and wall plate timber have arrived and we have begun to cut joints and to prepare the new timber ready for use.

This project is using locally gather materials that are far from standard in size or shape and as such we have to work with each piece of timber to find its specific location within the structure.  The joints used to link these timbers reflect their individual properties. Work is progressing well with the three central posts. These the joints in these timbers reflect their individual characteristics.

Post CP14 has a very knotty top that does not lend itself to creating a tenon peg, so the volunteers have cut in two deep mortises to house the ends of the triangular purlins that will meet there. Mortise 1 was completed entirely with bronze tools and recorded in detail.

 The efficiency of the tools surprised the volunteers, as did their capability for accuracy and refinement. The mortise took 108 minutes to complete (total working time), a staggering 13,124 blows using bronze tools, with an average removal of 0.12 cubic centimetres per blow.  The final mortise is impressive. We are fast approaching the technical challenge of raising this 6 metre oak post into the ground and orienting it to the exact position for the mortise to support the purlins in the correct place.

Wall posts are also having tenon pegs cut into their tops to locate and support the wall plates that will eventually link them together.  

Our aim this week is to have most of the posts jointed and ready to lift into position in the first half of the next project week.  That will then leave us time to joint and fit the wall plates and purlins that will make the basic structure sound.

The volunteers have tried various methods to achieve the round pegs, but general consensus has settled on the cutting of flat surfaces to form a square peg – then rounding off the corners.  The results are impressive and, timber allowing, relatively fast.

We have also been gathering some comparative data regarding tool efficiency.  This has involved cross cutting logs with the same circumference using steel and bronze tools to understand how our ancient tool types perform.

All in all, we have had a very productive week and now stand ready to spend the next session hauling the posts into upright positions!  After all of the initial labour intensive work of bark stripping, cutting to length, and jointing, the structure will suddenly burst into life!



Beeston Bronze Age Structure – Construction Week 1

11th – 15th February 2019

Phase 1 Construction Week

Work begins in earnest this week!  

The weather looks settled – at least for now, so we are taking advantage of less mud and rain to organise the 14 post holes ready for fitting our structural posts in the ground over the next three project weeks.

Each hole is being cleared of debris and widened to accommodate the timbers we have available.  Some of the post holes come down onto quarried bedrock at 600mm below surface, but where possible we are digging further to around 1000mm.  This should provide ample cantilevering to the earthbound posts once the excavated soil is tamped back in thin layers around the foot of each post.

We begin the careful matching of available posts to available wall plates.  The wall plates will run horizontally across the post tops to link them structurally.  Eventually, the wall plates will form a continuous ring of timbers that will prevent the walls from spreading under the load of the roof.  The joining of each wall plate to a pair (or more) of post tops can be achieved in a number of ways and, depending on the specific timber sizes we have to work with, we will try several of these methods to construct the ring.

The volunteers are now well into the routine of working the timbers.  Bronze and steel tools are at work and the sound of sharp edges fills the woodland at the quarry site.  We take for granted how the woods have changed over the last millennia. Modern managed woodland tends to scream with the high pitched wail of chainsaws and large machinery.  The woodlands of our ancestors were more melodious in their management and we have all commented on the difference. Conversation and birdsong can be heard during our work and yesterday, we paused in our efforts to listen to a woodpecker tapping out its message on a nearby tree.

Alongside this traditional noise is the inevitable need for hard work at generally mundane tasks, but the unobtrusive noise of traditional tools at least enable time and space for thought and friendships while the work continues.

The volunteers have also cut in ramps to locate the base of each post during raising. The site is suddenly looking like a real construction zone!

New bronze tools have also been hafted using branches selected from the woods and prepared with notches to house each tool head.  The heads are then attached to the haft using rawhide strips that are applied wet and then dried to form a shrink wrapped binding.  All of these tools will be well used during this project and it will be interesting to see what issues we face as Bronze Age workers.

Experiment 2 is underway to see what effort and time is required to cut a deep mortise into the top of one of the three central posts.  The post top will locate two of the purlins that form the rafter supporting triangle of timbers at the top of the roof.


Beeston Bronze Age Structure – Induction Week

4th – 8th February 2019

Training Week

This week marks the formal beginning of this project on site.  The volunteers arrived, keen and well wrapped up for the weather and to all our surprise, the weather has been relatively mild and calm!

The team begin their first day on the project!

The aim of this first week is to introduce some of the essential methods and principles of moving, processing and working green timber to create the individual timbers for construction.

Organising and hewing the first structural timbers on site.

My approach is always to do a little bit of essential talking, to outline the project and its construction phases, some of the thinking behind the structure (lots more discussions along these line will be had!), but then to do a lot of hands on learning by practising skills and familiarise ourselves with tools and processes.

Experimenting with some beautiful bronze tools kindly loaned to the project by Edwin and his son Robin Wood.

This has involved learning how to move large and heavy things safely using a variety of methods and tools from bars, long tongs, timber arches, and more traditional methods such as Spanish windlasses.  The key to all of these tasks is teamwork, organisation and clear commands given by one person!

Splitting a knotty Silver Birch with wooden wedges

This week is also focusing on identifying specific construction timbers from the piles of available materials we have and then using tools to prepare those timbers to the right length and shape.

Tapping in the wooden wedges to direct a split.

Debarking is one of those early jobs that simply has to be done.  Removing the bark and sometimes the sapwood of particular species will prolong the life of a building structure and discourage the actions of boring insects.  At a later date, another way of achieving this is will be to ensure a regular fire is lit inside the building as soon as it is finished! The smoke is very effective at discouraging insect action – especially in the natural smoke zone of the roof frame.

Beginning the epic task of bark stripping!

The weather is finally becoming seasonal towards the end of the week with high winds and heavy winds forecast.  We will have to see how sheltered the construction site is and to what degree adverse weather will affect our work over the coming months!

The volunteer team are bonding very well, with everyone keeping a close eye on each other and being very careful with some unfamiliar tools and processes.  Our only issue at the moment is a general reluctance to stop for breaks, due mainly to the walk back down the hill to the cabin!

Construction begins next week!


Neolithic Longhouse; 10th – 14th December 2018

Monday 10th December 2018

The final project week for 2018 has begun!  This week sees the continuation of daubing (what an epic task!) to see the building weather and wind proof.  There is final dressing of the ridge to be done – making sure the butted reed is tight and dressed to the correct angle to shed the rain.  

Carpentry continues internally with the shaping and installing of three thresholds for the main doors.  These will be half split timbers that fit at ground level between the door posts. The thresholds will enable the doors to pivot in a solid base and provide a hard wearing surface for the main points of footfall.

This week also sees the attempted splitting of a large Sweet Chestnut log which was recently felled at La Hougue Bie.  This log – large and knotty in places will be the final challenge for our skilled and experience volunteers. The aim is to split out some broad planks that will become the main doors of the house.

Tuesday 11th December 2018

The log splitting continues today.  Unfortunately, after all our hard work, we have discovered substantial rot in the heart of the timber.  This will inevitably change the way we use the timber, and is already modifying our original hope of three plank Zurich doors to two plank doors instead.  This is another example of some of our contingent thinking and problem solving based on our lack of “Neolithic Forest”. If we had access to those climax woodlands of long ago, we would have chosen a tree for its straight grain and splitting qualities, and if we had discovered rot within, we would have wandered a relatively short distance from home to find and fell another suitable candidate.  Some of our decisions on this project have been based on our limited and finite timber resources.

Today, another session of daubing took place.  We are, slowly but surely, making our way towards the end of this epic phase.  The building becomes darker inside day by day. We await the first lighting of a fire!

Wednesday 12th December 2018

Today saw a serious organisation of the longhouse and site. Daubing continued with good work and progress from several volunteers.  The shutters are now becoming the only openings in finished walls!

We also organised the remaining thatch and stored it inside the house so it can dry off a bit over the wettest months.  Tim has also been working on a special finale to the roof. Using his skills and imagination – he has created something on the gable end to give the building character! All will be revealed tomorrow at the topping out ceremony.  

Derek has been slogging through the enormous log – cutting out the dead wood and starting to split the second half into quarters.  We have decided there will only be enough good timber to create one of the large doors! A bit disappointing – but we can only work with what we have!

We have also been cutting out any straight lengths from our remaining willow.  These will form the “Zales” of our hurdles in the New Year. We are hoping, with good stacking, to survive until fresh willow is harvested.

Thursday 13th December 2018

A bitterly cold continental wind is with us today.  Volunteers are wearing multiple layers and working hard (as always) to keep warm.  Today heralds the official finishing of the roof! Volunteers and Jersey heritage staff have come to daub for the morning and to celebrate the completion of the roof with a BBQ and drinks.  

Tim’s finale was revealed at lunchtime – the head of a wild boar – with crest, tusks and personality – made with reed and wheat straw – what a great effort and fantastic way of finishing the roof!

I have to say, its reaching that very emotional part of the project where we look ahead to the next few years without my direct input.  The volunteers are such a fantastic team of individuals with real skills and knowledge and motivation to carry on with tasks and experiments.  It will be a real wrench to say goodbye.

Over lunch we made a toast to Sweat!  This project has been born of research, material knowledge, practical skills, countless debates and theories  – but all of those aspects would have amounted to nothing without the key ingredient of Sweat! This precious commodity, the sap of endurance and dogged determination, runs like a stream, through every aspect of this building.  It is a physical glue that holds together the friendships, knowledge and skills that this project has required, and in the appropriate words of Hesiod,


“Before the gates of excellence, the High Gods have placed sweat!

Hard is the road thereto, and steep at first,

Though when the heights are reached, then there is ease,

Though grievously hard is the winning.”


Friday 14th December 2018


A clear day heralds the end of another year on the project!  The site is looking tidier, the building is looking beautiful and we have consumed many mince pies and sausages!  

Astra has finished shutter 4 in the main hall – and the final elements of daubing can now go ahead.

When I return in January for the last official visit, we will focus on building doors, laying floors and getting the building ready for the wonderful volunteers to take over and populate with the projects, experiments and artefacts they intend to make.

A momentous week indeed!

Well done All!



Neolithic Longhouse; 26th – 30th November 2018

Monday 26th November 2018

The forecast this week is for heavy rain at times – but this morning is relatively bright – if a little chilly!

We have set aside this week to hopefully finish the roof.  The thatched ridge will form the water tight cap that keeps the weather out of the building.  There are any number of ways of thatching a ridge, and a variety of materials suited to the task (depending on the method chosen).  This roof will employ the simplest version of all. In the modern world we are familiar with the sight of beautifully ornate thatched ridges on roofs.  Historically this seems to be a very recent phenomenon – illustrated by paintings and early photographs where early butted ridges become ornately decorated in the Victorian period.  What is clear is that any number of thatching methods exist that are founded on local tradition that often stems from the use of particular local materials and their specific properties.  Our roof is employing a simple ridge that utilises our most abundant material (in this case reed). It may well be the case that as this ridge version degrades, other materials may be tested that are also on the island such as sedge and bracken.

As with all of our new construction stages, the initial learning curve is very steep!  Today we tested the process of forming a ridge using teams on both sides of the roof. We found quickly that it is a task that requires fewer people to do well (one on each side and one tying beneath).  The process involves securing an inverted (thick end at the top of the roof) bundle on the leeward side of the roof and dressing its butt end to the same slope as the previous layer on the windward side.  This is then covered by a bundle on the windward side and both sways lashed through the roof – beneath the internal timber ridge. This effectively squeezes the two sways together and – with the thatch acting as a wedge, prevents the ridge from slipping off.

Tuesday 27th November 2018

Our first real day of rain on the project for months and months!  The site is wet and the building interior is extremely dim. We still have most of the north side daubing to complete too, so we need to be careful to allow in as much light as possible on days like these.  

One positive is that we can now see the advantage of the daub “robber trenches” as drains.  The water from the roof is dripping into these perfectly and taking the water away from the interior floor level and post holes.

Inevitably work progresses more slowly in foul weather, but this morning we are trying to pass on our lessons from yesterdays ridge thatching to new teams of volunteers.  The aim is to have this knowledge in more than three brains so work can continue when we have three people on site.

The ridge is progressing and our intention is to finish the ridge this week if the weather allows!

Daubing is in full swing with teams working on the south side of the building.  We are also clearing around the building to make way for schools who are hoping to come and daub the building tomorrow.


Wednesday 28th November 2018

After heavy rain last night and high winds forecast for today, the pressure is on to complete the ridge this week.  We have settled into something like a routine with the method. Three people working closely from both sides of the roof and beneath.  

Today also saw the arrival of 4 schools to help with our daubing mission.  It was great to see so many enthusiastic and excited faces getting stuck into the job.  It is always interesting to see how quickly children adapt to new situations and this was no different.  After an initial briefing, the teams of year 3 and year 6 children set about their work with gusto. We roped off the ladder areas inside and out and from my position in the heavens I could see how much they all really enjoyed the experience of contributing to something that is permanent.  There is no better way of learning about the past than actually doing it!


Thursday 29th November 2018

After a night of gales and heavy rain, work continues on the final six metre section of ridge.  Nothing was moved on the roof by the wind last night which conforms the quality of our volunteer thatching.  Today we have more schools visiting to push on with the daubing of the remaining walls.

Daubing is another one of those jobs that on the face of it seems easy and straight forward.  Its just a case of throwing some mud onto the walls right? The reality is very different and once again teaches us the difference between understanding the process of doing something and the skills and refinement required to do that thing well and beautifully.  Daub making is a skill. It requires an understanding of the local raw material (earth or clay) and it properties. It requires the understanding of how much or little fibre needs to be added to reduce its shrinkage when it dries on a wall. The amount of water added to the dry daub is a critical factor to success – too much and it becomes impossible to use and will shrink, too little and its is impossible to use, won’t bind with daub through the wattle panel and simply won’t stick to the wall.  The application of the daub also requires skill. Working it in the right way, blending and merging it, applying at the right thickness, and of course the standard of finish, are all elements where the artisan has the capability of making a beautiful and functional wall.

All of this skill and knowledge only comes with the act of actually doing it of course.  The more of this “simple” task we do, the more we realise it is anything but simple to achieve fine results!




Friday 18th November 2018

Yesterday – with minutes to spare before the light failed, we managed to place the final bundles of thatch on the ridge!  What a great achievement by the whole team. Looking back at the sheer hours and effort that have gone into this roof, its slightly strange to think its finished!



Today, we are making some final touches and dressing the ridge to shape.  The smoke hole area of the roof has been defined and lashed using various methods to keep the thatch in place and to allow the hole to be kept open if we decide.  

The roof has taken 1200 bundles of reed and many metres of cordage to complete.  It is only one possible method of thatching a roof and has raised various issues during its construction that should be considered.

What is clear is the amount of experience and skill our volunteers have learnt on this project.  They are now more than capable of problem solving with thatching materials and repairing when the roof begins to age.  It has been the most epic phase of the construction so far – requiring hundreds of hours on ladders by dedicated and weather resistant people.


I take my hat off to you all for such a wonderful achievement – and doesn’t it look stunning!!


Neolithic Longhouse; November 12th – 16th 2018

Monday 12th November 2018

The Neolithic Gods are clearly with us on this project!  Somehow, the weather seems to have favoured us over the last year in an extraordinary way and yet again, despite the atrocious weather at the weekend, we are welcomed back to the project with bright and mild days this week!

Today the volunteer teams are quickly back into the swing of it after a three week break.  Inside we have the final wattle sections being constructed in the livestock end of the building.  Work on this continued while I was away and this end of the building is nearly complete. Outside, more volunteers are starting on the daubing of these sections and the race is now on to complete the walls so we can lay the floor!.  It will be fascinating to see the effect on Derek and Edward’s shutters when the walls are complete. Will they provide enough light in the darkest end of the building? If not, the potential and knowledge is now there to replace other daubed panels with more shutters.  This building will (as hoped) undoubtedly change and evolve as time goes by and as its functionality raises more and more questions.

The end is also in sight for the roof.  Thatch layer 8 continues on the south side of the roof – half of this layer remains before we move onto layer 9.  Then we tackle the final layer – the ridge!


Tuesday 13th November 2018

Fine weather greets us again, although a chilly wind reminds us it is November!

Wattle panels are proceeding at a pace in the livestock end of the building.  Only 2 large panels remain before this end of the building is enclosed.

Daubing also continues at this end of the building.

Tim has trimmed part of the overlapping reed at the ridge line to allow layers 8 and 9 to overlap from the south side.  These last two layers should block out any residual light from the roof and we will begin to get a feel for the final interior space.  

What is clear – even at this stage, is the difference in light levels between the south eastern end of the building (the main entrance) and the livestock end of the building.  The winter sun tracks through the doorways from early morning until around midday. This offers a surprising level of light within the first 6 metre bay of the building by which to work during the winter months. This is then enhanced in the afternoon from around 1.30pm until sunset when the light is given unimpeded access to the end of the building through the open door on the southern wall.  It has been amazing to see the effect of direct low winter sunshine on this area until the sun dipped below the level of the nearby hedge (around 4.30pm). This can’t be accidental can it?


Wednesday 14th November 2018

The weather continues to be unseasonably fine and mild.  Today the volunteers are still pressing on with the main tasks of finishing any remaining wattle panels and the final layers of thatch on the south side.  We would like to finish the remaining section of layer 8 and the whole of layer 9 before the end of the week so we can focus on the ridge during the next visit.

We are also installing some horizontal timbers at the front of the building to support the upper wattle work that will eventually seal the gable end.  These lintels sit above the main door lintels and also effectively for m a box frame for a shutter (this may be a simple leather flap or wattle panel or a more elaborate carpentered shutter) that can be opened on days when more light or ventilation is required in the building.

Astra has been working on her shutter this week.  Today she had completed the first stage of matching and joining the two individual ¼ split timbers that will form the shutter.


Thursday 15th November 2018

Our first mirky morning of the week.  The mist is hanging over the longhouse and wrapping the site in its quiet blanket.

Thatching team 1 is finishing layer 8 on the south side of the roof.  Their intention is to immediately press on with layer 9. Thatching team two have started layer 9 from the other end of the building.  Our mission is still to try and complete layer 9 by the end of tomorrow!

Astra is forging ahead with the final shutter of the project (for now!) which will fit the frame already in position in the living space.  

Patsy and Edward are working on the last wattle panel in the livestock end of the building!  This end of the building is becoming darker as the days go by and each panel is filled. By the time the daubing is finished it will be the darkest part of the building.  It may be that two shutters and reflected light from the north doorway isn’t enough to illuminate this space, but the volunteers now have all of the skills and know-how to replace wattle panels with more shutters if required.

Today we have also had a site tidy – gathering all of our split and prepared pieces of timber and sorting them into sizes.  This timber will form the framework of furniture, beds, platforms, work benches, and anything else the interior may require.

The final bundles of reed are also being organised into piles for layer 9 and the ridge.  Layer 9 requires 60 bundles (one side) and the ridge will need around 100 bundles.


Friday 18th October 2018


The work week is ending with another foggy morning!

Two thatching teams are busy working on layer 9 with the hope of finishing today.  We also have a team of volunteers on daubing – working on the newly installed livestock wattle panels.

Derek has finished one of the tricky wattle panels at the gable end and is moving onto the other one.

What a great end to the week! It is so fantastic to see the completion of all the thatch layers.  We have a weeks rest now and then we push on with the completion of the roof with the ridge.


Well done All!


Neolithic Longhouse; October 15th – 19th 2018

Monday 15th October 2018

Work begins amid the leaf fall of autumn!  The roof is looking a little shaggy at the moment as the short reed from each bundle are blown and weathered out of the roof.  This is a natural part of the thatching process if reed is not thoroughly processes when harvested. Traditionally, harvested reed was shaken to remove short lengths and other plants.  Modern mechanised harvesting processes cut and bundle the reed without great care. The shaggy appearance at this stage is NOT indicative of a poorly thatched roof though. Only the reed that is too short to be gripped by its sway will make its way out of the roof and so won’t affect the overall tightness of the ties.

Today, in damp autumnal conditions, we are continuing with layer 7 around the livestock end of the building.  This will be the last layer that covers this end of the building, the remaining two will stop short and form a “hood” or “cowl” that gives any potential smoke hole shelter from the weather.

Daubing also continues with the continuation of walls on the northern side.

We have conducted a small experiment to see what volume of milk will be required to complete the floor.  A 50cm x 50cm x 15cm section of floor was removed by spade and loosened to produce a fine lump-free soil.  This was mixed with water in stages until the required consistency was achieved. We found that 8 litres of liquid produced a stiff mix while 10 litres produced a wet mix.  To complete the floor (66 square metres) we are looking at around 2500 litres of milk. The test also looked at bonding the floor mix with the levelled soil beneath. An area was chosen and half of it thoroughly wetted, leaving the other half dry.  The wet mix was then dumped on the area and levelled by hand to a depth of around 8cm (its natural slump) When this section of floor is “cheese” hard, we will burnish the surface with smooth stones to compress the damp particles and form a hard wearing surface.  

By the end of this week we should know more about the best way to approach this kind of floor using the local soil.  


Tuesday 16th October 2018


Another damp and misty morning covers the Longhouse.  

Thatching teams have now finished layer 7 on the north side and are working on layer 8.  This will be the first layer to form the hood of a potential smoke hole. Making this reed sweep over the downward curving thatch roll on the ridge will be reasonably tricky, but if we can pull it off it should look great!  

Daubing is pressing on today.  Remaining panels on the north wall are being filled to produce a solid barrier against the weather.  Many months ago, our ideas included leaving gaps at the top of each woven panel to act as openings. The idea was to allow “free” light to enter the building rather than to have to burn materials to create light.  Our thinking has changed in part. The north wall will now be solid (those gaps are being filled in with extensions to the wattle frameworks) because there will be little reflected light under the eaves on the north side.  

Another consideration is the issue of creating too much moving air in the area of the fire place. Our thinking now is that the north wall is closest to the fire (it is off set towards the north in the original evidence of some buildings) and that ventilation should be minimal to encourage the smoke to rise with the heat of the fire and push through the thatch between the purlin and the ridge beams.  Once again, this project illustrates the strength of not having a rigid design at the outset and taking advantage and notice of the options that open themselves as construction continues. The downside of course, is the possibility of forever changing things and frustrating the workforce!


Wednesday 17th October 2018

Glorious weather has greeted us today on site.  The sun is out and the weather is calm.

Today, Our willing volunteers are pressing on with thatch layer 9 on the north side of the roof.  Our mission is to finish these final layers of thatch this week so we can then move on to the south side next visit.

Inside, we are testing the use of wattle to finish the planked walls in the livestock end of the building.  The results are reasonably speedy and very sturdy. Three uprights are enough to provide tension in our somewhat “dry” hazel and willow on site.  Ideally we would probably harvest fresh materials for this task, but we have so much material left over from last winter it seemed a waste to not try and use it.


Thursday 18th October 2018

This morning we have two thatching teams on the roof.  Team 1 (Astra, Iris and Christopher) are working on layer 7 on the south side of the roof, while Team 2 (Danny, Tim and Mike) are working on layer 9 on the north side of the roof.

Other jobs continue inside the building including the fitting of Edwards finished Shutter and frame into the livestock end of the building, the construction of wattle panels around Derek’s finished window and the filling of other gaps.

Daubing also continues on the north side of the house to complete the walls.


Friday 18th October 2018


The work week is ending with another fine and bright day.  Overall we have been incredibly lucky with the weather over the last two years!  This week marks the projects two year anniversary – and its amazing to see where we’ve come from.  Our visitors this week have included schools who came to us a year ago and it is encouraging to see their reactions to what has been achieved.  The volunteers have turned from a group of random individuals to a team of friends who are skilled and comfortable with any new challenge the building demands.  Along with this, the standard of work has improved dramatically, from the early days when the materials and methods were so new and alien, to the levels of skill that can only come from a deep familiarity with materials, tools and techniques.  Overall, the journey has been impressive for all of those involved.

Today the sun is bathing the stunning longhouse in its autumnal light and, after many weeks of thatching, the roof is nearing completion.  An even more dramatic impact of this, and the daubing of walls, is the dramatic drop of light levels inside the house. We all have to let our eyes adjust to the new dimness of an interior upon entering.  Once again, it raises the question of openings (windows especially) in houses such as these.

Our decision to incorporate a few shutters in the living space and livestock section is already having a visible effect on light levels.  I personally have no doubt that windows would have been included in these structures. For me the availability of “free” light combined with their known ability to fill holes with well carpentered solutions (like the Zurich door) suggests the use of shutters or similar openings in the buildings.

The livestock end of the building is really coming together with the installation of strong wattle panels.  This part of the building now feels like a room with the walls nearing completion and the joists of the mezzanine floor creating the feel of a ceiling.  

Daryl and Edward have finished shutters 2 and 3.  It is fascinating to see how different brains work with a similar starting point of evidence and materials.  Edward has followed Derek’s lead and produced a lovely miniature version of the Zurich door using two narrow planks to fill his frame.  Daryl was interested in pursuing a different method and used a broad plank with a central pivot to do the same task. The differences are obvious and interesting, both use known technology from the period (hinge pegs and box frames) but the shape of the starting raw material suggested different solutions.  Again, this highlights the issue of limited evidence. As archaeologists we tend to fixate on specific artefacts rather than the broad technology they represent. This can result in specific methods being used across broad geographical areas – in which there are often very different material sets. From the beginning, we have looked at the broad models of technology based on the archaeological evidence and applied then to solving the problems we have encountered using the local materials we have available.

Another good week from the volunteers.  Our next visit should see the roof completed!