Really Old Houses

Following on from last week’s post about ancient French chimneys, I thought I’d continue the ancient building theme with a look at a medieval French house. What’s left of it. It’s the oldest building on our property and dates from the 13th or 14th century. The local historical society did a survey of houses in the commune – using old maps and house names – and came up with a date of around the 13th century for our property. We’re not the oldest – some of the houses in the commune date back to William the Conqueror or Guillaume le Bâtard as he was originally known over here. Some still have original features like curving stone staircases inside the house.

I don’t think our ruin had room for an internal curving stone staircase. It’s built into a rocky granite outcrop using locally quarried stone. Very local. We have a medieval quarry less than a hundred yards away. It’s a one-room cottage with internal dimensions of 15 feet by 12. The first picture shows the house from the front. The door is between the two largest trees. The left-hand wall lines up with the second tree on the left. Most of the wall has fallen outwards forming the grassed over mound. You can just about make out the other walls from this picture.

Here’s a picture looking into the house from the front. Note the worn stone step front centre. That’s where the door was. You can see where parts of the walls have fallen inwards. The door lined up with the left-hand wall and was south facing. The old fireplace is to the right. We found some old German WWII 20mm canon shells strewn in the debris. They probably date from August 1944 when a battle took place in the village as the Americans sweeping south then east during the Normandy breakout met a German armoured division. All the houses in the centre of the village were destroyed. 

Here’s the best-preserved part of the house – the right-hand side. The fireplace is where the right-hand tree is. You can tell it’s a fireplace because of the large stone jutting out of the wall. French fireplaces were built by placing two large rectangular stones through the wall so they jutted out slightly on the outside and by about a yard or so on the inside so they could support the lintel that formed the mantelpiece of the chimney. Here’s a closer look at the stone (top left).

Finally, here’s a look at the house next to the ruin (which can be seen middle right). It was rebuilt in 1790 during the height of the French Revolution. Parts of the house date back to the 15C. If you follow the chimney down you’ll see the remains of the original bread oven – the bricks have been dated as Tudor. And also the jutting out stones for the fireplace. Bread ovens were built on the back of the chimney gable wall so they could share the chimney. Usually they were a stone or brick lean to. If you look at the top of the chimney you’ll see another pair of jutting out stones which mark the height of the original roof – probably thatch. We had to re-roof the house in 2000 after the Boxing Day Hurricane lifted the old corrugated iron roof off and left it resting at a jaunty angle several yards out of kilter. We found the wrappers from two WWII British Army ration packs in the attic when we were clearing it out. 

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Really Old Houses — 3 Comments

  1. The original shelves are still in the cottage. It’s a niche in the wall about 3 feet wide and 5 feet high with shelves set into the stone. The wood is in bad condition but still usable – we store our worming and foot trimming stuff there when we see to the sheep (who live in the house).

    Most farmhouses also have two niches about a foot square and a foot deep either side of the chimney. Some people say they’re for religous statues, some that they’re places you can keep your food warm. Pretty much every old rural house in France I’ve seen has them.

  2. Living with history! I love it. Oldest thing around here are a few cabins that date to the 1920s when the mountain opened up to recreation and the old Barlow Trail wagon road from the 1840s.

    Show us more, please.