Modern Oak-Frame

oak framed house

Timber can be the most environmentally responsible material for the structural frame of a building, but only if it comes from properly managed and sustainable sources.

Trees are nature’s carbon dioxide filters, absorbing carbon dioxide and locking it in.peg tiling

It’s the most sustainable of the major structural building materials, widely available, easily replaced and providing a positive environmental impact.

Oak is a naturally durable, ecologically-sound hardwood that does not need preservative treatment. It’s also very versatile, which allows the forming of complex shapes.

The time-honoured methods of oak timber-frame construction have certainly stood the test of time, having proven their worth over centuries and today’s oak-framed houses use construction methods based on those used for hundreds of years.

The most traditional method of building an oak timber frame uses joints held together with timber pegs and provides what is often referred to as an ‘honest’ timber frame i.e. one without hidden supports.

Mortise and tenon joints first became popular in the Middle Ages when a revolution in oak timber-framing took hold but they were used as far back as prehistoric times. The durability of oak and the craftsman’s skill has meant that many of our most treasured historic buildings date from this period.

Building an oak-framed home using traditional methods ensures an oak frame of unique character.

Oak timber frames last many hundreds of years and there are many examples surviving today that prove this point.

Footnote: No doubt you will know that the direction that water swirls round plug holes depends on which side of the planet you live on.  It seems that trees do that as well!

I did know that trees naturally twist in a spiral, which is why they don’t stay straight for long, but I never realised that the direction of the twist varies in different parts of the hemisphere.



Oak-Framed Houses

A very brief history of timber-framed buildings.

Early timber framed buildings, based on post-hole construction, were widespread and the most common type was the roundhouse in which many Iron Age people lived. The main timbers of a roundhouse would have smaller, coppiced timber, such as hazel, woven in between the rafters and posts to make the structure more rigid. The walls were then plastered with a mixture of cow dung, straw and mud, which provided a sound walling material, after it had dried to a hard consistency. The roofs would have been weathered with either a layer of turf or thatched with straw.timber framed

Buildings based on post-hole construction are still used today, as many farms still have pole barns, which are often built from second-hand telegraph poles. These poles were originally heavily creosoted and will last for many years.

When the Romans invaded Britain they brought with them far more advanced construction techniques than we had known. Their jointing of timber was much more sophisticated than ours and included triangulated roof trusses and mortise and tenon joints.

When the Roman influence diminished in the early part of the fifth century these advanced construction techniques seem to have been lost. During the rule of the Saxons and the Vikings, construction methods were very basic, they used simple jointing methods, reverting back to the post-hole system.

It was not until the 12th century that mortise and tenon joints reappeared, during the rule of the Plantagenet’s. (The Plantagenet dynasty, founded by Henry II of the French House of Anjou, seized the English throne in 1154 and ruled England until the accession of Henry Tudor in 1485).

There was an increase in wealth during this period and subsequently trade flourished across the continent.

It was due to this trade that new techniques of timber frame construction began appearing from Europe.

mortise tenon jointDuring the twelfth century timber framed buildings became more sophisticated and mortise and tenon joints became an established practice.

Instead of being buried in the ground, posts were now jointed into a soleplate that went around the building just above ground level.

This advance in jointing methods required not only better tools, but also greater skills. Framing techniques, which appear to have developed on a trial and error basis, quickly improved during this period with crown posts, diagonal braces and tie beams being introduced, leading to quite sophisticated designs.

Timber framed buildings were evolving into intricate structures comprising many pieces of timber and, generally, the style of these buildings reflected the area where they were being built.

The country was divided roughly into two main zones or regions with the ‘lowland zone’ comprising the South and East and the ‘highland zone’ comprising Wales, the North, the Midlands and the South West. Although there were obviously areas of overlap, it is generally recognized that aisled buildings with crown-post roofs were customary in the lowland zone, whereas Cruck framed buildings were prevalent in the highland zone.

The most famous type of timber-framed house in lowland areas is the ‘Wealden House’ and they were widespread in the fifteenth century, reflecting the agricultural prosperity of the area and the influence of London. It was most common in the Weald but widely distributed elsewhere in the south-east and found as far afield as East Anglia and Somerset.

It basically comprised a central hall; with the two-storeyed ends of the house both jettied out laterally. Jetties were an architectural symbol of status and an integral part of the Wealden design. The property was covered by a hipped roof, which gave the impression that the hall was recessed.

Within the basic type of Wealden House there were many variations of detail. The earlier ones, which evolved before 1400, had widely-spaced timbers, large arch braces that supported the eaves wallplate over the hall.

And prominent, symmetrical braces which were known as Kentish framing, as shown in the adjacent sketches.

The timber-framed buildings, which are a characteristic feature of many parts of the English countryside and of our historic towns are all very individual and would have been crafted, for their owners, from the trees growing nearby.

These unique properties are often described, as ‘half-timber’ but there are differing opinions as to how that term arose. It may come from the practice of halving the trees for their timber or from the half-timber and half-plaster construction of the external walls. In half-timbered buildings the walls were generally filled in between the structural timbers with either brick or wattle-and-daub.

Timber-framed buildings are also known as ‘black and white’ and the term refers to the layers of black and white paint, which are applied to timbers and panels respectively, although they were not originally black and white but rather, the beams would have been the natural colour of the oak and the infill panels the colour of the local soil, which was often mixed with ox blood and lime. A few can still be seen today, in this original condition.

Timber was the primary material in the construction of small medieval buildings and the timber used was almost invariably local-grown oak. Oak-framed houses have been around for centuries and are very durable structures. There is no doubt about the longevity of oak-framed buildings as the earliest surviving ones date from the thirteenth century.

Creating an oak-framed building, from trees, required skilled carpenters who had served a long apprenticeship in order to learn the skills of their craft. The skills were passed down through the generations and it was this great craft tradition that created the unique character of each building. Unfortunately this great craft tradition came to rather an abrupt end in the early nineteenth century.

Thankfully there has been a resurgence in recent times of traditionally constructed green oak-framed buildings. They are extremely environmentally friendly and in combination with modern materials they make a very energy efficient home.

Click on the link for further information about modern oak-framed houses


The English Oak

The English Oak or Pedunculate Oak (Quercus) has always been seen as the national tree of England and its great height, age and strength have made it the king of the English forest and a symbol of endurance. The Oak has been recorded in British history since the interglacial periods, around 300,000 years ago! It was the most common tree in our forests about 5,000 years ago and still is today.

The mighty English Oak is embedded into the history and folklore of England. It is highly valued for its strength and durability and has always been used in the construction of furniture and houses. For very many years, and up until the middle of the 19th century, the English oak was used to construct ships for the Royal Navy. During that period there were eight warships called HMS Royal Oak.


It is probably the best-known native tree and although found in mixed woodland throughout the UK and on many of the British lowlands, it is most common in the South and East. It’s an important feature of the English landscape, renowned for its longevity and noted for its distinctive leaves and groups of acorns.
The ‘king of trees’ has a special place in the English psyche, and is a magnificent tree with a broad, irregular crown. The bark is grey and fissured, and develops burrs as it ages. The massive main branches often develop low on the trunk and become twisted and gnarled with age. The leaves have 5-7 pairs of lobes, forming a typical wavy-edged outline; the upper surface is dark green and the underside is paler.

When growing in open areas it has a wide, rounded crown, but woodland specimens are usually tall and slender. It is a deep-rooted tree and can tolerate most soils, except shallow soil, but it prefers moist, mineral rich soils with pH in the range 4.9-5.4. It will put up with being waterlogged for long periods of time and mature trees will tolerate flooding even by seawater.

The branches of the trees are quite irregularly spaced and sized, and suddenly going from being quite thick to twiggy. The twisted furrowed bark is greyish in colour and this thick bark will often save trees from forest fires and if the top is damaged then new shoots will come out from below. The leaves grow on very short stalks and have deep lobes with the pair nearest the base pointing backwards. The acorns form in small clusters on long stalks.

Under sheltered conditions and deep soil, Oaks can reach impressive heights and grow into magnificent trees of 45 metres or more in height but usually its leading shoot is eaten, forcing out side branches to form a large spreading dome up to 20 metres in height.

The tallest trees are not particularly old however, probably no more than about 300 years. The really ancient oaks are not particularly tall as they occur in places that were ancient wood pastures, where widely spaced trees were pollarded for centuries to provide timber and firewood.

The largest Oak recorded was a Newlands Oak and its trunk had a massive girth of 45 feet (13.5 metres) when it fell. Today, the UK’s largest Oak is called the Major Oak, it stands in the heart of Sherwood Forest and according to local folklore it was Robin Hood’s headquarters. It weighs an estimated 23 tons, has a girth of 33 feet and is about 800-1000 years old.

The Oak can live for hundreds of years and has always been important for its timber. The Oak’s sturdy timber is strong and lasts a long time, making it good to build the frames of houses, barns and halls, but it’s also renowned for its use in furniture, gates and in casks used for maturing wines and spirits. The bark is used in the tanning of leather.

In the 18th century, huge Oak timbers were in demand for ships. Trees were specially cultivated and selected for ‘shipwright’ timber with natural curved branches for the ribs of the hull and ‘knees’ to strengthen the joints.

The Oak tree, has a period of quite rapid growth for around 80-120 years and that is followed by a gradual slowing down. By the time the tree is 80 years old, it may well be over 20″ (50cm) in diameter. Acorns are not produced until the tree is about 25-40 years old with seed production reaching a maximum between 80-120 years. After about 250-350 years, the decline of the tree sets in, branches die back and the diameter growth slows right down.

The English Oak is deciduous and loses its leaves usually around November, when they turn yellow, orange and brown before dropping off. Oak leaves rot quickly on the ground, helping to form soil and providing food for other plants to grow.

The tree comes into leaf fairly late, usually in April but often not until mid May. There are male and female flowers on the same tree and the pale green catkin, typically produced in May, is the Oak’s male flower. The less conspicuous, reddish-brown coloured female flowers, are barely noticeable, short spikes near the tip of each twig on the end of long stalks.

The fruit of the oak tree is the acorn and this contains the seed of the tree. The acorns are smooth, shiny, and oval shaped, chestnut brown in colour and up to 40mm long with up to a third of their length sitting in the acorn cup. New acorns may have greenish stripes on them, but these soon disappear. The cups are rough and on stalks that are usually about twice the length of the acorn itself.

The acorns usually appear in September and the tree tends to fruit very abundantly every 4-7 years, whilst in other years, fewer acorns are produced and in some none at all. The egg-shaped acorns sit in scaly cups and develop at the ends of long stalks called ‘peduncles’. It is these stalks that give the tree its alternative name the ‘Pedunculate Oak’.

When acorns loosen in their cups, the oak tree provides an important winter food source for many wild creatures. In ancient times the acorns were a harvest for the wild boar, but now, jays, pigeons, pheasants, ducks, squirrels, mice, badgers, deer and pigs feast on acorns in the autumn.

Because the acorns are taken for food by several different birds and mammals, there is a chance of them being dropped a long distance away. In fact, although acorns fall beneath the Oak tree, because there are so many predators, the odds of them taking root in and around an existing Oak is very slim. It is mainly Jays who are responsible for the resurgence of new oaks as they carry the acorns away, bury them for their winter food store and often forget about them, resulting in an oak tree seedling emerging from the ground.

The acorns that survive being eaten, root very soon after falling and the seedlings develop a substantial tap root, though a shoot is not produced until the spring. The seedlings are fairly tolerant of shade and can survive the loss of some early shoots, however, they are susceptible to other damaging influences such as caterpillar defoliation or attack by the oak mildew fungus (Microspaera Alphitoides).

The mature English Oak tree supports a larger number of different life forms than any other British tree. This includes up to 280 species of insect. Up to 320 taxa (species, sub-species or ecologically distinct varieties) of lichens, growing on the bark of any one tree.

The mature wood is covered in a thick bark that has deep grooves (fissures), which is ideal for all sorts of insects to hide in. The vast array of insect life found in the Oak tree means that of all British trees, it supplies the most food for birds such as Tits and Tree Creepers.

In the winter months a variety of fungi can be seen attached or around the Oak tree. Some of the fungi prefer living wood whereas others prefer the dead wood. An old stump or branch might well have the fairly harmless Sulphur Tuft attached to it and not to be confused with Honey fungus, which is a deadly root killing fungus, of similar colour.

In early spring flightless female moths crawl up the tree to mate and lay their eggs. The eggs hatch in spring coinciding with the young Oak buds opening into leaf. Hundreds of young caterpillars chew on the new leaves; so many in fact that if you stand near an Oak tree you can hear the droppings falling onto the ground below like rain. Later in the season the leaves develop tannin, which acts as a repellent to the caterpillars. Soon, the Moth pupates in the leaf litter below the tree and in the spring the whole cycle starts again.

All the caterpillars chewing away can take its toll and leave the Oak tree leaves holed and distinctly tatty, but the Oak protects itself by producing another crop of leaves in August (referred to as lammas growth – the time when trees harvest their fruits).

The activity in an Oak tree is tremendous owing to sap-sucking bugs and aphids, boring weevils, bark eating beetles, spiders, snails, bark-lice, crickets, earwigs, hornets, lacewings – all of which enjoy the hospitality of the Oak. Around 200 different types of caterpillar alone use the Oak and in doing so provide essential food for a variety of small birds feeding their young in the late spring and summer.

Often, strange structures appear on an oak tree and these attractive round balls seen swinging amongst the catkins or attached to the buds are known as Galls and house different types of wasp larva.

There are various types of gall and they are caused by a gall wasp that lays its eggs inside the acorn, causing it to mutate. These wasps do not usually cause damage to the tree and are nothing to worry about. The most common are the Currant galls, the red Cherry galls and the Marble galls. If you were to cut one of those galls open, you would find the wasp larva curled up inside.

The Oak tree has had more stories told about it than any other tree.

There’s that piece of Irish folklore often used to forecast the weather!

If the oak before the ash,
Then we’ll only have a splash.
If the ash before the oak,
Then we’ll surely have a soak!

The traditional Yule Log used as a Christmas decoration was originally an oak log. It used to be dressed with mistletoe and holly.

People used to carry acorns, as they were believed to bring good luck and to ward off illness.

The Oak tree has been important to lots of different groups of people, including Greeks, Romans, Celts and Druids.

Many meetings and ceremonies have taken place under oak trees, which were thought to be magical.

Roman soldiers often wore crowns of oak leaves when celebrating victory in war.


Dover Castle

Dover Castle


Dover Castle is regarded as one of the greatest and most impressive castles in existence.










It has an incredibly long and rich history, and  recently English Heritage have done a magnificent job of recreating Henry II’s medieval palace.

The Great Tower Interior


For the past couple of years historians have been working in conjunction with blacksmiths, carpenters, embroiderers and painters to give Dover Castle a £2.45 million ‘medieval makeover’ and the result is outstanding.

Guest Hall


The following is an excellent brief description of Dover Castle by English Heritage

The History of Dover Castle

Commanding the shortest sea crossing between England and the continent, Dover Castle has a long and immensely  eventful history. Many centuries before King Henry II began the great stone castle here in the 1160s, its  spectacular site atop the famous ‘White Cliffs’ was an Iron Age hill fort, and it still houses a Roman lighthouse,  one of the best-preserved in Europe. The Anglo-Saxon church beside it was once probably part of a Saxon fortified  settlement: very soon after his victory at Hastings in 1066, this was converted by William the Conqueror into a  Norman earthwork and timber-stockaded castle.

From then on Dover Castle was garrisoned uninterruptedly until 1958, a continuous nine-century span equalled only  by the Tower of London and Windsor Castle. The stronghold hosted royal visits by Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and  Charles I’s Queen Henrietta Maria: and from 1740 until 1945, its defences were successively updated in response to  every European war involving Britain.

The Medieval Castle

Dover Castle is above all a great medieval fortress, created by King Henry II and his Plantagenet successors. At  its heart stands the mighty keep or Great Tower, 83 feet (25.3m) high and just under 100 feet (30m) square, with  walls up to 21 feet (6.5m) thick. The grandest and among the last of the keeps raised by the kings of England  during the 11th and 12th centuries, it was designed by Henry II’s architect ‘Maurice the Engineer’ and built  between 1180 and 1185. A symbol of kingly power and authority guarding the gateway to the realm, it was also a  palace designed for royal ceremony, and to house Henry’s travelling court. Within this magnificent showpiece, Henry  could welcome and impress distinguished visitors to England– particularly noble pilgrims travelling to the new  shrine in Canterbury Cathedral of St.Thomas Becket, slaughtered before the altar by Henry’s household knights only  a dozen or so years before the Great Tower was begun.

Once the king’s closest friend, Becket had later become his bitter enemy: and though Henry probably did not intend  his murder, he did extravagant penance for a crime which shocked all 12th-century Europe, walking barefoot to  Canterbury and allowing himself to be flogged there by all 70 cathedral monks. Having done his penance, Henry both  capitalised on the situation and re-established his prestige by building the Great Tower. Here the distinguished  visitors who began flocking to Becket’s tomb very soon after his martyrdom could be in no doubt about the king’s  power, wealth and authority.

The Great Tower

As one of English Heritage’s most ambitious projects for many years, the entire interior of Henry’s Great Tower  palace has now been breathtakingly recreated. Historians, designers, artists and craftspeople have combined to  present it as it might have appeared when newly completed, and ready to receive an important visitor, Count Philip  of Flanders, in 1184.