Sites & Monuments Record: SMR 105046-ZB1103.

1 & 2 The Almshouses, Moretonhampstead. 22/2/2000

OUTLINE HISTORY

1 and 2 The Almshouses, Moretonhampstead, has a south facing aspect onto the road with the garden behind the sloping gently up to the churchyard. After the Parish Church this is the most important building in Moretonhampstead. Its famous facade makes it of national importance. Its late medieval origins, with the survival of the smoke-blackened face-pegged jointed cruck roof, make this an outstanding building, with the granite loggia, fireplaces, screens, beams and windows of the 1637 conversion to eight almhouses, it is outstanding.

The building originated as a rectangular building of cob on a stone plinth, with six (originally probably seven) face-pegged jointed cruck trusses, purlins and rafters supporting a thatched roof, of the late medieval date. All the trusses, most of the purlins and many rafters are smoke-blackened, this is partly hidden by the later limewash. This is the most complete face-pegged roof on Dartmoor (pers. comm Peter Beacham). This building therefore had an open hearth in the centre, and is likely to have been the hospital recorded as 'new' in 1451.

In 1637 major alterations took place, the loggia was added to the front of the building, with a passage over entered from external stairs at the west end and the first floor doorway there, the latter is now blocked. The interior was divided into eight one-room almshouses, each one with a fireplace. These were provided on the gable walls and by a double stack in the centre. The partitions between the fireplaces were plank and muntin screens, set one on another, as can be seen in no. 1. Access was through the present ground floor front doors, and adjacent openings, these are now windows (Room B W2 and Room C W1). On the first floor four doorways opened off the passage, two are now blocked (their lintels survive) and the west doorway has been narrowed. As the rear elevation is rendered it is not clear whether any of the present openings are original or 17th or later.

In the 18th century the Almshouses became known as the poorhouse, attics inserted in roof space.

In the mid 19th century the building converted into four dwellings, one-up one-down, with the rents used for poor people in Moretonhampstead. The insertion of four staircases explains the truncation of the half beams. It is not clear where the stairs for the east dwelling were sited, as that half-beam (in Room D) is intact. The external steps were probably removed at this time and the doorway blocked. The stairs for the middle two houses were at the north end of the central stack, the stairs for the two outer dwellings were probably in the southwest and southeast corners of the Rooms A and D respectively, the alcove in room D may be partially infilled. The attic bedrooms were used by the two central houses, with access from the left-hand or right-hand corners (pers. comm. Tenant). There were two small dormers in the front pitch of the roof (1906 Frith postcard) and rear dormers (see internal roof description).

In the 1930s the building became increasingly in need of renovation. Eventually in 1937 the cottages were condemned. Local people were keen to save the Almshouses, but could not find the money. Mr Mervyn Davie of Hayne came to the rescue. He purchased the buildings for £105 and gave it to the parish of Moretonhampstead. A trust fund was set up and the survival of the property was assured. Despite the lack of maintenance most of the fabric survived - the back wall had collapsed at the west end and was rebuilt in brick; the windows were reglazed, many with leaded lights; and new doors were provided, almost without exception. Mr Davie gave money specifically so that the doors and windows would be in harmony with rest of the building.

In 1952 after the war it became impossible for the new Trust to continue to maintain the building and it was given to the National Trust. It has continued in use as two cottages ever since.

EXTERNAL DESCRIPTION

1 & 2 The Almshouse, is a rectangular two storey building with an internal axial gable stack at each end and central axial stack with paired uppers. Front pitch of roof longer, brought down as catslide over the loggia, which has five arches each side on a colonnade, central entrance, and three mullion windows lighting the first floor. The first floor mullion window in the east gable wall (the only opening there), rear wall with somewhat irregular openings. West gable with blocked doorway to first floor over loggia, and one first floor window, wall angled to front and rear walls. The entrance to the two cottages is through the central front opening into the loggia, and then to symmetrically set front doors.

WALLS

FRONT: ashlar granite blocks form a dwarf wall, on which the twelve granite columns sit. These support five flattish arches with roll mouldings each side of the three-centre arched opening. Light carving can be seen in the spandrels. A continuous drip-course with flower decorated label each end separates the ground and first floors. A central date stone AN.DO 1637, has a three light mullion window above it, two similar windows are set symmetrically over the third-from-end columns. The front wall of the ground floor living area is granite faced, probably partly cob above, certainly so at first floor level. Loggia ceiling plaster with transverse beams, chamfered with stops.

EAST GABLE: faced with squared and coursed granite, possibly 17th century.

EAST: rendered, mainly rebuilt. The original wall survives on the ground floor at the west end for nearly five metres, the rest of the ground floor is a rebuild, with the first floor western part rebuilt in brick for half the length of the building. If the render is removed the wall should be carefully recorded.

WEST GABLE: rubble granite stone, with a blocked chamfered three-centred arch doorway in the first floor with broken dripcourse above. This gave access to the passage above the loggia and so the four first floor almhouses. The only window retains its granite lintel, but not the rest of the frame.

The roof is of thatch, eaves at the front over loggia lower than rear, gable ends therefore asymmetrical. Wooden V-shaped gutters. A board is set on the northwest verge. The internal roof construction of the medieval roof, six face-pegged smoke-blackened jointed cruck trusses survive, a seventh one was probably removed when the central stack was inserted. Two sets of purlins, most of the ridge, and a good proportion of the rafters survive, also smoke-blackened, The trusses are mortised and tenoned at the apex, with a single cut-off peg. The jointed crucks are face-pegged, with two large cut-off pegs holding the mortice and tenon joints. The trusses are numbered 1-6 from the west end. Trusses 1-3 are over no. 1, trusses 4-6 over no.2. Tiny chamfers have been run down the blades. The collars are set high, with a large notch, halved and trenched into the west side of the blades, held by a large protruding peg each end.

The ridge is through, square, and set on edge. It has been renewed between the central stack and truss 4. The two pairs of purlins are large, scarf-jointed, and run through trenches in the backs of the blades. The smoke-blackened rafters are pegged to the backs of the purlins, they were originally set flush with the backs of the blades. No smoke-blackened battens or thatch remains. This is the most complete face-pegged jointed cruck roof surviving on Dartmoor.

TRUSS 1: Front cruck clearly set away from end of front blade. North blade fairly rotten, set on breezeblock and brick plinth. Smoke-blackened rear purlin continues to gable wall. Modern low tie added. TRUSS 2: Back of front blade rotten, modern timber added on west side. Short vertical timber from collar to apex, remains of two studs below collar, these held lath and plaster and went with the insertion of attic rooms in the 18th century. South cruck inside cob wall, north now seated on a brick plinth. Modern low tie added. TRUSS 3: South blade cracked at collar joint, strengthened by modern timber from apex to foot. South cruck jointed slightly lower than others, set towards front of wall. North cruck foot now enclosed in brick cavity wall. Modern low lie added, as trusses 1 and 2. TRUSS 4: In eastern half of roof, original collar (like truss 5 but unlike the other trusses) set on the east side. Front wall-post cut off, blade is straight and pegs and tenons are sawn off. Rear blade with part of wall-post is visible, cruck short, curved, taking weight into wall, chamfered and fixed with large hand-made nails, probably replacing pegs. Low modern tie bolted across west side. TRUSS 5: As truss 4, with collar on east side of blades. Both crucks set in wall. Short timber lapped onto collar and set into soffit of apex, probably related to 18th century insertion of attics. Modern low tie, as truss 4. TRUSS 6: South blade cracked below trench for upper purlin. Rear wall-post missing. Second truss inserted on east side, set against original, with straight blades, mortice and tenon joint at apex, notched and lapped collar on east side, lower than original, blades lightly trenched to accommodate earlier purlins (17th and 18th century). Low tie bolted across this truss, Truss blades 25 by 12cm, Wall-posts 25 by 14cm, Purlins 15 by 10cm.

Originally the backs of the rafters were level with the backs of the truss blades, but on the front pitch near the old eaves level a timber, probably 17th century, pushes the smoke-blackened rafters out a little to give a continuous line over the loggia. The blades and rafters over the front addition are not smoke-blackened (access is very difficult).

The walls are plastered, the front wall is cob, with a curve between trusses 2 and 3, probably the remnant of a stair to the attic.

The rear wall has the remnants of two dormers in the eastern half of the roof, the one near the central stack blocked with brick. The western half of the wall is rebuilt in brick, with the feet of trusses 1 and 2 set on brick piers (1939).

West gable wall with wide internal stack, 17th century, stepped in once on north side and twice on south, stepped back on east side to upper. Return to north wall just visible, before brick rebuilt (1939).

Central stack, 17th century, wide, brick flue (probably 20th century) added on north side, also concrete block wall completing of roof space to north pitch. East stack, 17th century, added, smoke-blackened timbers to gable wall of rubble stone, stack stepped back 50cm above the present ceiling level.

All three stacks plastered and whitened, trusses are also whitened but this has flaked off in many places. The earliest ceilings seem to have gone to the ridge, lining the roof pitches.

Remnants of joists of 18th century attic ceilings remaining just below collars. These appear to have occupied the four central bays and served the two central cottages. The ceilings seem to have been at collar level. Rafters between truss 4 and central stack renewed in the 20th century (two episodes). Present lath and plaster ceilings probably from 1939 renovation.

 CHIMNEYS

All with squared blocks of granite forming the uppers, chamfered oversailing course and rendered tapered caps. Dripcourse for thatch, this is also present on the outside of both end stacks. Central stack with paired shafts, one each side of the ridge, joined by the oversailing course.

INTERNAL DESCRIPTION

1 THE ALMSHOUSES

CEILINGS

All lath and plaster unless noted.

GROUND FLOOR: Room A: 2 transverse beams, the one over the fireplace a half-beam, south end truncated. Both with ovolo mouldings and barred step-runout stops (17th century). Room B: as A. Stop removed from west side of south end of central beam. East beam over fireplace truncated 140cm from north wall, probably in 19th century fro insertion of stairs in this corner.

FIRST FLOOR: Room E and G: artexed. Room H: modern hardboard, sloping, blade visible, sloping down to south, light chamfer purlin can be seen in east part of room only. Room I: modern hardboard, part sloping. 2 blades visible.

WALLS/PARTITIONS, plastered unless noted.

GROUND FLOOR: Room A: plank and muntin screen (17th century) covered by matchboarding. Room B: west wall 17th century plank and muntin screen, muntins chamfered with step-runout stops (can be seen in understairs cupboard). Entrance Hall: north wall thinner east of screen (50cm). Plain skirting. South wall cased with beaded boards.

FIRST FLOOR: Room E: artexed. East partition boarded. Original rear wall missing in northwest corner, brick buttresses support roof trusses to west of window and at north end of screen partition, wall rebuilt with brick. Low skirting with light chamfer. Room F: north wall rebuilt, brick, plastered. Skirting as Room E. Single pane in stairs partition, north end, helps to light stairs. Room G: partly tiled, late 20th century skirting. Room I: lined with hardboard, front wall roughly plastered. Blocked doorway in north wall, ovolo moulded lintel, step-runout stops.

STAIRS

Enclosed, straight run, with east side plaster partition, west with two plank and muntin screens, one above the other, only six other properties in Devon have this, one is in Christow. Muntins of both screens chamfered with barred runout stops. Top rail of lower screen chamfered with muntins tenoned into it, no mason's mitre joints. Top rail of upper screen not chamfered. Planks up to 35cm wide, muntins 20cm, from floor to top of muntins 1.90m (17th century). Wallstrings chamfered (late 1930s). Plain handrail on east side. In understairs cupboard screen is whitewashed and stops can be seen on muntins.

FIREPLACES

GROUND FLOOR: Room A: large wooden lintel with groove over ovolo moulding and barred step-runout stops. Jambs both single pieces of granite, chamfered, stops worn (17th century). Opening blocked with late 20th century coal hearth and hood. Brace above left end of lintel to support truncated end of ceiling beam. Room B: large lintel, truncated at north end, probably as room A completely infilled. Rayburn in front with flue into fireplace below lintel. Brace from north end of lintel to beam as in Room A.

FIRST FLOOR: Room E: large lintel, opening infilled and moulding plastered over, granite jambs with chamfers, stops battered (17th century). Room F: lintel with ovolo moulding, stops as in room A, jambs granite, chamfered, stops worn (17th century). Opening infilled. Slate hearth in front.

DOORS

GROUND FLOOR: Room A: 5 plank and batten, thumblatch, T-hinges. Room B: D1 (back) framed, upper 3 by 3 frosted panes, with narrow braced planks below, rimlock with plastic knob, bolt. D2 as room A. D3 as room A but 4 planks. Entrance Hall: 5 plank and batten, 4 cover strips on exterior, ledged and braced inside, thumblatch, bolt, spear-ended strap hinges on pins (c.1938). Small single pane of glass inserted in central plank. Brass knocker. Wooden threshold. Frame heavy, pegged, fillet and ovolo moulding with worn stops (17th century).

FIRST FLOOR: Room E: as room A, rectangular toplight over. Room F and G: as room A. Room H: as room A but wider, thinner planks and narrower, thicker battens.

WINDOWS

GROUND FLOOR: Room A: W1 2 light 3 by 5 leaded panes, beaded mullion, spiral-ended fixtures (1938). W2 as W1 but 2 by 4 panes. W3 as W2. Room B: W1 as room A W1. W2 as W1, in blocked doorway. W3 as room A W2, but narrower panes. W4 (was larder) single light 2 by 3 panes, small swivel fastener. Zinc mesh outside.

FIRST FLOOR: Room E: as Room A W2. Room F: both as room A W2 but narrower. Room G: as Room A W1. Room H: granite, 3 light with chamfered mullions, part of one broken away, lintel and sill very rough (17th century). 3 by 4 leaded panes, central metal-framed casement, ring-swivel fastener, stay missing. Room I: as room H but mullions in better condition.

No 2 THE ALMHOUSES

CEILINGS

GROUND FLOOR: Room C: plaster, central transverse beam with ovolo and fillet mouldings, stops with double bars and runout with another bar. Half-beam along fireplace (west) also moulded also moulded, cut off 1.50m from north wall, stop survives on south end (17th century). Room D: plaster with transverse beams as room C, half-beam on fireplace wall with ovolo but no fillet, the only half-beam not truncated. Ceiling slopes down from east to west, steps up in kitchen C.

FIRST FLOOR

Room J: lath and plaster. Room K and L: as J. Room M: north half flat, southern half sloping, purlins (scarf-jointed) and truss blade visible. Landing N: as room M, truss blade lightly chamfered, set in wall-plate, purlin visible on east side with 2 pegs for rafters apparent.

WALLS/PARTITIONS

GROUND FLOOR: Room C: plastered, but partition to room D covered with horizontal planks, there is likely to be a plank and muntin screen behind these. Room D: plastered, lump of granite visible in northeast corner, another around, and probably supporting the north end of the half-beam. These may be remnants of the original rear wall, or connected with the 1637 conversion. Rear wall with matchboarding.

FIRST FLOOR: Room J: plaster, rear wall is thinner around west window, this is the 1938 brick wall rebuild, it shows very clearly on the plan. Small chamfered 20th century skirting. Room K: stairs partition a plank and muntin screen with chamfered muntins and barred scroll stops, top rail not visible, 60cm of modern plaster above tops of muntins. Planks papered over. Peg holes visible, probably for shelves or pegs for clothes. Rest of room plastered, skirting as room J.

Room L: plaster, skirting as room J. Room M: plaster, imitation tiling over north wall (exterior of original building). Landing N: front wall very irregular, whitewashed stone. Cupboards hardboard on wood frame, built over blocked doorway (17th century), lintel with ovolo moulding still visible inside cupboard, stops covered.

STAIRS

Straight run enclosed flight, horizontal planking (late 20th century) on east partition which is a plank and muntin screen on the first floor, and probably an enclosed screen on the ground floor. West side plastered. Wallstrings lightly chamfered, handrail on west side.

FIREPLACES

GROUND FLOOR: Room C: lintel continues over alcove on south side with ovolo moulding and fillet, very worn south stop, north one a barred runout. Jambs single granite uprights, chamfered with worn stops, opening bricked up, Rayburn in front. Semicircular niche on south side probably the remains of a bake oven. Room D: lintel and jambs as room C, remains of scroll stop on one jamb. Rear of opening infilled in 1980's, with granite, modern paving laid above the original hearth stone, oven on left of fireplace but not visible from inside of fireplace.

FIRST FLOOR: Room J: plastered over, not known whether it survives. Room K: plastered over, hearthstone survives in front, shadow of lintel visible

DOORS

GROUND FLOOR: Room C: D1 (back) framed, upper 3 by 3 frosted panes, lower part vertical planks, braced, rimlock with plastic knob, bolts. D2 5 beaded planks, battens, thumblatch, T-hinges. D3 (larder) as D2 but with 4 planks. D4 (understairs cupboard) as D2 but shorter. Room D: as room C D2, braced. Entrance Hall: modern plank door with cover strips, ledged and braced, thumblatch, bolt, spear-ended strap hinges on pins, small glazed window in central plank (1939). Brass knocker Wooden threshold. Heavy 17th century pegged frame, ovolo moulded with worn stops (as no1).

FIRST FLOOR: Room J,K,L,M: as room C D2. Landing N: ovolo moulded lintel with small barred step-runout stops (17th century), no door. (Cupboards) modern block with lift latch, others hardboard.

WINDOWS

GROUND FLOOR: Room C: W1 2 light casement, 3 by 5 leaded panes, beaded wooden mullion, art deco lever fasteners, spiral ended stops. In blocked doorway (window frame possibly 19th century, lights 1930s). W2 as W1 but narrower. W3 2 light casement 2 by 3, mullion, fixtures as W1. W4 (larder) single light 2 by 3, small ring-swivel fastener.

Room D: W1 as room C W1 but modern brass fixtures, left casement hung from mullion. W 2 as room C W1 but modern brass fixtures, left casement hung from mullion. W2 as room C W3 but spiral ended fastener, modern brass stay.

FIRST FLOOR: Room J: W1 3 light casement 2 by 3, beaded mullions, spiral-ended fixtures (19th century). W2 2 light casement 2 by 4, beaded mullions, fixtures as room C W1. Room K: 3 light casement 2 by 3, chamfered mullion, glazing bars moulded, probably 19th century, fixtures as room C W1. Room L: 17th century granite 2 light with chamfered mullion, leaded panes 3 by 6, top half of right hand light opening, iron-framed (3 by 3 panes), heavy spiral-ended stay (probably 1930s lights). Secondary glazing. Room M: 3 light, granite, chamfered mullions (17th century), shared with landing N, 3 by 4 leaded panes in each light, centre metal-framed casement with turnbuckle fastener, stay as room L (1930s). Landing N: west light of room M window.

 

 

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