THE changes that have taken place in rural ways of living within the last fifty years have necessitated alterations in many a humble country dwelling. Many have been swept away altogether; others have been altered in a manner that has destroyed their older character.

It is true that a good many of the older cottages were damp, or in other ways insanitary; but it is to be regretted that, where alteration or rebuilding became a necessity, it should not have been done in a way that agrees with the best traditions of the district. . . .

The older cottages of the district are, for the most part, built of brick-noggin — that is to say, a framing of oak filled in with brick. Sometimes the bricks were set back so as to allow of a coating of plaster. The brick surface, whether plastered or not, was usually lime-whitened, the white of the lime being slightly warmed with ochre. Oftener than not the upper part was weather-tiled, or tile-hung — an excellent protection against the weather. Walking round these old cottages, there is sure to be on one side the large projection which means the wide fireplace inside, and often a separate projection of the brick oven [see picture at right].

The old roofing material was almost invariably the plain roofing tile, though towards the Sussex border many roofs were covered with 'Horsham slabs,' of a stone that flakes into plates like thick slates.

The plain tiles were sometimes varied with others rounded at the free end like a fish-scale, or the same pattern with asmall square shoulder. Often in the older examples the weather-tiles were of unusual thickness, giving an excellent effect. . .

Left: Weather-tiled Cottage. Kirdford, Surrey. Right: Tile-hung Cottage. Tiltham's Green. [Click on thumbnails for larger images.]

Not unfrequently plain weather-tiling was repaired with tiles of a scale or diamond pattern, or they may possibly have been originally hung together, just as they came. This happy-go-lucky way of using local material often has a good effect, as may be seen in the cottage at Kirdford and the one at Tiltham's Green. It is a matter for regret when, as is so often done now in repairing old cottage roofs or even building new ones, ridge tiles are used in place of the proper hip-tile. There is a special charm about the fine old saddle-shaped, locally- made hip-tiles, with their saw-edged profile telling well against the sky, just as there is a charm, and the satisfying conviction of a thing being exactly right, about all the building details that are of, local tradition and form the local style.

Many of the older chimneys have handsome heads of a pattern whose general type is nearly always the same. They were built of thinner bricks than those of the present standard size, so that the ornament formed by the projecting courses had a certain delicacy. This shows very plainly when an old pattern of chimney is copied in the modern brick (whose height is 2 1/2 inches, whereas the old brick was 2 inches); the whole thing is coarsened and spoilt. Some of the older chimneys, instead of a pot on the top to help the draught or cure smoking, have an arrangement of tiles that the local bricklayer calls a 'bonnet.'

Often, in speaking of these country buildings, I have been asked what I mean or understand by the style of the country. I can only explain it thus. The local tradition in building is the crystallisation of local need, material and ingenuity. When the result is so perfect, that is to say, when the adaptation of moans to ends is so satisfactory that it has held good lor a long time, and that no local need or influence can change it for the better, it becomes a style, and remains fixed until other conditions arise to disturb it.

Within the last fifty years many of these disturbing influences have arisen. Ease of communication has brought slates from Wales and fir from Sweden, displacing, by their temptation of cheapness, the home-made tiles and honest English oak of the ancient dwellings.

The older cottages usually had two rooms ou the ground floor — the living-room-kitchen, and a back kitchen, with a copper and a brick oven — and two, or sometimes three, bed- rooms above. The roof was often brought down on one side to cover a lean-to, which added much to the convenience and greatly to the pictorial value of the building.

Many of the older cottages have a rough paving of Bargate slabs, or a pitching of the local black iron-stones, from the gate to the cottage door, or of both kinds mixed, with often a few paving-bricks. It not only looks well and is durable, but as the man. comes in from 'his work" he stamps his feet as he passes over the stones, and shakes off most of the loose sandy earth that clings to his boots.

In this country of light-soiled lands, one does not see the handsome wrought-iron door-scrapers so frequent in the clay, of the Weald.

Last modified 30 January 2009