PHYSICAL FABRIC Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Salisbury contracts inns construction carpenters timber
Subject: Contract to build an annex to an inn
Original source: unknown
Transcription in: L. F. Salzman, Building in England down to 1540: A documentary history, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952, 516-17.
Original language: Middle English
Location: Salisbury
Date: 1444


This indenture, made at New Salisbury on 16 December 1444 between William Ludlow on the one part and John Fayrebowe carpenter of Bishopstrow, Wiltshire, on the other part, witnesses [the agreement] that John is to construct for William a house as part of the Boar by the marketplace at Salisbury, 63 feet long and of an interior width of 20 feet. The groundsills are to be 15 inches wide and 10 inches thick. [There are to be] 14 principal posts, every post 16 feet long, 13 inches wide and 12 inches thick. Each somer board is to be 16 inches [wide] and 15 inches thick. Each joist is to be 8 inches thick and 9 inches wide; joists are to be at 10-inch intervals. Each binding beam is to be 9 inches thick and 15 inches wide. Each wall-plate is to be 8 inches thick and 9 inches wide. Each coarse rafter is to be 4 inches thick at the top and 5 inches at the bottom, and in breadth 7 inches at the bottom and 5 inches at the top. With 6 windows all of the same style, and two [sets of] stairs. Rafters are to be at 9-inch intervals. The "sideresons" are to be 11 inches wide and 6 inches thick, with braces of comparable size. This house is to be well-constructed, of suitable timber without sap or wind-damage, and [the timbers] ready to be raised by 8 September next. For which house, John shall furnish all the timber, boards for doors and windows, and studs for all the walls. And William shall furnish all the nails, iron fittings, wattle, roofing and walling materials, and work of masons required in relation the same. At William's cost are to be provided two men to work with John for 7 days to raise the house[-frame], including food and wages, and food and drink for the men transporting the timber to Salisbury. He is also to pay John for the construction of the house and for the workmanship in providing and fashioning all the components specified above, £20 in cash in three instalments, that is: at the beginning of construction when timber is hewed, £6.13s.4d; when the timber is brought to Salisbury, £6.13s.4d; and when the house is completed, with doors installed and windows hung, £6.13s.4d. As assurance of the proper performance of the matters agreed, William on his side along with Robert Warmwell put up a bond in £20, payable on 8 September. And in the same way, John on his side along with Simon Poy put up a bond to William in £20, payable on the same date. In testimony to which the seals of the above parties to this indenture have been set on each other's part of the indenture, on the day and year indicated above.


A timber-framed house of this period was essentially a skeletal box formed from huge timbers, then topped by a structure to support the roof. That work is the subject of the contract here. Ludlow would have required separate contracts for any masonry foundations (a means of keeping the timber base away from the ground-damp that caused rot), for infilling the frame with wattle and daub, and for installing a roof over the rafters.

The carpenter's initial work entailed finding suitable timbers, cutting them to the right size, and ensuring they would fit together, if necessary marking them to show other workmen their relative positions. These tasks could be conducted off-site. Green, unseasoned timber was too often used, since easier to work than seasoned wood, but could over time result in the kind of warping that gives many surviving medieval or Tudor buildings their quaint, ancient appearance. Ludlow's specification shows a concern to avoid that risk, and in fact the massive size of the timbers was the principal safegard.

Next the timbers had to be transported to the construction site, and the frame raised – jobs requiring extra hands. Timbers were usually fastened together by a peg and mortise technique – large nails being more expensive and prone to rust in oak, the usual building material. This technique made it possible to take apart a house and rebuild it elsewhere. It was even possible for at least smaller frames to be put together off-site and then transported to the site in box form; the division of payment installments suggests that might have been the case here.

Judging from the length of the building and the types of beams identified, it seems likely that Ludlow was commissioning a two-storey building divided into two main bays, since timbers were not usually cut more than thirty feet in length. It was typical for each party to a building contract to put up bonds as guarantees that they would fulfill their contractual obligations.



"the Boar"
A contemporary note on the dorse specifies that this was the Blue Boar, doubtless a tavern or inn.

Horizontal beams serving as the foundation for a timber-framed house.

"principal posts"
The main uprights of the frame, at the corners of the frame and separating bays.

"somer board"
The principal outer-frame horizontal beams that support the upper floor(s).

The lateral beams supporting floors.

"binding beam"
The tie-beams within the house connecting the outer horizontal beams, so as to prevent the frame from spreading.

"wall-plate" "sideresons"
The principal outer-frame horizontal beams that carry that rafters and other roof supports; the terms were sometimes used interchangeably, but here wall-plates seems to be restricted to the beams along the two long sides of the house, and sideresons to the beams at the gable ends.

The main outer beams supporting the laths to which was attached the roofing material.

"without sap"
I.e. seasoned wood that had at least partially dried.

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Created: August 27, 2004 © Stephen Alsford, 2004