English in 1650

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The Parliamentary Commissioners, who took over Crown lands during the time of the Commonwealth, described a house in 1650:

“Built part of Bricke and part with Tymber and Flemish qalle and covered with Tyle, consistinge of a Large and spacious hall, wainscoted round, well lighted, and Paved with brick Pavements, two parls wherof one is Wainscoted round from the seelinge to ye floor, one Buttery, one seller, one Large kitchen well paved with stone and well fitted and Joynted and well fitted with dresser boards…

And above stayres in the first story one large and spacious dyneinge Roome, Wainscoted round from the seelinge to the floore, well flored, Lighted and seeled, and fitted with a faire Chimney with a foote pace of paynted Tyle in the same. Also 6 more Roomes and 3 Closetts in the same flore all well lighted and seeled. And in the second story 4 garretts…”

When is a door not a door?

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So, what do you do when moving into a new house with no room to call an office? Well, in our case, the bay window of the bedroom offered a handy place, but a bay window is a series of shallow angles and desks are usually rectangular or fit in a corner.

My solution for my wife’s desktop is made from a standard plywood flush door with a honeycomb cardboard interior – just £25 + VAT from the local builders’ merchants. This makes it cheaper and stiffer (and prettier) than solid wood options, and it was really easy to mark and saw the back edge to match the sides of the bay window. The worktop is pulled a little way back from the window to allow for cables and curtains. The banana boxes will (of course) be replaced by cupboards and drawers, also angled to match the bay.

Flooding – where should money be spent?

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The story reads like a list of superlatives:
“The UK is enduring the worst series of winter storms in more than 20 years, weather experts have said, as Devon prepares for even more flooding.” Says the Torquay Herald Express.
“Early December tidal surge worst since 1953.”
“Wettest January in SW since 1910.”

Flooded garden in Totnes - photo copyright Malcolm Pemberton

Flooded garden in Totnes – photo copyright Malcolm Pemberton

Of course everyone is doing the best they can with limited funds. The Environment Agency oversees national issues and has a particular brief to saves lives first. Local councils are doing what they can to minimise risks in their areas. But it’s all a matter of priorities and different interest groups. Farmers would like their land protected from flooding, home-owners would like their properties safeguarded. Road and rail agencies would like their operations to run without breaks.

Flooded footpath in Totnes - phot copyright Malcolm Pemberton

Flooded footpath in Totnes – photo copyright Malcolm Pemberton

The reality is that there is not enough money to go round, and when heavy rain on high ground swells the mountain streams and fills the lower rivers, which then meet a tidal surge coming up the river from the sea, the result is inevitable. There are many ways to combat the problems, but each way causes its own knock-on effects. Rivers can be dredged to increase their capacity, dams can be built to control how much water empties downstream at one time, flood defences can be built where rivers meet the sea (like the Thames Barrier). Everything though, has an impact on the whole chain.

Projects can often get delayed as a rare bug is found living in an area due for dredging, another project would affect wading birds and another would affect fishing – and it’s all true. However, on a local level much can be done to protect individual properties, but more thought needs to be given to building them in the first place. It may indeed be idyllic to have your back lawn sloping gently down to the river, but maybe a stout wall at the water’s edge (with pumps installed behind it to deal with ground water seepage) may be more practical. Or, perhaps, if you build your home in a flood-risk area, it should be able to float 😉

Windless and Windlass

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Windless and windlass are very close in spelling, but worlds apart in meaning.

Windless simply means without wind or calm. It is more often used to describe a lack of wind when some wind would be helpful. Sailing vessels must use auxiliary power on windless days, such as oars, poles or a motor.

Comparison of a differential pulley or chain hoist (left) and a differential windlass or Chinese windlass (right). The rope of the windlass is depicted as spirals for clarity, but more likely helices with axes perpendicular to the image.

Comparison of a differential pulley or chain hoist (left) and a differential windlass or Chinese windlass (right). The rope of the windlass is depicted as spirals for clarity, but more likely helices with axes perpendicular to the image. (Wikipedia)

A windlass is similar to a winch and provides lifting or pulling power by turning a rope or chain around a horizontal drum, converting rotary power into linear motion. Such devices can be found in car repair shops and are called motor or engine hoists. These are called differential windlasses and use two drums (as in the picture above). The main point of a windlass is to create a geared lifting or pulling device which enables the lifting of heavy objects by hand, or by using motors. 

It was by the use of windlasses that heavy stones were lifted into place onto medieval church spires and heavy anchors were lifted back onto the deck of a ship. Simpler windlasses with a single drum made lifting the water bucket from the well much easier.

Word of the Day – Arcade

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An arcade in LondonPhoto copyright: Malcolm Pemberton 2012

An arcade in London
Photo copyright: Malcolm Pemberton 2012

An arcade is fundamentally a covered walkway, often lined with retail shops and, according to Wikipedia, the first one on record was the Passage du Caire in Paris, which was constructed in 1798. Considering the era, it is not surprising that someone came up with this kind of solution, as the problems were many. For example, back then, there were no flush toilets or sewers and often the ‘night bucket’ was emptied the easy way by hurling, from an upstairs window,  its contents out onto the cobbled or even unsurfaced  street below.  Another street hazard was the then ubiquitous horse and cart, which could splash walkers with mud, or worse; the cart was a pretty ‘green’ vehicle, but the horse was not exactly emissions free.

Place Saint Louis - A medieval archade in Metz.Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Place Saint Louis – A medieval arcade in Metz.
Photo credit: Wikipedia.

At that time, the connection between urine, poop and other biological waste and disease was not understood. If at all dangerous, such hazard was only connected to the terrible smells, the ‘bad air’, which was part and parcel of city life. Butchers, without the aid of refrigerators, brought the live animals directly to their shops where they were then slaughtered. All the blood and unwanted fluids were just swilled out into the street with a bucket of water. Unwanted solids would, at best, be taken by wheelbarrow to a common dump, with many a piece falling off onto the road on the way.

Then, of course, whilst stepping oh so very carefully through all that lot on the way to get your groceries, it might also be raining, which would turn the whole street into a slippery, muddy hell. In hotter, sunnier climes, you might be seeking shade from the blazing sun (whilst also enjoying the stench of rotting body parts on the street).

So, a great solution to all this was the arcade. The arcade would generally be a little above street level, paved with cobbles or slabs, and probably not used as a communal dumping ground. Its roof would be supported on, for example, arched pillars, on which also the upper floors of the building could rest. It was already common for upper floors to be wider than the ground floor, and this was to do with building in wood and protecting the ends of the vertical beams from damp.

Another kind of arcade, as shown in the main picture above, spanned an entire street with glass, protecting the shoppers from the rain and, when also closed off with doors at the ends, creating a truly indoor space. So successful has this idea been that many streets in Europe have been covered like this, particularly in the Victorian era when cast iron and glass were all the rage. After that the next step was to purpose build ‘arcades’ in the form of massive covered shopping malls, glassed over to let in the sun and create a light and airy feel.

Arcades continue to be a feature of modern architecture, protecting shoppers from the sun and rain. Some ideas are so good that they come to stay.


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