The Old Schoolmaster’s House
Originally an article by Simon Bennett for the Walkern Journal
Few Walkern residents will realise what a history the Old School House in Church End has. Indeed, it was not originally in Church End at all, but Dirty Lane (the name still used for the footpath leading from Church End to Walkernbury Farm). Church End was, as the name suggests, the end of the properties belonging to the church, and they were actually further up the lane toward the High Street.
The original part of the building was a ?hall house? of around 1550 built either at the end of Henry VIII?s reign or during the tumultuous years of his succession. It was around this time that the adjacent St Mary?s Church will have changed from being Church of Rome to Church of England. Comprising one long, thin room, with no ceiling and so open to the rafters, the width of the room was dictated by the length of the available timber. The fire was set in the middle and, as there was no chimney, smoke just filtered through the roof. Soot on the roof timbers bears witness to this.
The building was originally thatched with no guttering so that the rain running off of the thatch made it impractical to have wattle and daub walls outside. Consequently the ground floor was weather boarded as were several other thatched buildings in Walkern.
The house would not have offered steady temperatures for the occupants, with heat loss through the floor and the base of the walls (there were no foundations, just flints compacted in bare earth). There would be leakage around the panels, and the sliding shutters, covered with hessian, would not have fitted well. There were no inglenooks as a retreat from winter weather. However the thatch provided a cosy hat and the overhang afforded some protection for the walls.
Some time later the open fire was enclosed within an inglenook allowing the smoke to be funnelled through a chimney ? a very welcome improvement providing somewhere warm to sit! It was no longer necessary to have the room open to the roof, so a floor was added, cutting the original room height in half.
The house was completed with a two-storey wing of two bays to the East, with a cross passage between it and the open hall house.
The beams supporting the ceiling and upper rooms are of oak, but were not designed to be seen: They are covered in iron nails which were used to secure wooden laths with lime plastering. When you examine some of the beams it becomes obvious that they were not purpose-made for this house but were re-used from other buildings. One beam is said to be the largest, heaviest beam in Walkern. The upper room could originally be accessed by climbing a ladder or steep staircase, evidence of which can still be seen in the ceiling beams.
As you walk through each room downstairs the changes in level are very noticeable. It was easier to build steps to follow the lie of the land than it was to flatten the building foundations.
In the 17th century a ?kitchen extension? was built onto the western (hall house) side. The original inglenook is still in use, and boasts the remains of a flint-lined bread-oven and the pegs for a warping frame (used in weaving and typical of the 17 century). A small door reveals a tiny staircase leading up to a small room with a tiny window and with only 4ft headroom under the cross beams.
UPSTAIRS: Originally there would not have been a landing area at the top of the staircase in the cross passage, but a step going up to the left and the right hand rooms. The left hand room was built above the original open hall house and like all of the upper rooms has no ceiling, being open to the rafters (and very draughty!). The room is dominated by the enormous chimney stack which rises up from the downstairs inglenook and runs straight through the bedroom. A cupboard to one side bears the original, highly worn door.
The right hand landing leads to two rooms which once formed a single room called a solar, where there was enough window-light to be able to read by. One north-facing window has now been filled in, but grooves cut in the wall show where the shutter would have been.
Unlike elsewhere in the house, the beams of the solar are not covered in lath nails and so were not plastered. Instead, these beams were ruddled, that is they were decorated with a red pigment (an iron oxide). Indeed the solar appears to have been used for a specific purpose – as a Court Hall where tithes were gathered. The staircase in the cross passage once provided public access, but there is also evidence of a back staircase ? a quick way out for the taxman!
It is called the Old School House as Mr Askew, headmaster of the neighbouring Walkern School, lived here with his sister for many years. He built the upstairs bathroom and the privy below which was flushed by using water drawn from the well. The round wall of the well can still be seen in the garden. He also added the front porch which brought the house back into one dwelling. The photograph provides evidence that prior to this there were two separate dwellings: there were 2 front doors, and a post and wire fence separated the front gardens.
The final additions of a two-storey rear extension, and a lean-to garden room in the 1900?s completes the history of a building that has seen many occupants with various occupations over 450 years.