Timber building techniques in London, c 900-1400: an archaeological study of waterfront installations and related material

Gustav Milne    Download (35 MB)


The embanking of the river Thames in the late Saxon period and the subsequent extensions of the bank throughout the medieval period incorporated a sequence of timber revetments, of which 25 closely-dated examples are described in this report. They range in date from the 10th to the 14th century and were selected from the sequences excavated on four sites, Billingsgate Lorry Park (1982-3; BIG82), Seal House (1974; SH74), Trig Lane (1974-86; TL74) and Thames Exchange (1988-9; TEX88). A late 17th-century revetment from the City of London Boys' School site (1986-7; BOY86) is also considered. This study examines the structures primarily as examples of medieval timber building practice, rather than as waterfront installations. Although all the revetments were designed to achieve the same end, there were significant differences between the techniques used to construct the early examples and those employed in the later ones. It is argued here that those differences reflect wide-ranging changes in vernacular timber-building practice in general, most notably the transition from earthfast to timber-framed building. Some of the implications of these developments are considered with reference to further examples of well-preserved waterfront carpentry from London. This part of the report (Chapters 1-4) had its genesis in a thesis prepared by Gustav Milne for Birkbeck College, University of London in 1985.

In Chapter 5, those conclusions are compared with the study of a range of timbers derived from medieval buildings which once stood in the City. This important assemblage was recovered from the Billingsgate Lorry Park site, where the house timbers were reused in waterfront structures. Once again, the focus is on the development of timber-framed buildings in the medieval period, but this time through the examination of surviving baseplates and in particular the changing form of mortises. This assessment is based upon a dissertation written by Trevor Brigham in 1984 for University College, London.

In Chapter 6, Damian Goodburn presents another approach to the study of changes in medieval timber building, this time through consideration of the changes in timber-working practice, tools and woodland management. This is related to the changing medieval woodscape. The evidence was derived from examination of a selection of timbers recently excavated from London waterfront sites.

In conclusion, Chapter 7 brings together the evidence presented in the previous chapters. An assessment is then made of the building traditions and types of timber buildings which, it is now suggested, would have been present in medieval London.

[ Special Paper 15 (1992); abstract as published]