About the house;Travel;England;Essex

5th February 1999 at 00:00
Mashams house in rural Essex was built some time between 1375 and 1450, probably as a yeoman farmer's house, and took its name from a Yorkshire family which included one Abigail Hill, a favourite of Queen Anne, resident nearby in a long-disappeared manor house. It is now owned by The Mashams Trust as an educational resource.

It is a timber-framed hall house, which means that originally the hall was the main living room, used for cooking and eating, with no ceiling so the smoke from the open hearth drifted to the rafters and out through the thatch. It was constructed by a local carpenter. Timber from local oak trees was cut to size, laid flat, marked with coded Roman numerals, loaded on to carts and reassembled on the site, without footings, using the marks, which can still be seen, as guides.

It was then thatched, in-filled with wattle (oak or hazel) sticks, and daubed with a mix of clay, straw and dung. There were 16th and 17th-century alterations and 20th-century additions of cooking, heating and plumbing facilities, but the house is largely as it was 600 years ago.

Mashams was bought for pound;360 in 1925 by Verena Shuttleworth. Her then 15-year-old son Derek used in later years to tell how the water pump (still in the kitchen) dried up in summer and recall the bizarre line of three earth closets (outdoor loos) along a ditch.

In the 20 years of his retirement he delighted in explaining the house to groups of children and, before his death last winter, transferred the house to the Trust.

There are three staircases. One leads to a bedroom with a massive arched cross beam bearing carpenter's marks. One was once reinforced with a tree trunk. The third leads to a room where you have to stand braced as on a slanting deck and where a coin placed by one wall runs speedily down to the other.

Touching is encouraged, as in a house rather than a museum, so most visitors put their hands through the hole in one of the gnarled doors which has a latch on the outside only. Educational materials are available and a 26-page guide with drawings explaining the construction, terms used and details to look out for.

Mashams Trust, Mashams, High Laver, Ongar, Essex CM5 ODZ. Tel: 01277 890 242. School groups free

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