Caring for Tudor and Elizabethan architecture

Understanding how to maintain older timber beams
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Caring for Tudor and Elizabethan architecture

The Tudor period (1485-1558) was an time of great wealth for Britain. Many aristocrats of the time put that wealth into architecture, including the monarchy and the Church. Fan vaulting, depressed arches and Tudor Roses are prevalent markers in identifying these Gothic-style grand houses. But most other classes lived in timber frame houses.

Succeeded by the Elizabethan era (1558-1603), a building boom meant that houses at every level of society experienced an upgrade in materials and techniques. Chimneys, glazed windows and multiple storeys became widespread, though timber frames remained a firm favourite.

Problems with timber frames

When bricks were introduced in the Tudor period, they were an expensive building material. Most homes continued to be made from timber with wattle and daub or plaster infills. This is what created the distinctive black and white buildings of the time.

After several hundred years, timbers need to be regularly maintained to continue to support the property. Common problems include:

  • Dampness causing wood to rot.
  • Fungal attacks or insect infestation.
  • Structural failure of lintels in door and window frames.
  • Movement in timber frames caused by failing joints.
  • Sagging beams that have been overloaded with weight.
  • Timbers that have been damaged during alterations.

How to repair timber beams

The most important issue to consider before making any changes to medieval timber is whether they are structurally sound. It is recommended to avoid replacing beams, and instead to make repairs whenever possible.

When it comes to damp and rot, one of the most effective repairs is to use a metal strap. This is simply bolted into place to keep decaying wood together. You will likely need to hire a blacksmith to create this metal fixture as a bespoke job.

An alternative is for a carpenter to cut out the rotten wood and scarf in new timber. This should be done with traditional jointing methods to maintain the historical character of the building. This is particularly the case as many houses from this period are listed.

Do you own an timber frame property?

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