Being based in Congleton since our founding Arkhi respects the town that has held several of its offices. As the town is celebrating it’s 750th anniversary of gaining a charter we thought we’d look back at how the town would have looked when it was first established. The term to describe this period that most people are familiar with is the Middle Ages however as that covers a vast span of time we’re looking more closely at the 13th century or the High Medieval period.
Talking about materials, most houses were constructed out of wood. The material was fairly cheap at the time and as the brick industry was yet to develop the only alternative was stone which had huge quarrying and transportation costs associated with it. Large timbers would have joints caved by a carpenter so that they could be fitted together and secured with wooden pins. Sticks, straw, and mud would have been used to create wall panels in a technique known as wattle and daub.
As a more rural town the unchartered Congleton probably had a higher proportion of cruck buildings. These buildings had large rectangular bases; timber frames that span from the ground all the way to the apex of the roof in a single sweep, forming an arch-like truss; and roofs that followed the arch from halfway up the first floor. The wattle and daub panels would’ve been built around the timber frame. Typically these houses had three sections, each divided by a truss. The central of the house would’ve formed an hall, recognizable today by the fact that the surviving roof timbers are covered in soot and tar deposits from smoke rising from a central fire on the floor below. One of the side sections would’ve been used for household chores and services, while the other was used for bedrooms. This section would probably have had second floor bedrooms, accessible by a ladder, constructed entirely within the roof making it more of an attic. These sometimes had a gallery that overlooked the hall.
In a similar way to that a living room provides a focal point for a house, a medieval hall was the center of the building, divided by screens to form passageways or areas of privacy an entire family would have used this space to keep warm, to enjoy recreation, and to eat. Wills from the time show us that there was little furniture in medieval houses. A family might own a table covered with a linen cloth, a couple of benches, some chairs or stools, and other simple furnishings.
We know from later documents that the town developed around a wooden bridge. This isn’t surprising as access to fresh water and good transport were important for an agricultural town. It is only in 1451 when the river Dane floods and destroys the bridge, town mill, and a number of houses did the town center shift to the location of the current high street.
Roads and streets
The street between houses was the responsibility of the householders and so probably had just as many potholes waiting to be fixed. They could get quite narrow where buildings encroached on them and there would likely be livestock. One of the changes the town charter would bring was the ability to keep pigs. A relatively cheap animal they would have been let loose to wander the streets and forage for food.