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Researchers hunt for Gloucestershire's hidden medieval buildings

Building 920x540
Exposed timber-framing on the Folk Museum in Gloucester, which has been tree-ring dated to 1509, the year Henry VIII became King of England.

A new project to discover some of Gloucestershire’s oldest timber-framed buildings has been given a significant boost after receiving £38,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Many early medieval timber-framed buildings go unrecognized hidden behind later brick façades – even buildings recorded by Historic England can be much earlier than listed because the inspections were only carried out mostly externally.

The newly funded project by The Gloucestershire Building Recording Group aims to precisely date more than 36 medieval buildings in Gloucester, Tewkesbury and Newent, three locations that contain some of the best-surviving but least-known timber-frame buildings in Gloucestershire. The city of Gloucester has a uniquely high survival rate of medieval buildings, while Tewkesbury has one of the best medieval townscapes in England.

“The project will date buildings through the science of dendrochronology – tree-ring dating,”said Dr Andy Moir, chairperson of the Gloucestershire Building Recording Group and a research fellow at Brunel University London.

“By taking small pencil-like cores from surviving oak timbers, we can date the unique series of tree rings and identify the exact year that the trees were felled. Because trees were normally converted into timbers without seasoning, these tree-ring dates typically identify the year a building was constructed.”

To date, few buildings in Gloucestershire have been tree-ring dated compared to many other counties. This new project is unique in its aim to date some prominent and publicly accessible buildings, which will provide walking trails to help everyone gain a better understanding of timber-framed buildings. Where important examples of timber-framing are hidden, 3D video records will be taken to allow everyone to appreciate these normally unseen gems.

Only a small selection of the buildings identified in the project will be exactly tree-ring dated, but this information will show the timing of different styles of timber-framing used by Gloucestershire’s medieval carpenters. Establishing this timing of stylistic changes routinely allows the construction of timber-framed building to be estimated to within 50 years, as shown by previous projects in Surrey and Shropshire.

For more on the The Gloucestershire Building Recording Group, please visit: buildingarchaeology.org

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