Monday, 6 February 2017

Wattle and daub cottages in Chorlton

The story of how we lived here in the first half of the 19th century.

There may still have been upwards of fifty wattle and daub houses in the 1840s in our township. They were constructed from a timber framework with walls made of branches woven together and covered with a mixture of clay, gravel, hay and even horse hair and topped with a thatched roof.


Samuel and Sarah Sutton brought up their 2 children in one of these cottages. Their home was one of two adjoining cottages situated on the Row and in every sense looked the rural part. The white walls and wooden beams were partly obscured by ivy and the front door was approached through a small country garden. Behind the house and away from the view of strangers stood the privy and the back garden where the Sutton’s grew fruit, vegetables and flowers. There would be currant and gooseberry bushes, raspberry canes, rhubarb and mix of vegetables which made an important contribution to the family income and were often home to chickens and even a pig.

Such houses were easy to build and equally easy to maintain, but there could be disadvantages to living in them. The porous nature of walls meant they were damp and crumbling clay meant endless repairs.

According to a later Parliamentary report “Many of them have not been lined with lath and plaster inside and so are fearfully cold in winter. The walls may not be an inch in thickness and where the lathes are decayed the fingers may be easily pushed through. The roof is of thatch, which if kept in good repair forms a good covering, warm in winter and cool in summer, though doubtless in many instances served as harbour for vermin, for dirt, for the condensed exhalations from the bodies of the occupants of the bedrooms....”


Floors made of brick or stone were laid directly on the ground and were almost invariably damp, and in the worst cases reeked with moisture. Once the brick was broken, the floor became uneven and the bare earth exposed. This might be compounded where the cottage floor was below the ground outside or the floor level was uneven which caused problems of drainage. Even the proudest wife and mother must have been reconciled to damp and dirt which were the result of such floors.

The only heating would come from the open fire which might have been combined with a cooking range. On damp days when the coal or wood was wet the smell would permeate every room in the house. During the winter months the unheated bedrooms were particularly unpleasant places. On the coldest nights ice would form on the inside of windows.

Cottages of this design were often limited to four rooms, and some may have had only two, with the family living downstairs and sleeping on the upper floor. In some cases access to the bedroom was by ladder rather than stairs and in many cases bedrooms were left open. One surviving cottage in Chorlton from the eighteenth century did have a staircase which opened out to a big bedroom giving little in the way of privacy.

As for sanitation this would have been equally primitive. Nationally the rural picture was grim with privies often draining into open channels which themselves got blocked with refuse and so flowed too slowly to allow the waste to disperse.


Picture; Sutton’s Cottage circa 1892, photograph from the Wesleyan Souvenir Handbook of 1895 in the collection of Philip Lloyd

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