Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Viking House rebuild; a little more than we planned for!

The weekends work on the house went well, though as you will see it ended up being a little more than just a re-roofing and adding a few shutters. The first thing we had to do when  we arrived on Friday dinner time, was take a final snap of the old house. As you will see in this, and a number of other snaps, we used modern ladders, modern footwear, and modern tools this weekend, primarily because they are a lot safer, quicker, and easier to use, that their historic counter parts, and ultimately, we had a lot of work to do in a short amount of time.

20140711_141928The stripping of all the roof straw, and exposing the rafters, took a few hours, but was good fun!

20140711_165920Finally we removed a layer of plastic membrane which are used on all the houses, to help keep them waterproof (a little compensaton for the lack of funds to thatch or shingle them with truly authentic, but expensive, materials). Then we had the roof stripped. We spend until later that evening removing as many lats as we could, and clearing out some of the roofing material we had removed.

20140711_175602The next morning, not long after 6.30am, we started work again, this time removing that last of the lats, and beginning to strengthen the partition, and extension to the house, however this is where things got a little more complicated. The extension, was a bit of an after though to the structure, and the wood had been up some time and was rotten in places. It became clear it needed replacing, so whilst we had the man power, materials, and opportunity we decided to rebuild that end.

DSC_0163We sunk two brand new posts into large post holes we dug, and squared them all off, making the building about a foot longer in the process. We also began to clean up, and de-nail the rafters, as well as adding new rafters in, in between the old ones, to strengthen the roof.

DSC_0164The next step was to cover the roof in boards and plastic. Not the most authentic solution I appreciate, but as we have explained previously, these houses primarily exist as an education resource, so we need them to be strong, cheap, waterproof, and easy to maintain, and when we have covered the inside and outside with plans and shingles, the modern materials will be invisible.

DSC_0169We also dug post hole, and affixed my new carved and painted posts, originally designed to cover the old partition posts, which we had now removed. As a result, we added the post in a little further back, closer to the door. I was very pleased with the posts when they were in position.


Finally, work began on fastening the new lats on the roof, and installing the shingles. There were 6 rows of shingles on each side, and each row had about 57 shingles in it, with a final smaller row to be installed close to the ridge nest time we come down. Meanwhile the inside of the new extension was being planked out, and insulated, with the intention of daubing them in future.


With evening on the final of four days approaching, we had to take the decision to stop shingling the back side of the roof and to spend our last hour or two tidying up and making the house clean and safe for the next few weeks until we are back. We cleaned up all the debris from the build. We covered any visible modern membranes temporarily, and dressed the inside of the house ready for public visitorsDSC_0180

I re-hung the old door, which is a little small, and fitted the new shutters I had built ready to install, and added back in some of the old furniture and items for now.



There is still a lot to do over the rest of the year, but the strength and quality of the new roof, and the improvement of light and space inside has added another 15-20 years to the building, and will mean we will be able to adapt to our increased need for space as the kids get bigger!

DSC_0184Whilst we didn’t 100% finish everything we wanted to achieve, we also added on rebuilding half the house, and I think the finished house will be massively better for the extra work. I’m looking forward to hosting a thank you banquet in it when we are finished next year.

I’d just like to thank everyone who came to help me this weekend: Osric, Magnus, Afrior, Snorri, and Roarr, who worked like trooper, and without which I’d never have got it a quarter of the way. Thank you.


Breathing new life into old longhalls

In two weeks time, on the weekend of the 12-13th of July, we have a long weekend planned for the village at Murton Park, outside York. Our ambitious goal is to remove, and replace the roof of our house, and renovate the internal uprights, and replace one window, and reinstate two others with brand new frames and shutters.


This is the view of the back of the house, and the place where this new shutter will be inserted. We don’t know a lot about Viking age windows and doors, but finds from York suggests that windows may have been quite small actually, and perhaps even have had small horn inserts. A window aperture was found in a house at Hedeby 32cm x 48cm, and also small lights cut into the wider stave planks. They are mentioned in literature, such as Njals saga and Grettis saga, the latter mentioning light shining through a window. However, one has to bear in mind that these are Icelandic medieval documents, and may not reflect viking age building techniques, nor indeed be representative of other parts of the viking world. Ultimately, however, we often have to spend a lot of time in these spaces, and light is important for us to see to cook, eat, and do crafts, and when one considered this is a museum with members of the public around and that fires and lamps cannot always be monitored, then shutters are a very sensible option.With the decision made, I think we have enough evidence to attempt some putative reconstructions of small shutters, around the size of the Hedeby one. I have therefore set about making some shutters at home, and glued and pegged them all, ready to fit on the weekend. To close them, I have taken a leaf from some of the simple wooden sliding mechanisms from Hedeby and other sites.


Our house has an addition to one end lengthening the house by just over a meter, but the original end wall of the house is still present. This means that the outside door is central to the house, and the one in the partition is offset with a wood store to one side. Originally we did this to reduce the draughts and create the store as we had insufficient timber to do anything else, but now we have some bigger plans. The uprights in the original end wall are being left in place, but being strengthened by being clad in some substantial new carved and painted timber uprights. This will allow us to place a new tougher cross beam in higher up, remove some of the walling higher up, and reinstate the door in the centr, creating a larger and brighter space inside.

The posts are each being carved and painted differently, one has a Borre chain motif found on many items, notably the Gosforth cross shaft base.

In addition to this, I decided to use the form often found on viking age cross shafts and convert from a square post, to round, and integrate the knotwork from the round, into the square, using rings and knots on the corners similar to the moulding found at Kirk Levington.


I decided to paint them Red, white, and black, as they seem to be frequent colours occurring on paint traces from viking wood work and stone sculpture (as well as yellow and blue) and we as a group often use it as common colour on our houses. I alternated the base colour of the ‘triangles’ to draw out the pattern and lead the eye to the underlying links, and then used the other two colours as borders. Overall I am very pleased with the complete effect.


Finally, having been there for over 15 years, the roof could do with replacing. It does not leak as bad as some, but it does, and the straw coverings are proving hard work to replace and repair, particularly as the straw we have access to is not as good as it used to be, due to changes in local farming practice. As a result, we have prepared 650 clipped point shingles for fitting to the new roof. Shingles have been found archaeologically at many sites, from York to Trelleborg, but also are seen on stave church roofs, and covering the roofs of hogback monuments. I often believe that shingle and turf roofs are overlooked, particularly in the North of England and Scotland. Turf roofs as easy to maintain, and last a long time, and shingle roofs are inherently repairable and long-lasting, particularly if treated with pine pitch, and when no longer any use as a roof, their remains make good firewood. More importantly, for us, they suffer less from infrequent maintenance, particularly when treated with a modern ‘pine pitch substitute’.

imag0494.jpgHere is a last picture of the house not long after we first took it over. It will be a shame to see the shaggy mop go, but hopefully the work we get done over the weekend should mean that with a little luck and hard work, we should get another 15-20 years out of the houses yet! IF you are around York on the weekend of the 12th-13th of July, do pop along to Murton Park Museum of Farming and say hi for yourself!