Surrey Dendro Project Surrey Dendrochronology Project       Heritage Lottery Fund

Thanks to the efforts of the members of the Group Surrey already has an unrivalled knowledge of the architecture of its old buildings. The Group's analysis of nearly 4,000 buildings throughout the County has made it possible to recognize the sequence in which new patterns of house design, or new styles of carved decoration, first appeared and later disappeared. For example, the earliest cottages had no chimney, so that the smoke from the fire simply escaped upwards through the thatch --- eventually!!! Later, timber-framed chimneys were invented to channel the smoke out of the house and, later still, brick chimneys replaced these or were built as part of any new house.

This detailed sequence, which involves some 90 different features, covers 300 years, from c.1400 to c.1700, so the Research Group can usually estimate the approximate age of a timber-framed building. But a more accurate knowledge of the dates would tell us so much more about the varying prosperity of the different parts of the County over that period of time.

The Domestic Buildings Research Group joined forces with the Surrey Archaeological Society and, with the support of Surrey County Council, set up the Surrey Dendrochronology Project. The main objective is to map the development of timber-framed buildings, century by century, region by region, across the county. It was estimated that 200 buildings would need to be accurately dated by dendrochronology to give a reasonably comprehensive initial picture. In each of these, a specialist dendrochronologist takes a few small cores, about the size of a pencil, from suitable timbers in the house, and then takes them back to the laboratory to measure the pattern of rings that they show. (The resulting holes are immediately plugged with wooden dowels and stained to match the original timbers, so that it is virtually impossible to tell that cores have been taken.)

         

The plan was to work in clusters, to maximise the scientific and dendrochronological benefits. With a single building costing about 400 for the dendrochronology, the task was considerable. The main source of funding has been a generous grant of 14,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. So far, there has been work in four clusters:

  1. South Mole Valley. This included Charlwood (funded mostly by a grant of 6000 from the John Bristow and Thomas Mason Trust), Abinger, Betchworth, Capel, Holmwood, Leigh, Newdigate, and Ockley. In total 45 buildings were dated and these have proved to be a fine reference point for the rest of the county.
  2. East Guildford Borough. A total of 21 houses were selected from Albury, East Clandon, Gomshall, West Horsley, Shere and Westcott.
  3. Godalming and the Greensand. This comprised Godalming town centre, Chiddingfold, Dunsfold, Thursley, Witley, Hambledon, Haslemere, Salfords & Sidlow, Elstead, Frensham and Eashing – a further 38 buildings.
  4. The Farnham Hundred. This ancient area includes Frensham, Weybourne and Wrecclesham as well as the town itself. Just ten buildings have been dated so far, but another seven are close to completion. The work is funded by the Farnham Trust, the Farnham Society and the Farnham & District Museum Society, as well as by the organising groups.
  5. In 23 other Surrey parishes 20 further buildings, plus the ancient oak door of St Peter's Church at Old Woking, have been dated - as well as 7 buildings in Hampshire and Sussex.

Increasingly, the work in the clusters has been assisted by owners prepared to join the project on their own account. Outside the clusters, 26 owners have done so, providing useful additional statistics.

The project has reached a total of 135 houses dated. With the aid of some documentary dating and some earlier work by other laboratories, the mapping of the timber-framed buildings across the county has reached the stage where conclusions can be drawn. Although requests for dendro dating will continue to be examined, the emphasis is now moving towards analysis and publication. With the help of DBRG‘s treasury of reports, Surrey is leading the way in the use of dendrochronology for structured studies of this nature.

A list of all buildings dated so far can be found at Dendro progress.  See also the website of Tree Ring Services

The project has confirmed the sequence and development of many architectural features. However, many of the previous estimates of dates had erred on the side of caution and earlier dates have now been attributed to many of them. For example the house which has the oldest date attributed through the Project so far did not look like it from the outside. The remains of a scissor brace inside gave a clue but the date of 1254 is unlikely to have been arrived at through any other method.


If you are interested in the further development of this project and would like further information, please contact the Project's secretary, Dr Barry Cox at Forge Cottage, Blacksmith Close, Ashtead KT21 2BD .


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©DBRG 25 March 2008