16th July 2011
Somerset Vernacular Buildings
Susan Shaw is a leading light in the Somerset Vernacular Buildings Research Group. Susan's highly rational argument for the study of vernacular buildings is that "they are still standing". Why go scrabbling around in the mud when a standing vernacular building has so much to tell us? its very structure and form contains so much information about its inhabitants and social life over a period of centuries.
Susan's definition of a vernacular building included the following points: the use of local materials, built in a local style, by local craftsmen according to traditional plans. As a cut off period she suggested the time of the Tithe maps, around 1840, when, with the coming of the railways there began an acceleration in communication which led to the breakdown of localism and the importing of people, material and ideas from distant parts of the country. She went on to describe a few of the Group's activities, including the establishment of a dating series for timber used in Somerset houses. Samples ranging from 1278 to 1885 were used and these led in turn to a set of dating techniques based on form alone.
Susan communicated with real passion the thrill of discovery and the solving of mysteries at Weston Farmhouse in Barton (North Somerset), at Stogursey and at Compton Dundon. She reminded us of work in progress including some quite close to home, that of the Winscombe Project, of which Mick Aston is involved.