2014 Stonehenge: Neolithic Houses

Work began on 28 January 2014 in building five "neolithic dwellings" at the new English Heritage Stonehenge Visitor Centre and it completed in late May.

Photo note: place your cursor on the above image. The latest image is to the left in the above sequence. Click on the diagonal arrows [bottom right] to view the photos in full screen & learn more about the work from the accompanying narrative.

The Buildings

The five houses have been built adjacent to the new English Heritage Stonehenge Visitor Centre. The aim was for visitors will be able to inspect and enter these dwellings to better appreciate the accommodation of people who visited and worked at Stonehenge while they were in the area - around 4,000 years ago.

The houses are based on recent archeological surveys of dwellings at nearby Durrington Walls. This is where the people working on Stonehenge lived and celebrated. Three houses were built as pilots in 2013 at Old Sarum.

See this page for more about the pilots.

The work iwas being managed by the Ancient Technology Centre at Cranborne and they are supported by 50-60 English Heritage volunteers of which around15 are expected to be on site at any one time. Work commenced on the 28 January 2014 and it was envisaged it would take 11 weeks to complete the dwellings and install furniture. However the February storms took its toll on the schedule.

Several volunteers worked on site full time, some did a week on and a week off - or just a few days at intervals. Like several others I was part-time - undertaking two days a week.

I am adding weekly updates here (most recent first & I have set the initial preparation week in late January as "Week 0"):

Weekly Reports

Week 16: w/c 19 May 2014

This was the final week but to other commitments I was not able to be there.

The final thatch, daub and floor laying was completed.

The project (and this weekly report) has now closed, however there is a continuation page reporting the use of the houses.

Week 15: w/c 12 May 2014

The week started with the welcome "end of event" party on hosted by English Heritage at the Stonehenge Visitor Centre on Monday evening.

The week also witnessed our first accident: although he was taken away by ambulance our colleague called in at the site in the afternoon on his way home. Thankfully he was just shaken and bruised after falling off a work platform.

There are now four of the five houses structurally complete with the floor now laid in the south east house. This leaves one house remaining and one week to go. To complete: final thatching, one side to be daubed and the floor to be laid.

Week 14: w/c 05 May 2014

Thatching of the last two houses is the time critical task as well as daubing of the last house. Earth has been returned to the south east house but the floors of these last two houses cannot be started until the roof is complete. Tidying up of the site has been progressing with all old world removed and the earth leveled and the path raked of debris.

Wednesday included a "Preview Day" when English Heritage invited 30 guests to visit the houses followed by a buffet lunch - to which the volunteers were invited! The two completed houses were "dressed" for this event - ie they had example items of clothing and equipment added and fires lit for the visitors.

Week 13: w/c28 April 2014

We are still hard at it - but the end is now in sight. The tepee was completed (apart from its door) this week. Daubing of the final house (north east house) and thatching on the two eastern houses is now progressing. We cannot build the floor (the last stage apart from fitting out) in either of these houses until the roof is sealed off.

Furniture is being added to the two western houses (see photos) which are structurally complete. The rain has not helped the site with yet more pooling of water - this is bad news for the chalk floors - but hopefully the entrance paths will be added soon (and some drainage landscaping!). Sadly we are now starting to lose people from the team as they have to return home.

Week 12: w/c21 April 2014

The return of damp weather and some supply disruption due to the holiday period this week. However the Ancient Technology Centre started their training this week. This is to prepare for future educational visits. Some volunteers will stay on and others will join them working for English Heritage. School parties will have three exercises to undertake: 1) weave a hazel fence 2) make some cordage from natural materials and 3) bake some bread in one of the houses. We went though each exercise - which was great fun!.

Thatching is the priority - though we ran out of straw at one stage. An interior entrance to the tepee has been added and will be daubed. Engineers were on site on the Wednesday drilling holes in the chalk base to help with water drainage. Too much surface water over periods of time will damage the hazel post foundations in the walls.

Week 11: w/c14 April 2014

This was too be the final week - but it will not be! The tepee weaving is almost complete but the thatching on the other three houses continues. The furniture base (three logs in a "U" shape has been installed in the northwest house. This has been formed from three floor layers: a dry chalk base, a damp chalk mid layer (both of there were hammered down) and then a final wet surface was applied and completed by close of play Tuesday. This week included an English Heritage course for those of us who will stay on as house interpreters once the build is completed.

Week 10: w/c 07 April 2014

Good weather continues; we started the fifth and final house on the 1st April. This is the tepee (house 848 at Old Sarum). This time it's not so tall (about a metre lower) and will have straw thatching. It will be used as a store and there will be no public access since the doorway is quite restrictive.

We start with a graded ground surface; then four poles are lent on each other and then loosley tied. None of the poles are inserted into the ground, they simply rest on the ground surface. Four more intermediate poles are added before the ring beam is fitted. This is a circle of thin/flexible hazel added at about 2m from the ground. Eight more shorter poles are now added and tied to the ring beam. The idea is to achieve a pole spacing that allows weaving. Hazel weaving can now start with eight pieces laid commencing at the doorway, A weave circuit if the building is made starting at the next pole each time. On reaching the opposite side of the door eight more pieces are added to bring it up the same height on both sides. A circuit of weaving then runs back to the start. At this stage the shape of the door has to be formed - this is quite a difficult task as the curves are continually changing. The photos (above) show the building steps described here.

While the second house nears daub completion - work starts on preparing the floor by laying the pine logs that form the furniture foundations and returning the soil to the perimeter. Thatching continues on two other houses,

Week 9: w/c 31 March 2014

Warmer weather helps. After four weeks of toil the north western house has taken its last knotted straw, there is just the ridge line to do and the roof will then be completed. Thatching on two other houses is progressing - each circuit up the roof should be faster - but it does not seem like it! However the chalk daub on the south western house has progressed well and now covers 75% of the wall inside and out; this is being smoothed off internally. Door frames have also been added in two houses. The work is now scheduled to complete in May.

One of the nice things about the work is that we get new faces starting each week, all ages from students to retired folk and all walks of life - brought together by a common goal.

Week 8: w/c 24 March 2014

The cold weather returns, and some rain; it always feels worse when there has been a warmer spell. Progress continues with three houses now being thatched and each in a slightly different style. It is estimated that 6,000 knots of straw will have been used on the north western house. This has taken an extraordinary amount of effort and options are being considered regarding the second house which was planned to take knotted thatch. The knotted thatch also requires careful grading to manage the consistency of the length of thatch and overlap around the roof. Chalk daubing has also started on one house.

Week 7: w/c 17 March 2014

The slow process of thatching continued on the north west house and was started on the south west - using tied-on straw. With the tied on thatch - a hazel rod holds the straw in place and is tied to the roof weave using willow rods. All four roofs are now fully woven and include eaves and the final locking weave. This is a twist of two hazel rods with a further twisted pair; this bind provides a very tight fastening to the end of the eave.

Week 6: w/c 10 March 2014

Thatching has now started on the building nearest the new Visitor Centre - as can be seen in the photos above. Three houses now also have a fully woven roof and eaves; the weaving of the fourth house is in progress. Most of the knotted thatch was moved from the marquee to the site during this week. It was not drying there and there was evidence that residual grains in the ears was starting to sprout.Though good progress has been made during the period of dry weather - there is a realisation that that Easter is not very far away and that means there are now only five weeks left to complete the five houses. This means four to thatch, daub and lay the hearth and the fifth (tepee) to build.

Week 5: w/c 03 March 2014

All four houses now have a roof; two of these [the northern pair] have also been woven with hazel and the eaves added. The eaves are also woven and when complete the thatching will start at this level. The hazel weave will accommodate the knotted end of the straw. The other two houses, to the south, have rafters and the weaving is progressing.These will have a straw thatch that is tied on (ie not using the knotted straw) and are therefore will be similar to conventional thatching today.

Week 4: w/c 24 February 2014

Four houses are now under construction of which three have roof timbers added and hazel rod weaving is now progressing up the roof timbers. The roof timber rafters are also hazel rods. The upper (thinner) part of the hazel "trunk" is inserted dwon into the wall and pushed down the gap, adjacent to the post and within the weave. The remainder of the rod is then curved towards the top ridge line of the roof. Short bars are added at the ends of the ridge to take the rafters around the wall ends. Once this is done, and the correct shape is attained, weaving can continue from the wall and up to the roof ridge.

The weave will take the straw [thatch] as either knotted straw or straw ties. Knotting sessions take place in the marquee and also offers work during the frequent showers. The recent rains have delayed the work - but week 3 & 4 has seen good progress. [no report here for week 3 as I was in St Austell and therefore not on site!].

Week 2: w/c 10 February 2014

All three houses have been progressing well with hazel rod weaving getting close the eave level. However several work days have been cancelled this week due to rain and gales. It should be better weather next week!

Week 1: w/c 03 February 2014

Three of the houses set out last week are now progressing with one team of volunteers on each house. Short stakes are hammered into the chalk and 5-6 courses of hazel weave then added. Taller hazel poles are then added as wall uprights and the weave is then continued.

Week 0: w/c 28 January 2014

The initial work has involved setting out the location of the five dwellings.The three western most houses are in a simular relationship as the original houses at Old Sarum/Durrington Walls. Owing to the heavy rainfall over the six weeks before work started - the site was extremely muddy (ie waterlogged) and the topsoil (mud) was removed down to the underlying chalk base. This applies to the four houses which have walls based on hammered hazel or pine stakes. The fifth house [Old Sarum ref:848] is a "tepee" style dwelling which rests on the ground surface.


Location

Stonehenge
Nr Shrewton
Wiltshire
SP3 4DX


Period

Start: 28 January 2014
End: 23 May 2014


References & Links:

Date Title
20140215 English Heritage - Stonehenge
20140215 Stonehenge on twitter
20140228 Stonehenge Neolithic Houses - blog
20140215 Ancient Technology Centre

Last Updated : KJM 10 June 2014
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