Wattle and Daub: The Ingenious Building Technique That Shaped Medieval Peasant Homes

The Peasants House

One of the most common types of peasant house was the cruck house, named for the distinctive cruck frames that supported the roof.

“Peasant houses were small, dark and cramped, with little in the way of ventilation or sanitation. Yet they were also the center of family life, where meals were cooked and eaten, and where children were raised.”

Miri Rubin, Professor of Medieval and Early Modern History at Queen Mary University of London.
Cruck framing
Cruck Framing

The cruck frames were made from curved timbers that were shaped like the letter “U” and joined together at the apex of the roof. The walls were then built up around the cruck frames using wattle and daub, with the roof covered in thatch or wooden shingles.

Wattle and Daub House
Wattle and Daub – Cruck Framing

Cruck houses were typically small, with a single room serving as both living and sleeping quarters for the entire family. The floor was often dirt or packed earth, although wealthier peasants might have a wooden floor or even a stone hearth.

The windows were small and narrow, designed to keep out the cold and the rain, while the door was often low and narrow to discourage intruders.

medieval houses inside

Despite their humble appearance, cruck houses were well-suited to the needs of medieval peasants. They were cheap and easy to construct, requiring only basic tools and local materials, and could be built in a matter of days or weeks.

“The medieval peasant house was a product of necessity and ingenuity, built with locally sourced materials and designed to withstand the harsh realities of rural life.”

Caroline Barron, Emeritus Professor of the History of London at Royal Holloway, University of London.

They were also well-insulated, with the thick walls and thatched roofs providing good protection from the cold and damp.

However, cruck houses did have their drawbacks. They were often cramped and overcrowded, with large families forced to live in a single room. There was little privacy, and the lack of sanitation meant that disease and vermin were a constant problem. The thatched roofs were also a fire hazard, and many houses were lost to accidental fires.

A Medieval Peasant Family of Farmers

Another common type of peasant house was the hall house. These were larger and more spacious than cruck houses, with a central hall that served as the main living area. The hall was often open to the roof, with a central hearth for cooking and heating. The walls were made from timber or wattle and daub, with a thatched or tiled roof.

“The use of wattle and daub allowed peasants to build their homes quickly and inexpensively, using materials that were readily available in their local environment.”

Marc Morris, historian and author of “Castle: A History of the Buildings that Shaped Medieval Britain.”

Hall houses were typically built by wealthier peasants or by the lords of the manor, who would rent them out to their tenants. They were designed to be multi-purpose buildings, with the central hall used for living, dining, and entertaining, and smaller rooms added on for sleeping and storage.

Like cruck houses, hall houses had their advantages and disadvantages. They were more spacious and comfortable than cruck houses, with separate sleeping areas and better ventilation. They were also easier to heat, with the central hearth providing warmth throughout the house. However, they were more expensive to build and maintain, and were often rented out at high rates by the lords of the manor.

Life in medieval village peasants
Life in a medieval village, a peasants at work in a medieval village

In addition to cruck houses and hall houses, there were many other types of peasant dwellings throughout the Middle Ages. These included simple one-room cottages, which were little more than glorified huts, and more elaborate farmhouses, which had multiple rooms and even second floors. Some peasants also lived in communal buildings, such as longhouses or row houses, which were shared by several families.

“Despite their humble appearance, peasant houses were often intricately decorated with carvings and painted murals, demonstrating the creativity and skill of their occupants.”

Chris Dyer, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Leicester.

Despite their differences, all of these houses shared one thing in common: they were designed to provide basic shelter and protection for medieval peasants. They were simple and functional, with little in the way of decoration or luxury. However, they were also a testament to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the people who built them, and they played a vital role in the survival of medieval communities.

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“The peasant house was not just a place to live, but also a reflection of the social and economic structures of medieval society. The size and design of the house often reflected the status and wealth of the family who lived in it.”

Kate Giles, Professor of Archaeology at the University of York.