Thursday, February 11, 2010

Master's House in Ledbury dates back to the 15th century

As part of the planning for the new library and customer services centre in Ledbury, a full survey has now been carried out on the historic Master’s House.

The survey, carried out by Sawyer and Fisher Quantity Surveyors, has revealed the building dates back to 1487 and is probably the only building of its kind in the country and unique as it the most complete Master’s House in the country.

Behind the 18th century fa├žade, the survey found an extensive amount of high quality medieval fabric still survives.

As part of the survey, Sawyer and Fisher were asked to develop a feasibility study on the future repairs, phasing of the project and use of the historic building and understanding of how the project aims could be achieved.

Discussions have also been held with English Heritage about the best way to prevent the building from deteriorating further. The survey found that inappropriate alterations in the 18th, 19th and 20th century had led to defects in the building which need to be corrected.

Some £350,000 has already been earmarked to pay for works at the Master’s House so it can be brought back into use for services.

In April 2008, Herefordshire Council granted £2.9 million of capital funds to refurbish the existing Master’s House on the St. Katherine’s site, and erect a new building close by to house an extended and improved library and information centre.

An archeological project was commissioned by Herefordshire County Council. The most significant discovery was a wall made of local stone rubble and faced with lias. The wall is at least 7 metres long and 2.25 metres wide. The wall suggests a substantial stone building on the same axis and scale as a 13th/14th century hall and chapel to the east. A few shards of pottery were found in earlier and later contexts. These suggest that the building was built in the 13th century and demolished in the late 16th or 17th century. It certainly formed part of the medieval hospital of St. Katherine and may have been another hall or a range of chambers.

Other remains included a line of postholes that seem to indicate a timber scaffold. The medieval remains were buried beneath post-medieval and modern made ground. On that evidence, it is reasonable to infer that the wall belonged to a large stone building, quite possibly of two storeys. In any event, freestanding walls of this kind are not common in medieval contexts, while similar walls are found in countless medieval churches and other stone buildings.

According to tree-ring dating evidence the timber used in its roof were felled in 1487, so it would have been
erected either in the same year or the following year. It is a late example of a medieval hall house because, in Herefordshire, after about 1500, the preference was to build halls with roofs made for chimney stacks rather than an open hearth.

Plans for the new-build library and customers services centre in St. Katherine’s, Ledbury are finalised and these are now likely to go before planners in May.