We started the Bearwood Roundhouse last week! It was amazing fun and we were all really surprised how quickly we were able to out the skeleton together.
It was great fun taking part in practical activities and problem solving as we went along. The children had devised plans before we started and we also had the excavation plan from nearby, but when it came down to it, it was about making it work.
How Big? Where’s the Door?
Crucially, this Roundhouse was smaller than its Iron Age inspiration. That house was c. 5m in diameter and our was under 4m to keep it within the scope of permitted development. Also Roundhouse’s nearly always have their doorway facing south west -interestingly not so in the Iron Age Bearwood roundhouse and not so in ours. Positioning the door to the south west would have made the doorway hidden from staff on playground duty – not a good idea we felt.
Post-holes and Walls
The first thing to do was to mark out a circle. This was a very technical process involving a
small stick in the centre of the ‘would-be’ house, a piece of string and a pot of paint. Having marked the circle we worked out the circumference of the circle and divided that by 11 (roundhouses often have unevan numbers of posts). We placed our posts 1.1m apart around the circle, with the doorway being a little larger.
Digging the post-holes took some wellie, so we had a couple of people working on this, whilst others sawed up posts and others still made a daub pit and mixed clay. The children present were helped to saw, mix and collect stones for post packing. Our posts were 1.25m, sunk into 0.25 metre holes.
Putting the posts in was great fun; messy clay mixed with mud and stones. We decided we wanted some extra stakes between our posts. Some that meant whittling stakes with axes. This involves some knack. Then we whacked the stakes in.
At this stage we started the wattling – lots of people and brute strength was required. As we wattled the structure grew in strength. During this time the Head Teacher was sent on various forays for nails (I know I know, a little cheat), more saws (another cheat) and crucially cake! Our wall was tall enough by around 2pm! Then we ummed and arred about levelling the posts (the house is on a slight slope), there were measurements by spirit level, but in the end we used our eyes.
We had been advised to finish the wattle off using the midland hedge laying style to give the wattle strength, but we couldn’t make it work and the wall seemed pretty solid.
The Roof Goes Up
Thanks to a very helpful video by David Freeman from Butser, we decided to use the tripod method for erecting the rafters. Having already cut down the ‘sticky-up’ ends of the posts and stakes we put a wall plate on to attach the rafters to. This meant more sawing, and banging. Meanwhile everyone else practised their knots. We needed square lashings and shear lashings and fortunately an ex-Girl Guide helped us learn these.
Just as we were erecting the rafters, Anthony Brown, who will be thatching the building arrived and gave us some handy pointers. He helped us lean the other rafters onto the main three and turn them to achieve a 45 degree pitch (important to help the rain run off). he also made the top circle of perlins and chucked it on like a hoopla so that additional rafters could be leant against it to stop the apex of the roof being too crowded. Anthony also selected a nice rafter with a bend to make a porch for the door.
Then we began to tie on the perlins. Many knots, miles of hempex and a few blisters later we had a roof. It was amazing how this came together and made the roof incredibly strong.
Anthony starts thatching with the children today and in the next couple of weeks the kids will also daub the walls. There is a memories open day coming up to find out what local people know about Bearwood’s history and finds handling sessions at school. And amongst all this, lots and lots of project work with a heavy emphasis on mathematical skills.
And most importantly is the Summer Fayre 11am-3pm on 16th July. This will incorporate the festival of British Archaeology and allow Bearwood to show off their fantastic hard work.
A massive thanks to HLF South West for funding the project, Anthony Brown for his advice and guidance, all the volunteers who’ve helped, the RSPB who allowed us to coppice their wood, Imerys for the clay, the Bearwood Parents and Friends group and most of all to all the school staff and children who have really run with the project.
If you would like take part in a similar project please do get in touch.