Thursday, 11 April 2013

St Joseph's Day Tour

Tuesday, March 19th was St. Joseph's Day, and he, I recently learned, is the patron saint of carpenters. The following weekend, to celebrate this, and as an excuse for a Timber Framer's get-together, good friend Joel Hendry organised a tour of All Things Timber in Exeter. In all there were about 22 of us, from all corners of the South West, many with far greater knowledge and experience than I could ever dream of, but all with a shared interest in structural timber work and green oak timber framing. Joel's reputation and hard work gained us access to some little seen parts of the city.

 Cornwall and the far south-west of England may not have the heritage in timber buildings that other more sheltered parts of the country have, but by the time you move east to Devon and Exeter, there are enough tall, straight trees and historical wealth to have left a significant legacy, as well as a recognised style of oak framing...perhaps most famously the Devon Cruck. Our St Joesph's Day tour of the city took in The Guild Hall, The Law Library, The Old Mint, and perhaps most spectacularly The Cathedral, with the longest uninterrupted vaulted ceiling in England. Above this, its huge hidden oak framed roof is massively braced with steel and wires because it came near to collapsing in the late 19th century after intended remedial work caused the huge trusses to slump up to 2 metres out of vertical. It's difficult to get photos that effectively show this, and you'd never know it from the tranquility of the cathedral below, but it is well worth seeing.


 These creations may bear little resemblance to the green oak timber frames coming out of our workshop in Cornwall, but in fact most of what we do is derived directly from work such as this. The laying out and marking process is the same, the jointing techniques and pegged assembly are unchanged, and the raw material, west-country grown green oak, is consistant. Nothing I've built will ever match these beautiful roofs, but it's a great source of inspiration to see what others have done hundreds and hundreds of years ago.

The day finished with a drink under the vaulted roof of Tucker's Hall, the Guild Chapel of Cloth Workers. Many thanks to Joel and his friends and colleagues... a grand day for a bunch of timber framing geeks, and a fine way to reconnect with the grand history of what we do on a daily basis.

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