Sixteenth century house at Temple End, High Wycombe

Glenister House, a Georgian house at Temple End, was demolished in 1997 to make way for a new Safeway supermarket. It was thought that the remains of a medieval manor house might be underneath the Georgian building. Instead, archaeologists found sixteenth to nineteenth century farmhouses.


Up until the sixteenth century the area was open scrub and reed, close to a shifting stream. Animals probably grazed there but there were no signs of human activity before the sixteenth century. The area must have been considered either too wet or too unstable to build on directly. However, possibly in the early sixteenth century, an area of chalk rubble was dumped onto the wet ground, probably to raise and stabilise it. This area was roughly rectangular and measured 15m x 10m. Flint nodules were used as a kerb around the chalk. The chalk probably came from quarries higher up in the Hughenden valley. This chalk was rammed at the top to form a floor surface. The floor best survived in the middle of the rectangular area of chalk, where later floors covered it and protected from disturbance. This first floor had pieces of fifteenth and sixteenth century pottery and a bronze sixteenth century token from Nuremberg Abbey in Germany embedded in it.


A building was constructed over this floor. It was a simple rectangle in shape, divided into three main rooms with a thinner cross-passage, which was probably the entrance. It was 16.4m long and 5m wide. The walls were built of flint nodules held together in clay. The walls were 0.4m wide and no more than 0.12m high. The tops of the walls were levelled off and were probably a base for horizontal timbers. These timbers would have supported a frame of wood for the walls and roof, filled in with lathes or wattle and plaster. The lack of evidence for any of the above walling materials perhaps suggests that whatever material had been used was efficiently removed and possibly reused at the time of demolition. Lots of pegged roof tiles were found around the area of the house. They probably fell from the roof during the use of the house and during demolition.


Hearths were found in two of the three main rooms. To start with these were in the centre of the room. They would be open hearths, used for heating and probably cooking. The earliest hearths were patches of burned ground and contained early sixteenth century pottery and ash. A gaming counter made of bone was found in one of these early hearths, probably dating to the sixteenth century. Later hearths were made up of stones and tiles set on end within a pit. Some of these had been dug into later and the stone and tile taken out for reuse. These more substantial hearths were probably set against internal walls that had been inserted to divide the bigger rooms into two. There were other fireplaces set against the main walls as well. The floors were resurfaced from time to time as well. Pottery found embedded in the later floors date to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The floors seem to have been swept clean regularly so there are not many artefacts found in these layers.


There was a brick-lined well outside the house and two rubbish-filled pits. Pottery found in the well dates to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. There was also a trough lined with flints, close to the well and maybe fed with water from it. The trough may have been used for feeding animals or for cleaning the yard. The pits may have been dug as wells but were quite shallow. They were more likely to have been dug as cesspits for toilets, though there is very little cess in them, but lots of pottery, mainly dating to the seventeenth century. One of them may have been lined with wattle, as there were several stake-holes around the edge of the bottom of the pit, suggesting a circular wattle structure was slotted and pressed into the pit.


Some time in the mid-seventeenth century this house was demolished or dismantled and rebuilt on a different alignment. The older building may have been taken down, although it is possible that the timber-frame was reused in the upgraded building, as reusing timber-frames was a quite common practice. The ground was then made level again by dumping clay and tile on the site of the old house. The material probably came from a rubbish dump created in the sixteenth century while the first house was in use so contains sixteenth century artefacts including pottery. Fragments of a sixteenth century glass vessel were also found in this dumping layer.


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