General information on Medieval cottage from Hangleton, Sussex

This article is from the Museum Guidebook. © Weald & Downland Open Air Museum

The reconstruction is based on the remains of two cottages, of roughly similar dimensions, excavated at Hangleton in 1952–54 by the Brighton and Hove Archaeological Society and the (then) Ministry of Public Buildings and Works. Hangleton is a deserted village site on the Downs above Hove. Judging from a combination of historical and archaeological evidence, the village was in decline by the middle of the 14th century as a consequence of climatic, economic and other factors to which the Black Death of 1348–1350 was a major contributor. From then on the village continued to decay, so that by 1428 there remained only two households.

Before its final abandonment, one of the cottages had been repaired by the addition of a buttress at one corner, and it is safe to assume that the cottage dates back at least to the late 13th century. The inner room contained an oven, and a portion of the wall at this end was still preserved to a height of about three feet. The total height of the walls could be determined by the amount of tumbled flint.

Hangleton hearth

The hearth in the Hangleton cottage, reconstructed from archaeological evidence

Hangleton table

The table corner, with a bench and stools

Above the level of the eaves, however, everything remains conjectural — the form of roof construction, the kind of timber used, the pitch of the roof and the material of the roof covering. Straw thatch has been used in the reconstruction, but it might equally have been wooden shingles, turf, or various types of thatch, such as broom or furze. Some of the buildings at Hangleton were covered with clay roofing tiles, small Horsham Stone slates, or real slates — the latter brought by sea from South Devon and Cornwall.

In spite of conjectural elements, it was decided that this full-scale archaeological reconstruction was justified as the cottage represents a form of building in rough flint rubble which was once widespread over the whole of the chalk area. The plan and interior space are also probably fairly typical of many cottages of the early Middle Ages. Alternative reconstructions are possible. For example, some of the smaller cottages at Hangleton were first constructed with a framework of timber posts. The posts were let into the holes in the chalk, with one at each corner of the building and at least one in each of the longer sides. The spaces between the posts were probably filled originally with wattle and daub, but later these panels were removed and replaced with flint. This style of building appears to be somewhat earlier than that of all-flint rubble construction.

Full descriptions of the excavations at Hangleton were published in Sussex Archaeological Collections Vol. 101 (1963) by E.W. Holden, and Vol. 102 (1964) by J.G. and D.G. Hurst.