Raising the Sole Street frame: the process

Ahead of the re-erection of our medieval house from Sole Street on June 18-19, we took a behind the scenes look this week at the essential work to the timbers, performed by Museum Carpenter in Residence, Joe Thompson, and his team.

Joe and his two building conservation trainees, Richard Toogood and Claire Vidler, have been painstakingly surveying and repairing every inch of Sole Street‘s timbers, ready for the raising of the frame this summer, as part of our Gateway Project. We interviewed Joe about the work he is doing, the next steps in the process, and what you can expect at the Raising the Frame event on June 18-19.

Q. “Can you tell us about what you and your team are currently doing?”

A. “We’re currently in the survey and repair phase of the Sole Street project. The trainees have been assisting me with bringing the timbers in from the store, into the Gridshell Conservation Workshop and working through the survey of the timbers. This has involved measuring the timbers, looking for various marks, photographing them and interpreting the surface evidence on the timbers. Then, as and when a repair crops up, we have been discussing the defect, the cause of that defect, and the effect that would have on the timber. Based on this, we then come up with an answer as to whether or not it’s a failure.”

Sole street timber nails (small)

There were many nails to remove from this selection of timbers

Q. “What happens if you find a failure?”

A. “If it’s a failure, we’ve got to do something about it! We run through all of our options for repair and so far we have been using a number of techniques. First off, we’ve done what you’d call a timber patch, where you cut some of the rotten timber out and put new timber in. We’ve also done a certain amount of reinforcement, where metal straps have been applied. We’ve been putting some insecticide on where we’ve had insect attack as well, and finally, we have been easing the joints off slightly where some of the timbers have distorted over time. At these joints, we’ve been removing just small amounts of timber from specific locations.”  

Q. “Could you take us back a little to the dismantling of Sole Street last year?”

A. “Yes. There are four phases of the Sole Street project. The first was the dismantling phase, which took place in the autumn and winter of 2015. It involved labelling all the timbers, taking site measurements, then dismantling the timbers and putting them in to store. Phases two and three are what we are up to at the moment; the workshop survey phase and  repair phase. The final phase is, of course, the raising of the Sole Street frame this summer!”

“Actually, taking down Sole Street was a particularly interesting challenge. As the building had only been re-erected for the first time in 1990, the hall range contained relatively few original timbers, and the oak pins and tree nails keeping it together turned out to be in ‘good as new’ condition. This meant that dismantling Sole Street was more like taking down a 25 year-old building, then a 540 year-old one. It proved quite tough work but we got there!”

sole street dismantle Joe

Joe Thompson working at the old site of our medieval house from Sole Street.

Q. “When your survey and repair work is done, what’s next for the timbers?”

A. “Just as an example, we have the floor frame in the Gridshell Conservation Workshop at the moment. This is one of 20 or so frames. Once all of these separate frames have been surveyed and repaired, and we’re happy that we’ve done everything we can with them, we stack them and take them out of the Gridshell. They then sit in store awaiting their debut on June 18!”

sole street frame (small)

A frame, ready for more work to be done, sits inside the Gridshell.

Q. “What are you hoping for when Sole Street finally goes back up in its new location?”

 A. “Sole Street will be positioned halfway between the Market Square and Bayleaf farmstead. Whereas Bayleaf isn’t visible from the Market Square, Sole Street will act almost as a siren, helping to encourage and call up visual interest in that end of the site. Quite rightly, as our urban centre, the Market Square is very much a focal point, but the new location of Sole Street will act as a connection between this urban and the rural parts of the site. With its jetty, Sole Street should also be really visually impressive. We’re very excited to see the final result.”

Q. “Lastly, do you have any messages for our readers on how they can get involved with the raising of the frame in June?”

A.  “Yes, well the trainees will be assisting me in physically putting the frame up. However, there will be a group of volunteers as ‘frame-makers’, who will be able to interpret what we’re doing and answer all of the frequently asked questions that will pop up from visitors. They’ll be the interface between us and the public, if you like. There’ll also be a variety of fun and interactive events for the visitors to take part in whilst Sole Street is going up, so don’t be shy. Come and see this wonderful display of traditional house building and take part in some fun activities too!”

Raising the Frame will take place 18-19 June 2016 and regular admission prices apply. We hope that you can join us for this fascinating event.