Medieval house from north cray

Medieval House from North Cray

This building is a classic medieval hall-house of four bays, with a central open hall between service and solar ends. The timbers are painted red, following evidence that this was done when the house was originally built. It was probably built in the 15th century.

In 1968 the London Borough of Bexley needed to demolish this house for road widening, but agreed instead to dismantle it and put the timbers in store for re-erection locally. No progress was made, however, and ten years later it was decided to donate the timbers for re-erection at the Museum.

The site chosen for this is the village area, the building’s original context having been a village. The jettied end and a side elevation both faced a road on its original site, so the building was an ideal candidate for the Museum’s corner site next to the Upper Hall from Crawley.



Dates From

c.15th century





Original Location

North Cray, Kent

Building History

The Original Plan — an Open Hall

The building is an excellent example of the medieval hall plan which was extremely common in the 15th century, particularly in southern and midland England and Wales.

The medieval house on its original site in north cray, 1928 (photo: royal commission on the historical monuments of england)

The medieval house on its original site in North Cray, photographed in 1928. It was dismantled by the local authority in 1965 for road widening, and the timbers were given to the Museum in 1975. Photo: Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England.

The timber structure is of four bays, two of which form the central open hall. In the two end bays there is an upper floor.

Medieval house from north cray

The bay at the south end, facing the market place, is divided on the ground floor into two rooms, the medieval buttery and pantry, with a chamber above. At the other end of the hall there are also two doors, that on the left leading to the stairs to the best chamber (known as the solar) and that on the right leading to the room below it.

Medieval house from north cray

The entrance into the hall is from a cross passage between opposite doorways, and originally this seems not to have been divided from the hall by a permanent screen or partition. The first alteration to the building, however, was the addition of a full height partition frame between the hall and cross passage to allow a chamber to be inserted above the passage.

Painted Elm Timbers

Perhaps the most unexpected feature of the building is that the external timbers have all been painted red. Evidence has gradually been accumulating to show that red paint was very often used on the timbers of medieval buildings. The effect would have been similar to that which can still be seen in some French and German towns where the tradition has survived to this day.

Medieval house from north cray showing red-painted timbers

Several of the timbers of the North Cray house had red paint surviving in protected positions, and traces were found in one position in particular, where they could only date from the original construction of the building.

Another unusual feature is that most of the original timbers are elm rather than oak. Elm and other timbers were often used in later periods but oak is by far the most common timber found in surviving medieval buildings, so the North Cray house is unusual in this respect. Elm is a hardwood which is similar in many ways to oak when newly cut and worked, but it is much less able to resist the combined attack of weather and woodworm.

Internal elm timber in medieval house from north cray

The internal timbers of the building are remarkably well preserved but the external timbers have had to be substantially repaired and replaced in the reconstruction. The lower part of the front wall is a conjectural reconstruction, as the original was completely destroyed when the jetty was underbuilt in brick.


In the 16th and 17th centuries the house underwent a typical series of modifications. First, a partition frame was inserted just next to the central truss in the hall, forming a ‘smoke bay’. It is not known whether the hall was floored over at the same time, but certainly the smoke bay incorporated an upper floored area at one side in which meat may have been hung and smoked.

Cutaway drawing of medieval house from north cray

A cutaway drawing of the house, showing the two inserted frames: the first separated the entrance passage from the hall and provided a new chamber over the passage; the second divided off a ‘smoke bay’, with an inglenook fireplace.

The next alteration, probably in the early 17th century, was the insertion within the smoke bay of a great brick chimney stack similar to those in the Walderton and Pendean houses at the Museum, and at this stage the hall was certainly floored over as the stack incorporated a chamber fireplace.

In its final form, before being dismantled, the front of the building was used as a grocer’s shop and the rest was divided into two small cottages.

For a fuller account of the North Cray house, see an article by P J Tester in Archaeologia Cantiana (the journal of the Kent Archaeological Society), Vol. 87, 1972.

Top 3 Interesting Facts

Red painted timber on medieval house from north cray

A Medieval Hall-House

Stepping inside North Cray you enter an open hall, with central hearth and evidence of this from the smoke blackened rafters above.

Garden produce on table

A Home & Shop

In its most recent form, the building was a grocer’s shop and two small cottages. Potentially earlier it had a similar dual use.

Medieval house at weald & downland living museum

Red Painted Timbers?

Painted timber frames, as still seen across Europe, were not uncommon and dated from the time of the original construction.

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