General information on Longport Farmhouse from Newington, Kent
This article is from the Museum Guidebook. © Weald & Downland Open Air Museum
The Eurotunnel Terminal near Folkestone is on a very constricted site, bordered by the villages of Newington and Peene, the North Downs and the M20 motorway. Longport Farmhouse stood only a few yards from the main railway loop within the terminal. In 1992 Eurotunnel decided that the site was needed for the terminal police station and received planning permission to remove Longport on condition that it was re-erected elsewhere. The Museum agreed to accept the building for re-erection, and with the Canterbury Archaeological Trust won the contract for its dismantling.
Longport is a house of several periods, typical of large farmhouses in Kent. Parts of the building were built in the 16th century, but the site had probably been occupied for some centuries before that and alterations can be traced to every century since.
The earliest surviving part of the building is the timber-framed wall which you see on the left as you enter the front door of the house (see diagrams overleaf). It dates from 1554, and is the outside wall of a wing that was originally attached to a hall and service range to form a typical medieval house — the hall would have been where the garden is now, but was demolished in the 18th century, leaving the wing but no other traces. Only the upper part of the wing was timber-framed — the ground floor walls were built of stone.
The next major change came in the early 17th century, when another hall range was added onto what had previously been the outside wall of the wing — this is the structure you see on the right as you enter. However, this was not a new frame, but an earlier building dismantled and re-erected. It was originally built in the early 16th century and was probably a kitchen, brewhouse or ‘service’ building, but not a self-contained house. It was a building of high quality, with a continuous jettied front, and an aisle at the back. In the middle was an open (unfloored) bay, with a fire on an open hearth, and at the front a gallery linked the upper floors of the two end bays. The roof was of collar-rafter form, without crown posts or a collar purlin, and you can see a surviving original rafter couple in the roof above the ticket desk.
Luckily, the 17th-century carpenters dismantled and reconstructed this building almost exactly in its original form, so we were able to establish its original design. However, they inserted a floor in the open bay and omitted one of the floored ends: in its place they built a brick chimney stack, with a large fireplace heating the new ‘hall’, and a smaller one heating the old cross-wing. In our reconstruction the outline of the ground plan of this chimney stack has been laid in bricks on the floor that you see when you first enter the building. The joists and beam of the original gallery can be seen at the front of the middle bay. The rear wing — now the bookshop — was built at the same time and was probably originally used as the bakehouse.
In the 18th and 19th centuries the outside walls of the building were rebuilt in brickwork, removing most of the evidence for the timber-framing and the stone base of the wing. The wing was bricked up first, probably in the 18th century but re-using earlier bricks. The brick front wall of the ‘hall’ followed in the 19th century. Finally, at about the turn of the 20th century all the windows were replaced with good quality casement windows with leaded lights, and the bay window was added to the cross-wing.
The dismantling of the building was carried out in October and November 1992 by a team from the Museum and the Canterbury Archaeological Trust. The job had to be done very carefully, with minute attention to detail, but within a demanding schedule laid down by Eurotunnel.
The main task was the brick and stone external walls. Having taken the decision to reconstruct the walls exactly as found, we had to number every facing brick and stone so that they could be replaced in their original positions (see below).
The timber-framed sections of the building were carefully taken apart, and later repaired at the Museum’s workshops. Many were in very poor condition, and death-watch beetle attack was the worst we had seen. However, with careful treatment most of them were eventually able to be re-used.
In the reconstruction we have tried to reconstruct faithfully the historic building as it came into the 20th century, with all its phases of alteration. However, we have made a major change in that we have not reconstructed the 17th-century chimney stack. It was dismantled and recorded in such a way that it could be reconstructed in the future, but by leaving it out we have created a large open space in the heart of the building that has many benefits. First, it helps visitors to understand the historic development of the building, as they can see the 16th and 17th century phases very clearly. Second, it has enabled us to use the building as our entrance facility, where visitors buy tickets and enter the Museum. And third, it provides an example of our most important role: to show real historic buildings accurately, and to help people to understand them.
Numbering the bricks
The method for doing this is simple, but effective. After cleaning the top of a course, a patch of paint is sprayed on the top of each brick, colour coding which wall it belongs to, and a number is added to record its position in the wall. Then a batten is laid along the course, and the position of each joint is drawn on it. The course of bricks is then removed, cleaned of mortar, and stored for transport. When it comes to reconstruction, the bricks are sorted, washed, and laid out ready for the bricklayer, who can lay them in their original positions using the batten.
Altogether about 8500 bricks and stones were numbered, and almost all were successfully incorporated in the reconstruction. Broken bricks were glued together, and even pieces, only just big enough to number, were re-used. The result is that the outside walls bear a very close resemblance to their original appearance.