Pendean – a yeoman’s house from West Lavington, West Sussex

Pendean is a timber-framed house of the three-cell lobby entry type, with an internal axial chimney stack and back to back fireplaces. This house type, which could also be of two cells, became common from the late 16th century onwards, and has been described by Matthew Johnson as ‘closed’ to distinguish it from its ‘open’ hall predecessors. Dendrodating of its timbers revealed that they had been felled in 1609 suggesting that the house was built at around that date. The house has been reconstructed at the Museum as it would have been at the time it was built, including the rear (south) outshut. For the purposes of this article it is important to note that substantial modifications were undertaken in the late 17th century. The internal oven was removed to make way for a relocated staircase and outshuts were added to the east and north walls, providing a total of three external service rooms.

Pendean house from West Lavington, West sussex

Pendean house from West Lavington, West sussex

An article by the late Elizabeth Doff on the historic context of Pendean and the history of its occupants was published in the Spring 2002 edition of this magazine. Rather than repeat her findings, this article summarises the key information before moving on to discuss the social status of the occupants and evidence for room terminology and room use within the house.

Pendean in situ in the 1960s

Pendean in situ in the 1960s, before being dismantled for re-erection at the Museum.

The history of Pendean

A map of Pendean and Horselands farms in 1781.

A map of Pendean and Horselands farms in 1781.

The farm called Pendean was situated about one mile south of Midhurst in a detached portion of the parish of Woolavington (now West Lavington) and within the manor of Woolavington. The earliest reference to it is in a court book entry for 1489 when it was a copyhold property described as ‘one tenement and certain lands with appurtenances called Penden’. The word ‘tenement’ indicates that in the late medieval period there was already a farmstead there, including a dwelling house, which may have been the source of some of the reused timbers that were incorporated into the 17th century building. A subsequent reference to Pendean in the court book from 1551 describes it as having ‘by estimation’ 30 acres. In 1564 the farm, along with the majority of other copyholds on the manor of Woolavington, was converted to a leasehold property for the term of 10,000 years.

Identifying the earliest occupants of Pendean is far from straightforward. In 1609 John Coldham sold the lease of Pendean to Richard Clare, a yeoman resident in Woolavington. At that date Pendean comprised a house, barn and 40 acres of land plus rights of pasture for 100 sheep and 14 bullocks upon the commons and was described as ‘in the occupation of John Clare and Richard Figge’. John Clare was Richard Clare’s father who held an adjoining farm called Hurstlands or Horselands. This farm, comprising 100 acres, was a copyhold property held of the manor of Cowdray. We know that Hurstlands was John Clare’s place of residence since in his will, dated 12 June 1615, he describes himself as ‘John Clare of Hurstland in the parish of Woolavington … yeoman’. It is therefore probable that at the time Richard Clare bought the lease Richard Figge was living in the farmhouse at Pendean and John Clare was farming some or all of the land. The identity of Richard Figge remains unknown, since his name has not so far been discovered in any other contemporary records.

The coincidence of the date of the lease with the dendro-dating of Pendean suggests that Richard Clare built the 17th century house and it is reasonable to assume that he lived there as successor to Richard Figge at least until 1639 when he sold his lease to Francis Browne, 3rd Viscount Montagu (lord of the manor of Cowdray) for the sum of £410. From this date, evidence for the occupation of Pendean becomes tenuous. The Woolavington court book for the later 17th century continues to describe Pendean as a leasehold property held by the Montagus but does not record who actually lived in it. There is a single reference in a lease dated 1681 to a Nicholas Austen, ‘son of Nicholas Austen of Pingdeane’ in Woolavington. There is nothing else to connect Nicholas Austen the father with Pendean although, as discussed below, the description of his house contained in the probate inventory made after his death in 1697 appears to match precisely the layout of the house as it would have been at the end of the 17th century. Like John and Richard Clare, Austen was a yeoman.

The social status of the occupants of Pendean

Whilst evidence for occupation may be problematic, it does point clearly towards Pendean being a yeoman’s house. Rather than attempt an exact definition of what a ‘yeoman’ was in the 17th century it is easier to note some shared characteristics and some differences. Yeomen occupied a broad rural middle ‘class’, below the ranks of gentry, but above the ranks of husbandmen and labourers. They derived their living primarily from the land and typically employed non-family labour. Their houses were usually larger and better furnished than those of husbandmen (for whom houses the size of Poplar Cottage were more typical). They were more likely than husbandmen to hold parish offices such as overseers of the poor or churchwardens, giving them an important stake in the government and administration of their communities. Generally, literacy levels amongst yeoman were higher than amongst husbandmen, although Richard Clare was illiterate, as evidenced by the ‘mark’ he used on the indenture of sale of 1639.

Richard Clare’s ‘mark’ from the indenture of 1639.

Richard Clare’s ‘mark’ from the indenture of 1639.

There were, nevertheless, marked variations in wealth between yeomen. In terms of lifestyle, the wealthiest yeomen could equal or surpass the minor gentry; whilst poorer yeomen were closer to the ranks of prosperous husbandmen. While the total value of movable wealth recorded in probate inventories provides only a crude index to wealth distribution within and between social groups it is worth pointing out by way of comparison that when the yeoman William Sandham died in 1678 his movable estate was valued at £682 10s 10d whereas in 1697 Nicholas Austen’s movable estate was valued at a more modest £231 15s 3d. At 40 acres Pendean was a small farm by yeoman standards and much of its value would have been in the rights of pasture that went with it. We know that Nicholas Austen was holding land elsewhere in addition to Pendean since his probate inventory records four barns in what were evidently separate locations.

The 17th century house

By the 17th century traditional open hall houses like Bayleaf with their clearly obsolete. Many medieval houses, like Walderton, were modified with the insertion of a chimney stack and second floor. Others, like Pendean, were built according to a new domestic plan. The reasons for the decline of the open hall are unclear. The technology of chimney construction was already available and the cost of adapting traditional houses was not excessive. Historians agree that the reasons are more likely to be located in broader social and cultural changes; they disagree on what those changes were.

Whilst identifying the agents of change may be difficult, we can be more confident in our analysis of changing patterns of room use and in room terminology in the ‘closed’ house thanks to the extensive survival of 17th century probate inventories. A probate inventory was, as its name suggests, an inventory of the deceased’s movable estate taken immediately after death. The ‘appraisors’ (usually two) normally began with cash (‘money in his purse’) and clothes (‘his wearing apparel’) and then proceeded around the house from room to room listing and valuing the deceased’s movable goods, before moving outside to list the contents of agricultural buildings, livestock and crops growing in the fields. Anything that was not movable was omitted, which means that you might get a list of cooking utensils but no oven, window curtains but no windows.

A 16th century manuscript plan of a house to be built in Suffolk.

A 16th century manuscript plan of a house to be built in Suffolk. It has an identical plan to Pendean, but the room names are different. The unheated end room is called the buttery, the middle room is the parlour, and the end room, with the widest fireplace, is the hall. The two fireplaces are labelled ‘chimney’, and the stairs are behind the chimney.

Room terminology and usage

Not all probate inventories list rooms and in others it is evident rooms have been omitted. Counting the number of rooms within an inventory or as an average across a sample of inventories is therefore an inaccurate way of gauging house size. In general, however, 17th century houses had more rooms than their 16th century predecessors, usually including a greater number and variety of service rooms. The extent to which the new domestic plan reflected changes to the use of space within the house is considered below.

There are 35 probate inventories surviving for the parish of Woolavington for the period 1600 to 1700, only 12 of which list rooms. To this sample has been added a further 61 inventories surviving for Stoughton (in which the house from Walderton was situated) of which 32 list rooms. All these inventories are held at the West Sussex Record Office and have been transcribed mostly by John Hurd, assisted by Sue Davis and Anna Jackson. Analysis of inventories listing rooms reveals that in these two parishes in the 17th century all houses had a room identified as a ‘hall’, the primary function of which was eating, sitting and storage. The hall continued to be the main social space, as with earlier houses like Bayleaf. Some inventories suggest that cooking was still taking place in the hall, but in the majority of inventories cooking had moved to the ‘kitchen’.

The word ‘house’ was applied to rooms in which activities involved production for use (‘bake house’, ‘milk house’, ‘brew house’). In theory, ‘milk houses’ were used for dairying; ‘bake houses’ for food preparation and baking, and ‘brew house’, ‘drink house’ and ‘malt house’ were used for brewing and drink storage. However, in practice many of these rooms served more than one function, depending on the needs of the household. A few of the larger houses in the sample had a room called a ‘wash house’. This might be used for brewing and dairying but was distinguished from other service rooms in having a well, providing an in-house water supply.

In other parts of the country at this date historians have noted the increasing number of houses containing parlours. The parlour, which was additional to the hall and the kitchen, was a private sitting room for the householder and his wife and was where they received guests. Parlours usually contained the best furniture and furnishings, allowing the householder to display his wealth and social status. In the inventory sample used here only a handful of the wealthiest yeomen with substantial houses had parlours. For example, Edmund Fairmanner, a yeoman of Stoughton whose movable estate was valued at £725 1s 8d in 1644, had a downstairs parlour in addition to his hall and kitchen. He also had a milk house, cellar, bake house and wash house on the ground floor. His hall contained a table, a form (a bench), a chair, three stools and a pair of andirons. His parlour contained a table, two forms, a chair, three stools, a side cupboard, a carpet, a cupboard cloth, three cushions, a pair of andirons and a curtain rod. The disparity in the level of ‘comfort’ offered in these two rooms is apparent. The presence of a curtain rod suggests that the parlour had glazed windows.

A ‘chamber’ was a general synonym for ‘room’ and could be located downstairs or upstairs. Upstairs chambers, usually identified by their position above the downstairs room (e.g. ‘kitchen chamber’, ‘hall chamber’), were used for sleeping and storage, including the storage of household goods such as linen and agricultural products such as grain and wool.

Room terminology and room use in Pendean

Plan of Pendean showing the original layout of c1609

Plan of Pendean showing the original layout of c1609 and the alterations made in the mid-17th century.

Actually matching an inventory to a standing building is difficult. No probate inventory survives for Richard Clare. However, we are fortunate in having a probate inventory for Nicholas Austen dated 1697 which seems to match what we know of the layout of Pendean in the late 17th century. The inventory (which is damaged down the right hand side, preventing a complete transcription) describes a total of nine rooms, six downstairs and three upstairs. Downstairs there was a kitchen, with a fireplace, used for cooking, a brew house (self explanatory but possibly also used for dairying), a cellar (for the storage of liquid, probably ale and cider), a milk house (for dairying), a hall with a fireplace for sitting, eating and storage and a bake house for food preparation and baking. Upstairs the inventory records a hall chamber with a fireplace, used solely for sleeping, a little chamber and a kitchen chamber, both used for sleeping and storage.

Austen’s inventory confirms that the Museum’s interpretation of room usage within Pendean is substantially correct. We know that the room on the east side of the chimney stack was the kitchen because of the size of the fireplace and evidence for the earlier existence of an oven. The central room with a slightly smaller fireplace would therefore have been the hall and the smallest, unheated, room at the west end was probably the milk house. The internal oven, which we know was removed in the later 17th century, must have been replaced by a new oven in one of the two additional outshuts, becoming the bake house. The hall chamber with the fireplace was evidently the main bedchamber as the Museum has interpreted it; its status is reflected in the fact that it was the only one of the three chambers not used for storage.

Enclosed living

In many ways the revised domestic plan offered by Pendean and other houses like it is not radically different from the way that space was used in its open hall predecessors, like Bayleaf, although the rigid distinction between upper and lower ends is no longer apparent. Matthew Johnson has offered the most detailed, and challenging, interpretation of the social and cultural changes that produced the ‘closed’ house, seeing it (amongst other things) as a corollary of the ‘closure’ of the landscape, with the enclosure of common land, and the increased marginalisation of women and servants, reflected in their removal from the open hall to enclosed service rooms. However, Woolavington experienced no early enclosure and it is open to question whether one can talk about increased social segregation in a house of the size and layout of Pendean, leaving the relationship between historic ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ unresolved. The less exciting, but still plausible, explanation that the ‘closed’ house was simply more comfortable to live in should not be dismissed.


  • M Johnson, Housing culture: traditional architecture in an English landscape (London, 1993).M Overton, J
  • Whittle, D Dean and A Hann, Production and consumption in English households, 1600-1750 (Abingdon, 2004).