Meadowcroft Cottage, Lotfield Street.

Formerly Town Farm, and then Meadowcroft Farm.

By David Miller

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Meadowcroft Cottage, Lotfield Street.' page

Some of the history of Meadowcroft Cottage has been given under the page heading 'Farms and Farming,' but the building itself is of particular interest and clearly warrants a more detailed description, including cross referencing to the Hearth Tax of 1660, the Chicheley Map of 1686, and the Will of William Fairchild dated 1711.

Although little of the structure of the cottage can be seen from the outside, nearly all of the remaining timber work is visible from within, and is deserving of study.

Photo:Index Map - Meadowcroft Cottage is No.12. Click on the map to enlarge.

Index Map - Meadowcroft Cottage is No.12. Click on the map to enlarge.

It is shown as No. 12 on the map opposite, the nearby farm barns being No.13.

Most of the larger houses in Orwell which were built in the 17th century followed a standard pattern. This consisted of a room or two rooms built along the line of the road on which they fronted, and then a cross wing at one end, so that the floor plan of the whole building was like a 'T.' The stem of the 'T' was parallel with the road, and one end of the cross piece also faced the road. See, for example, 'Barnards' on Town Green Road. The part of the building forming the stem of the 'T' is referred to as 'the range,' while the building forming the cross piece of the 'T' is called 'the cross wing.' Earlier versions of this standard design had a large hall which formed the major part of the range, and extended up into the roof, usually with no chimney. These were referred to as 'hall houses.' When brick chimneys became affordable, they were placed at the junction of the range and the cross wing, so that two fireplaces could be built into the one stack, one facing each way. 

Photo:Meadowcroft in the 1920's. Note the brick side wall which may indicate a later part of the cross wing.

Meadowcroft in the 1920's. Note the brick side wall which may indicate a later part of the cross wing.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Meadowcroft Cottage, Lotfield Street.' page

This house was built in the first half of the 17th century, and probably followed the standard pattern. However, the range parallel with the road has disappeared (part of it may have survived into the 20th century - see the photo of the property in the 1920's) and it has now been replaced with a modern structure. The cross wing, however, largely survives, with much of the timber work still visible. The British Listed Buildings list suggests that the property is late 17th century, but it possibly is referring to the front (western) end of the crosswing, which has a fireplace in a side wall (a side stack) and which points to a somewhat later dating. The front part also had a suspended floor, but this would have been inserted well after the 17th century.

Photo:The Chicheley Map of 1686.

The Chicheley Map of 1686.

 

On the Chicheley Map of 1686, this property is shown as being in the possession of William Fairchild. This enables us to trace the entry in the Hearth Tax Returns of 1662/4, which gives the number of hearths as no less than eleven. This is by far the largest number recorded for a single property in Orwell. A second entry shows another property in William's name with eight hearths. Whichever of the two properties is Meadowcroft Cottage, William was a man of considerable wealth. This is borne out by his will made in 1711, where he disposes of property in a number of different villages. Click here to see a discussion of the Will.

The two chimney stacks now on the property contain only six hearths, three downstairs and three upstairs, but the hearth tax assessment would also have included any blacksmiths forges, beer boilers, cooking hearths, smokeries and wash house boilers which would not have been in the house itself. The fireplaces on the first floor are something of a luxury for those days. One might expect one in the solar (an upstairs chamber in the private end of the house) but here there are three. There is also a bread oven built in to one of the ground floor hearths.

The structure is typical of many Orwell houses, with good quality work and substantial elm timbers.  There are two original medieval windows which survive, one being an early pattern with large diamond mullions, and the other having ovolo mullions which date to around 1620. The floor joists are rather light in comparison with the heavy main frame and cross beams but there is no indication of these being more modern replacements. See photos for the general structure. At the mid point of the cross wing, there are two internal walls which are spaced too far apart to have formed a cross passage (and would not have been in the expected position anyway) and yet too close together to have created a central room. The space is taken up with a staircase (see photo) but may have had a different use in previous times. It might indicate that the two parts of the crosswing were built at different times, or for different purposes.

The photo gallery below shows the property during repair and reconstruction, and something of how it looks today, by kind permission of the present owners.  The child's tiny shoe was found during these works inside one of the walls.  It was quite common for something of the kind to be hidden in a building for good luck, and to keep the witches away. Click on the photos to enlarge, and to see the captions.

Photo:Some of the timber was in good condition . . .
Photo:and some was not! The repairs were extensive.
Photo:This old window was plastered over - complete with the glass!
Photo:But it has been completely restored.
Photo:A small iron stove had been installed in an ingle nook fireplace. This was removed . . .
Photo:to reveal a huge cooking fireplace!
Photo:. . . which takes an Aga nicely.
Photo:Other fires were not for cooking.
Photo:This fireplace was to heat an upstairs room.
Photo:General before and after photos.
Photo:The suspended floor - probably relatively recent.
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Meadowcroft Cottage, Lotfield Street.' page
Photo:The banisters are an accurate reproduction of what was there before.
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Meadowcroft Cottage, Lotfield Street.' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Meadowcroft Cottage, Lotfield Street.' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Meadowcroft Cottage, Lotfield Street.' page
Photo:Will of William Fairchild. See the separate page for a transcript.
This gallery was added by David Miller on 11/12/2014.

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