Building Paycocke's beam by beam

Were these witches' markings? © Suzanne Rose

Were these witches' markings?

From medieval records, it is thought earlier buildings may once have stood on the West Street site before the current building was constructed.

Medieval open hall

The oldest part of the building, at its rear, dates from c1420 and the time of Henry V, and was part of an open medieval hall. Later buildings were added to the site in two phases of construction. Tree ring analysis has dated these between 1509-1510.

Witches' markings or a builder's reminder?

Timber-framed buildings were typically pre-fabricated in the spring and summer months with freshly felled, unseasoned oak that was soft and readily worked. Each timber was given a mark, many of which are still visible at Paycocke’s. This could be anything from a Roman numeral to hashing.

Those in the room above the cartway at Paycocke’s have caused quite a controversy – circles with lines running through them are often associated with witches’ marks. Whilst some believe these markings may have a more sinister meaning, others believe they were merely markings to help builders put the beams together, finishing the jigsaw puzzle.

Thomas Paycocke

Paycocke, commissioner and owner, wanted to impress using the latest fashions within the building.

As a clothier, he would have been well-travelled across Europe and similarities with French and Italian architecture suggest he may have employed craftsman he met from the continent. Showing off his wealth, the more elaborate carvings, visible by streaming day light, are confined to the front half of the house where visitors first entered.

The land out back

The land we have today incorporated into our garden was once part of the business premises of Thomas Paycocke.

A cart-way, built in the second phase of construction, allowed the transporting of goods in wagons from the road to the yard and Tudor outbuildings at the back of the house. These would have included stables, a dovecote and possibly a kitchen. Tudor kitchens were always separate from the main building due to the risk of fire.