How was the Hall built?

Long Gallery featuring iron cross ties

Little Moreton Hall is one of the most iconic Tudor buildings in the country. How was it built? Neil, a former building surveyor and volunteer room guide, explains.

Topsoil would have been cleared, and the sandstone plinth blocks placed as a springing point for the oak base beams. Tudor builders would have understood the need for firm foundations and would not have placed the heavy stone plinth blocks on suspect ground. Any soft subsoil would have been dug out, and replaced with broken stone rubble, compacted as a firm base. It can be seen within the courtyard that there is little variation in the levels between the various plinth blocks.

The “Head Wright” - possibly even Richard Dale, would have been responsible for the drawings and details, all subject to the approval of his client, William Moreton. These might have been no more than room layouts and frame drawings, used to define structural frame requirements. He would then have sourced and inspected suitable oak trees for the frame, and perhaps sought curved branches for the quatrefoil braces in the gallery roof.

Carvings above the Great Parlour gabled bay window. Richard Dale, the carpenter who designed the window, carved his name with the following inscription: "God is Al in Al Thing: This windous whire made by William Moreton in the yeare of Oure Lorde MDLIX.
Carvings above the Great Parlour gabled bay window. Richard Dale, the carpenter who designed the window, carved his name with the following inscription:
Carvings above the Great Parlour gabled bay window. Richard Dale, the carpenter who designed the window, carved his name with the following inscription: "God is Al in Al Thing: This windous whire made by William Moreton in the yeare of Oure Lorde MDLIX.

All materials wherever possible would have been locally sourced, as transport would have been prohibitively expensive, given the then condition of roads and tracks. Sources suggest that material costs doubled every 10 miles of haulage. Oak came from local forests, roof slabs may have come from Teggs Nose quarry near Macclesfield, and sand and lime from the Astbury area.

Frame preparation would have taken place in a local timber yard, sections laid out on the ground, peg holes prepared using an auger, and trial assembled. Each joint would then have been numbered, dis-assembled, and taken to site for erection. The most onerous task would have been sawing oak trees into frame beams, achieved by the use of double ended hand saws, with the apprentice carpenter down in the saw pit. The carpenters elimated waste by using the narrowing end of the tree trunk to make the tapered floor planks that you can see by the door into the Long Gallery.

Frame erection would proceed using ropes fixed to “rearing points”, pole scaffolding and gin wheels, hoisting posts and beams into position, then pegged using the pre-prepared peg holes. Braziers would have been used on site to dry and shrink pegs prior to insertion. The display in the Great Chamber explains how the pegs would then absorb moisture from the green oak frame, thus expanding to grip tight. Note how pegs were left projecting, so that when they finally dried and shrunk, they could be hammered tighter in.

Detail of a carpenter's mark on two beams outside the South Chamber at Little Moreton Hall
Detail of a carpenter's mark on two beams outside the South Chamber at Little Moreton Hall
Detail of a carpenter's mark on two beams outside the South Chamber at Little Moreton Hall

Slots and holes would have been prepared in the wall frames, to allow insertion of vertical split oak laths, hazel or wattles. Withies or flexible rods would then be interwoven into the wattles. Most of the panels at the Hall are comprised of close fitting oak laths. Daub was applied to both sides, comprising clay, rough sand, lime and fibrous cow or horse dung. The surface could then be dressed with an application of sand/lime plaster. During the recent renovations, the plasterer was often seen collecting fresh dung from Little Moreton Farm!

Gritstone roof slabs, drilled to take oak pegs, would be fitted to roof battens, pegged to rafters. Note the smaller slates as the ridges are approached. These are known as “diminishing courses” to exaggerate perspective, to give the impression of greater height, and to use up offcuts. Some of the larger slabs weigh 15 stone (95 Kgs), and some of the slabs are triple lapped. The total weight of the Long Gallery roof has been estimated at 32 tons (32,500KG). This excessive load has forced the gallery roof trusses down, pushing the walls apart, and destabilising the trusses which show opening joints, later filled with plaster. The second hand beams either side of the trusses carry a crossbar and a prop located under the failed truss joints as supports. Elizabeth Moreton’s' adjustable iron cross ties stop the walls spreading further.