The blog

Roger Hunt is an award winning writer and blogger specialising in sustainability, old houses, housebuilding and traditional and modern building materials. He is the co-author of Old House Handbook and the companion volume Old House Eco Handbook.

House history in America

House history in America

In Britain we frequently take old houses for granted but in the USA they’re very often seen as much more special. I was reminded of this recently when I arrived on Martha’s Vineyard, in Massachusetts, and picked up a copy of the Vineyard Gazette. On the front page was a story about a three centuries old farmhouse – a house that is perhaps the oldest house on the Island and one of its finest existing examples of multi-century architecture.

As I read on my interest was stirred. Dating from around the mid 17th century, the Mayhew-Hancock-Mitchell house, as it’s known, has 18th and 19th century additions and some wattle and daub in its construction. Remarkably, it is something of a time capsule with few modern amenities – it has no electricity. Thankfully the house and surrounding land is now in the care of the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation so I called executive director Adam Moore and he kindly offered to show me around.

It was a perfect Vineyard afternoon as we drove out to the 146 acre Quansoo Farm at Chilmark. Here field and forest stretch to the shores of Black Point Pond to the south and Tisbury Great Pond to the east. It’s a place where an unrelenting wind leans against the trees and tall grasses while, nearby, the Atlantic surf thunders on a long sandy beach. The grey, shingled house, patched against the weather, stands alone in this landscape at the end of a track.

Inside only exploratory work has so far been undertaken, including dendrochronology to try to gain a more precise idea of when the house was built. The patina of age clings to the surfaces and for anyone interested in old buildings this is a chance to step through history and understand the simplicity of the construction and the details of the craftsmanship and materials. It’s not a large house but, as Adam explained, there’s still much to learn about how it developed from its possible origins as a missionary meeting house and to consider the best way of repairing it.

There are numerous small details that catch the eye. A wooden door latch contrasting with a more recent iron latch; numerous pieces of pottery and animal bones discovered beneath the floors; the wonky chimney in one of the attics; sections of wallpaper; jars lined up in the pantry; ship drawings and signatures scribed into the timber. There is a detailed examination of the house and its possible development here.

In the future it’s hoped that the house will serve as an educational resource and, as it will not be lived in, its fabric will be unspoiled by modern amenities. Interestingly, there are plans to build a lime kiln to produce lime for use in the project using seashells; local trees will be harvested for timber.

IMG_3687 copy

Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation hopes to have the house listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the $1 million repair project, for which fundraising is underway, will probably start next autumn. I hope to visit again and follow progress.

Images: ©Roger Hunt

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SPAB Working Party

For the last 25 years conservation experts and volunteer heritage enthusiasts have come together to join the annual Working Party run by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). I went along to join them and created a video about the Working Party at Sullington Manor Farm near Storrington, West Sussex. They were working…

Listed building allure

Listed building allure

Every year, many of the estimated 450,000 listed buildings in the UK change hands on the property market. In England and Wales these properties are designated Grade I, Grade II* or Grade II having being deemed to be of historical, cultural or architectural interest. All buildings built before 1700

Environmental Pocketbook

Environmental Pocketbook

If you’re going to invest in just one book on sustainable, low carbon building I’d strongly suggest that you make it The Environmental Design Pocketbook. Now in its second edition, this useful volume by Sofie Pelsmakers should be essential reading for architects, designers, developers, planners, students, clients and anyone else involved in the construction and operation of buildings….

Fire in old buildings

Fire in old buildings

The devastating fire at the Grade I listed, 18th century National Trust mansion at Clandon Park, Surrey, once again highlights the need to do everything we can to protect old buildings. Whatever the size of the building, there are simple measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of fire, ensure early warning of a…

Adapting old buildings

Adapting old buildings

The need for fresh air and light in buildings is something I’m often talking and writing about because it’s central to creating a good home, but the theme is nothing new. I was reminded of this when I recently visited the King Edward VII Estate, near Midhurst, West Sussex. Here, the former sanatorium is being…

Building lime knowledge

Building lime knowledge

Lime, in the form of mortars, renders, plasters and paints, is a key component of old buildings and essential to their repair – or at least it should be. Today lime-based materials are also emerging into the mainstream and being used within low carbon construction systems, employed in everything from homes to superstores. All this…

Drain problems

Drain problems

A blocked drain is not a pleasant thing to wake up to. What’s worse is the realisation that it’s something that can generally be avoided by doing what I’m always talking about: maintenance. The drainage system is easily forgotten because much of it is hidden away underground but, as with any element of a building, it…

Building remembrance

Building remembrance

Visiting Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, the poppy installation at the Tower of London, reminded me that the built environment frequently plays an important part in both remembrance and memory. Each of the 888,246 ceramic poppies that flood the moat of the Tower depicts a death in the British forces in the First…

Materials testing

Materials testing

New techniques and materials aimed at producing low carbon solutions mean this is an exciting time to be involved with new build and retrofit. There are dangers though, in the rush to innovate there may be failures along the way so it’s vital that there’s scrupulously testing and monitoring at all stages. This is why…

Hidden London

Hidden London

Impending development often means there is a chance to step back in time because archaeological investigation may be undertaken as part of the work. This is especially true in London where layers of history have been laid down by successive generations as the city has evolved. Visiting Barratt London’s Landmark Place site close to the…

SPAB Working Party

For the last 25 years conservation experts and volunteer heritage enthusiasts have come together to join the annual Working Party run by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). I went along to join them and created a video about the Working Party at Sullington Manor Farm near Storrington, West Sussex. They were working…

Listed building allure

Listed building allure

Every year, many of the estimated 450,000 listed buildings in the UK change hands on the property market. In England and Wales these properties are designated Grade I, Grade II* or Grade II having being deemed to be of historical, cultural or architectural interest. All buildings built before 1700 Tweet

Environmental Pocketbook

Environmental Pocketbook

If you’re going to invest in just one book on sustainable, low carbon building I’d strongly suggest that you make it The Environmental Design Pocketbook. Now in its second edition, this useful volume by Sofie Pelsmakers should be essential reading for architects, designers, developers, planners, students, clients and anyone else involved in the construction and operation of buildings….

Fire in old buildings

Fire in old buildings

The devastating fire at the Grade I listed, 18th century National Trust mansion at Clandon Park, Surrey, once again highlights the need to do everything we can to protect old buildings. Whatever the size of the building, there are simple measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of fire, ensure early warning of a…

Adapting old buildings

Adapting old buildings

The need for fresh air and light in buildings is something I’m often talking and writing about because it’s central to creating a good home, but the theme is nothing new. I was reminded of this when I recently visited the King Edward VII Estate, near Midhurst, West Sussex. Here, the former sanatorium is being…

Building lime knowledge

Building lime knowledge

Lime, in the form of mortars, renders, plasters and paints, is a key component of old buildings and essential to their repair – or at least it should be. Today lime-based materials are also emerging into the mainstream and being used within low carbon construction systems, employed in everything from homes to superstores. All this…

Drain problems

Drain problems

A blocked drain is not a pleasant thing to wake up to. What’s worse is the realisation that it’s something that can generally be avoided by doing what I’m always talking about: maintenance. The drainage system is easily forgotten because much of it is hidden away underground but, as with any element of a building, it…

Building remembrance

Building remembrance

Visiting Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, the poppy installation at the Tower of London, reminded me that the built environment frequently plays an important part in both remembrance and memory. Each of the 888,246 ceramic poppies that flood the moat of the Tower depicts a death in the British forces in the First…

Renovation tale – Part 1

Renovation tale – Part 1

This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago… On the table is the surveyor’s report; yellow Post-it notes stick from its pages in such profusion that they no longer have any relevance. Phrases like “needs attention”, “must be thoroughly overhauled” and “a fair amount of dampness” are highlighted by marker… Continue Reading