The best that can be said about the ancient Romans is that they knew how to build roads, and of course wherever there are roads we come upon settlements, small villages which include houses… All roads lead to Rome as the saying goes... However, before the Romans invaded; Celts lived in Britain, there were no towns, and for defence against enemies, hill-forts were built. They were made up largely of earth banks, and wooden walls.
In Celtic Britain most people farmed in small villages, houses were small and made from wood and mud, with thatched roofs.
The Romans tried twice to unsuccessfully seize Britain and failed because of the sheer bravery of the Celts, with their fierce fighting skills and war chariots. Caesar had 30,000 soldiers and only managed to capture a hill-fort, (54BC). He didn’t think Britain was worth a long drawn out war, (possibly the weather put him off), and in the end and went back to Rome.
A hundred years later in A.D 43, the Romans returned. There army had four legions and managed to conquer the southern half of Britain, this then made it part of the Roman Empire. Romano-British culture which included architecture and language, religion, politics and the arts survived long after the Roman withdrew from this country.
It was the Romans who created a network of straight solid highways which were made form clay, chalk and gravel with larger flat stones on top. Towns were connected and travel made much easier.
The other great gift the Romans left to us was central heating. This form of heating was named a hypocaust. A ground level furnace was used to create hot air which circulated beneath a thin floor raised up on pillars of tiles. Underfloor heating at its best.
The Romans also left large pots in the streets for people to urinate in, the liquid was collected and used in the tanning of animal hides, and in the cleaning process. In some of the Villas or multi storey-houses, pipes channelled faeces down to ground level where night soil men would come and collect it. Public bathrooms had long stone benches with holes for people so seat themselves on. Beneath these seats flowed water and a system of plumbing that has echoes of today’s sewerage systems.
When the Romans pulled out of Britain in the 5th century, they left elegant Villas, well planned towns and feats of engineering such as Hadrian’s wall. However, these fell into decay as British Culture went back into the dark ages. It was the Norman Conquest that brought back the light, Gothic Cathedral builders of the modern ages were important in the revival of British culture.
The middle ages White Tower, at the heart of the Tower of London was began by Bishop Gundulf in 1078 ordered by William the Conqueror, completed in 1097...Durham Cathedral was begun by Bishop William de St Carilef in 1093 and complete in about 1175, it is said to be one of the most imposing Norman buildings in all of England. Fitness for purpose for the lower classes meant dark, primitive structures of one or two rooms, with crude timer frames, low walls and thatched roofs, not particularly built to last which sadly they didn’t.
The Tudors used buildings to display status and wealth. A great sense of security lent itself in many ways to beautiful houses which stand to this day. This led to more outward looking buildings, whereas medieval buildings where the need for defence created houses that faced inwards over courtyards. A statement of wealth in those days, was a huge expanse of glass, (not much change there then), balance and symmetrical exteriors with central entrances were desirable des res’s.
Stone and later brick began to replace timber as the standard material for homes of farmers and tradespeople, including artisans.
Elizabeth the 1st relations with Catholic Europe made the exchange of ideas somewhat difficult. Isolation from the European cultural mainstream saw a national trend of Gothic and classical styles. Some of the great houses we see from that period, Hampton Court Palace for example, the great house that Cardinal Wolsey began, (he passed it on to Henry V111, in a bid to gain his favour), this palace contains some wonderful Tudor work, most notably Henry’s hammer-beamed Great Hall.
Longleat House in Wiltshire, is another wonderful example of Tudor craftsmanship. The ability to build these wonderful houses was because at this time society saw more stability than its medieval ancestry. Elizabethan houses in England were conspicuous by their display of great wealth.
To Be Continued…