Property / Houses for sale

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The Independent Culture
TIMBER-FRAME building is by no means dead. The grasp that it has on the imagination of the housebuyer is still so strong that builders continue to use the style, or to steal elements from it, in order to satisfy the human need for houses made from trees.

Architects vary in their adherence to methods and skills used by 16th-century craftsmen, combining new and old wisdoms to different effect. Coppice House, at Peplow near Market Drayton in Shropshire, is a quite remarkable example built in 1989. It was made using an oak frame, proper mortise and tenon joints with oak pegs. The studs were filled with insulated panels rather than wattle and daub, but they were rendered with a lime mortar finish which makes the walls look suitably soft between the silvery grey timbers. Inside the house there are English hardwoods everywhere, but the emphasis is on modernity with three of the five bedrooms having their own bathrooms. It is selling through Balfour & Cooke at pounds 235,000 with just over five acres of woodland, garden and ponds.

Bovis Homes has also trawled the period style books for ideas, incorporating some of the design details into a new four-bedroom thatched farmhouse at a village green development near Telford, for sale at pounds 225,000. It has timber studs, some of them filled in with herring-bone brickwork in the way that builders in the 18th century might have done. The large inglenook fireplace is also a steal from the past.

By comparison, an authentic timber-frame house in the same region, including a cider mill and a granary, five bedrooms, four reception rooms, a period barn and three-and-a-half acres, is priced at pounds 265,000 by Knight Frank & Rutley. Shortgrove, at Brimfield Common near Ludlow, has a Grade II listing due to its 17th- century origins and has been carefully restored, leaving stone and wood floors exposed as well as timbers.

In Kent many of the timber-frame houses were built out of the wealth created during the 14th and 15th centuries by Dutch weavers, who settled first in Cranbrook, making it one of the richest towns in the county. Nearby villages benefited. An example of a house built during this period is Exhurst Manor at Staplehurst, which has 14th-century origins and an exterior which is now partly tile-hung in the Kentish tradition. There are five bedrooms, over 15 acres, stable block and garage with a staff flat. Savills price it at pounds 450,000.

Very few timber-frame houses break through the pounds 500,000 barrier due to the fact that most of them are compact and cosy rather than grand. Oak Tree Cottage, for instance, close to the 24 acres of common land that make up Burgate Green in Suffolk, is positively cottagey. The timber frame with red brick under a thatched roof contains three bedrooms, and still carries with it the right to graze animals on the common. It, too, is selling through Savills, at pounds 175,000.

Choppins Hall, at Coddenham near Ipswich, also in Suffolk, was obviously built for a much richer family in the 14th century. The clues lie with the statuesque king post still intact in the roof space, and timber beams decorated with Tudor roses in the sitting room. This has been recognised in its Grade I listing. The house, with a Grade II-listed barn, outbuildings, stables and meadows, has been priced by Strutt & Parker at around pounds 395,000. 'I am always conscious of the sense of history here, that I am living in a quite remarkable piece of building work that will survive long after I am gone,' said its current owner, Paul Hyde.