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Lecture Report – Dating Henley’s medieval buildings

Ruth Gibson, our speaker, with Cllr Kellie Hinton who granted funds for dendrochronological dating of the Chantry House.

The Group greatly enjoyed a talk given on 4th May by HA&HG committee member Ruth Gibson on the project of dating Henley’s medieval buildings using tree rings.

Tree-ring dating involves matching a sequence of ring widths of a core sample from a timber, against a record of previously measured ring widths of known dates.

Henley is fortunate in having a number of timber buildings surviving from the medieval period. Most of these buildings do not look old from the outside, having been modernised at various times in the past, but some have crown post roofs and sooted timbers from open halls hidden within.

But, in fact, some buildings which look old from the outside are relatively new buildings, artificially ‘aged’ by adding old-style features!

Twelfth-century stonework, however, of the original Henley bridge survives in the cellar of The Angel on the Bridge, as do cellars in Northfield End and Hart Street.

The oldest timber building in Henley is The Old Bell in Bell Street, dated to 1325, but we also have:

  • Old Broad Gates in Market Place dates to 1353,
  • Baltic Cottage in Friday Street to 1438,
  • A house in Gravel Hill to 1454 and
  • Facy’s (with a scissor brace in the roof, unique in Henley) to 1471.

One of Henley’s most iconic buildings, the ‘Chantry House’, was recently successfully dated to 1461. This building originally had an open-framed ground floor to provide shelter for merchandise brought by boat along the river. The building features a wide doorway looking towards the town, with a spandrel known as a ‘Tudor Arch’ in spite of pre-dating the Tudor dynasty by over two decades. In 1552, the building was sold to become a School House for many years.

Tony Lynch