Architectural history of the Cottage
OriginsStanley means a stoney ley, while Pontlarge is a corruption of Pont l'Arch, a small village on the Seine near Rouen. Robert de Pont l'Arch was granted this manor by William of Normandy. The Little Church nearby this house dates from Norman times, having a fine Norman north doorway and chancel arch.
Medieval rivalryIn the Middle Ages the manor of Stanley Pontlarge became the property of the Abbots of Winchcombe while the neighbouring village of Gretton was acquired by the Abbey of Hailes. For some reason these two adjoining properties became subject of long and bitter dispute between the two Abbeys which was finally settled in the 14th century by exchanging one for the other. Stanley Pontlarge was thus attached to Hailes. To this day (1960 when L.T.C.R wrote this) the church is served by the vicar of Toddington (another Hailes manor) whereas Gretton is a curacy of Winchcombe. (The church was returned to the parish of Winchcombe in the 1980's). The house consists of two stone built and stone tiled cottages. Of these the northern one was built c1780 and is of no historical or architectural interest. Traces of an arched opening in the north wall of the older building and the discovery of an ancient window cut out of solid stone built into one of the walls suggest that some earlier building occupied the site of this 18th century cottage.
The 14th century cottageThe second cottage is believed to date from the 14th century and is certainly one of the oldest small inhabited houses in England. The two cottages were made into one house just after the first world war and no material alteration has been made to the older wing since that time. The owner who formed the two cottages into one died before occupying the house and it was acquired in 1921 by the father of the present owner (Tom Rolt).
Priest house or courthouse?The original purpose of the building is not known. One theory is that it was built to accommodate the priest when the little church became a chapel of ease to Hailes. The ministry of works architect, on the other hand, conjectured that it may have been built as a hunting lodge. A third possibility, and on structural grounds this seems the most plausible, is that it was the court house where the Manorial Courts were held. An old map of Gloucestershire marks a 'Court House' on this site.
Architectural featuresThe house retains its original Gothic headed doorway and a number of windows on the east side are original and so are those in the west facade with the exception of that to the right of the doorway which is a replica. The upper four light window in this west front was considered a particularly fine example of an early window by the late Sir Phillip Stott, an authority of Cotswold architecture. The topmost window in the north gable has squared sockets for bars used before glazing. The single dormer window in the roof is a 17th century addition.
20th century rebuildingThe entire south gable end of the house fell out in 1902 and had to be completely rebuilt. Consequently the windows in this end are all replicas made at this time. How closely this rebuilding followed the original is not known, but it seems certain that the massive stone chimney follows the original. Ground based chimneys of this type are rarely if ever found in Cotswold buildings upon the hills. The type is characteristic of the traditional style of building, part Cotswold, part vale, which is only found on the slopes of the northern escarpment. A small stone niche and a mass dial may be seen in the stonework of the chimney, but whether these were introduced when the gable end was rebuilt or replaced in positions they previously occupied is not known. At each end of the roof ridge it is apparent that there were elaborate stone finials (crosses?) but as only the stumps of these remain it is impossible to say what form these took. Near the door is the well with massive stone well-head which provided the water supply until the present piped supply from a spring on the hill above was laid on.
HallThe doorway opens directly into a hall/dining room. The wall which now divides this hall from the present drawing room is comparatively modern, showing that there was originally a single large hall on the ground floor, a fact which supports the belief that the building was originally intended to be a Courthouse and was subsequently converted into a dwelling. The original fireplace for this single hall was on the site of the present drawing room fireplace. The fireplace in the hall was made later, the flue, now disused, being quarried in the thickness of the wall. The ceilings of the two present rooms are each spanned by a single oak beam of great size and length. In the early 20th century reconstruction one end of the beam in the hall was cut off and supported on a brick pillar to make way for the staircase which was built at that time to replace an earlier stairway which must have been extremely steep.
First floorThe first floor is now divided into a large bathroom a bedroom and a small study. The latter was made recently by partitioning off part of the bedroom, but the other interior walls on this floor are of timber and plaster of 17th century date. The timbers show burn marks where tallow dips were stuck on the walls and there are similar marks in the attic above. The ceiling beams and rafters on this floor have stop-chamfering and moulding respectively and are also of 17th century date. It is evident, therefore, that until the 17th century this upper floor consisted of a single room which was open to the roof.
Attic under massive timber piecesA modern door and stairway now leads to the attic above where the exceptionally massive oak timber work supporting the roof may be seen to full advantage. The consultant architect to the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings considered that the most interesting feature of this roof is the comparatively large timber running directly under the ridge tiles and supported by collar pieces. Apparently the existence of this ridge timber puts the date of construction back to the 14th century or even earlier. After the 14th century the use of such heavy ridge timbers ceased because builders realised that they carried no load beyond the weight of the ridge tiles and were therefore unnecessary.
How the roof was madeThe pegged mortices and tenons of the timbers were cut upon the ground and marked for assembly by the carpenters before being lifted into position. These assembly marks, incised with a chisel are still clearly visible. Old mortice cuts show that despite the age of the roof, some of the timber had been used before in some still earlier construction. The builders who repaired the roof recently declared that they were old ship's timbers, but in view of the distance of the house to the Severn this seems most unlikely. The roof timber work is in remarkably fine condition. When the roof was recently repaired, the tiles re-hung and the interior re-plastered under the direction of the Ministry of Works, only one rafter was found to need replacement. Notice how crudely the rafters have been sawn off to make way for the dormer window. This was evidently constructed to provide more light when the rooms below were ceiled off from the roof. The timber and plaster partition which now divides the attic was presumably constructed at the same time.
One blocked-up window or two?What appears to be a blocked up window may be seen in the upper part of the north gable. Signs of a blocked window may also be seen from the outside but, strangely, the two do not coincide. L.T.C. Rolt
(article written around 1960)