Tag Archives: Joe the Quilter

Recreating Joe the Quilter’s Cottage: what has the excavation taught us?

Back in September John led an archaeological excavation of the site of Joe the Quilter’s cottage (you can learn more about Joe’s tragic story and the excavation of his house by clicking here) .  Our team of Beamish staff, local volunteers and archaeology students discovered the remains of the walls, flagstone floor and brick chimney breast of Joe’s little cottage.

Excavated Joe's Cottage foundations

The uncovered remains of Joe the Quilter’s Cottage

The clues revealed by the excavation have allowed Clara to piece together a more accurate interpretation of what Joe’s cottage originally looked like, which will form the basis of a recreation of the cottage at the Museum.

The initial interpretive plans of the cottage that Clara made, were based on contemporary images and descriptions that were made following Joe’s murder in 1826, as well as by using comparisons with other regional cottages of roughly the same age. One very significant plan and elevation printed by W. Davidson in January 1826 (shortly after Joe’s murder) of the cottage (which was intended to record grisly details such as where the body was found for the enthralment of the general public) gives an invaluable insight into the rough layout of the building. It suggests that internally the cottage was divided into a main domestic room and a storage room/animal shelter. The front (and only) door is shown as leading immediately into the main room, in which is depicted a recessed fireplace. This plan also gives additional details, including that the bed was located in the south west corner of the main room and that Joe kept his coals to the west of the chimney breast.

Joe the Quilters Card Reverse

A plan of Joe’s cottage, published by W. Davidson, shortly after Joe’s murder. 

Upon excavating the site, the lower two courses of the back wall and rear half of the two gable ends of the cottage were revealed. Unfortunately the front of the cottage has been lost due the disruption caused by the newer boundary wall of the field in which the cottage site sits. These sections of wall revealed that the length of the cottage was actually slightly larger than initially expected, being 30’ long. As the remains of the two gable walls are intersected by the boundary wall, their total length has to be estimated, based on other archaeological evidence; including information such as the positioning of what we believe are the remains of the chimney breast. This evidence has allowed us to reasonably interpret that the footprint of Joe’s cottage was approximately 30′ long by 20′ – still a very small dwelling for what was before the death of Joe’s wife, a family home.

joe's photo

A composite of aerial photographs of the excavated site. The overlay in blue shows the initial scaled plan of the cottage and the overlay in red shows the revealed size of the rear and south gable walls. 

Other discoveries, were that of the flagstones in front what appear to be the remains of a chimney breast, built from hand-made bricks, and the charred remnants of what we think was a wattle and daub divide between Joe’s living and storage rooms. Crucially, all of this evidence helps us to imagine what Joe’s home looked like when he was living there.

post ex plan updated

Clara’s interpretation of what the plan of the cottage looked like. The archaeological remains are shown in green. The locations of furniture shown is based on contemporary sources, including an sales notice that listed some of Joe’s possessions. 

However, unfortunately, archaeology can only take us so far in being able to understand what the cottage looked like. As only the lower courses of walls remained, we had no indication of the position of the doors and windows or what the roof structure was like. To gather this information, Clara had to return to looking at archive sources and other similar local buildings of an contemporary age to Joe’s cottage. For example, the etchings of Joe’s house that were made to be illustrate publications about his murder show that the cottage had a very shaggy thatched roof with a steep pitch. This led us to agree that the cottage must have been thatched with heather. Heather is often thatched in loose bundles and is left uncombed or trimmed, unlike straw or reed thatch, and therefore it requires a steeper pitch to through water and snow off of it. Additionally, due to its abundance and durability, heather was the most common form of roof covering on vernacular buildings in the North East until the early 19th century. Indeed the moor behind Joe’s house would have been full of heather!

The cottage

The elevation of Joe’s cottage that was published by W. Davidson in 1826.

As archival sources and oral histories record, heather was often thatch wet, with the roots intact, and left to form a semi-living roof of up to two foot thick. This of course would have been extremely heavy! Therefore the cottage’s roof structure would have had to have been very strong. It is unlikely that the cottage had a ‘king’ or ‘queen’ post that required advanced joinery skills, but it may have had a simple ‘A’ frame truss formed of two principle rafters and a tie beam. However, the combination of the need to support a heavy roof covering, with the requirement of a steep pitch, with the found nature of the cottage’s materials and its vernacular design, suggests that it may have had cruck trusses. Crucks are where the principle rafters of a truss are formed by the two halves of a split tree trunk. Often the natural curve of the trunks inevitably created a steep, almost Gothic arch, providing the sharp pitch needed for heather thatch. Recreating the cruck trusses and heather thatch roof will be a particularly exciting challenge, as both methods of construction have almost become lost skills. We are hoping that this is something that our team of volunteers from Warden (where the cottage is located) will help us with, by collecting heather and helping us to experiment with thatching techniques.

Post ex section

Clara’s interpretation of the cottage in section, showing the wattle and daub room divide, the cruck trusses, and brick chimney breast

The next stage is for Beamish’s architect, Steve, to transform Clara’s initial interpretative drawings into plans that can be used to recreate the cottage as part of our planned Remaking Beamish project (learn more about Remaking Beamish by clicking here). Look out for more posts for updates about Joe’s humble home!

 

 

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Finding Joe the Quilter’s Cottage: Success!

We’ve been posting a reasonable amount about Joe the Quilter recently, and I won’t go over his story, our initial investigation last year, or the plans we have to replicate it (Clara also posted some pictures of initial progress of the excavation a few weeks ago), but we have managed to find Joe’s cottage!

Not only find it, but excavate it to the base of the walls and the sub-floor level, as well as dig the gardens at either end of the building. The image below shows three of the walls and some of the flagstone floor. The field-boundary cuts across the cottage at about two-thirds of it’s width – the front wall would have been right next to the road.

Excavated Joe's Cottage foundations

Most of the flagstones and walling stone had been robbed away, but enough remained for us to be able to work out the size of the building and something of the construction and destruction sequences. It turns out that the plan from 1826 is slightly misleading, and the building was actually a meter and a half longer than we’d initially thought. What is very exciting is that we’ve been able to find one side of the brick-built fireplace, as well as some evidence of the wooden partition between the main and ancillary rooms.

The remaining flagstones, with the brick wall of the fireplace in the centre of the image.

The remaining flagstones, with the brick wall of the fireplace in the centre of the image.

The spots of black that are in a line to the right of the flagstone, indicated the line of a burnt wooden partition between the main room with it's flagstone floor, and the ancillary room, which just had a packed earth floor.

The spots of black that are in a line to the right of the flagstone, indicated the line of a burnt wooden partition between the main room with it’s flagstone floor, and the ancillary room, which just had a packed earth floor.

We also found a number of really exciting finds! There were hundreds of pieces of pottery, dozens of iron nails, a handful of buttons (brass and bone ones), a 1690s silver 4d coin, and a copper alloy name badge belonging to a clergyman who knew – and on one occasion, saved Joe’s life!

This William and Mary Silver 4d dates from 1689-1694 and was issues as 'Maundy money' - how it came to be at Joe's cottage we've no idea!

This William and Mary Silver 4d dates from 1689-1694 and was issued as ‘Maundy money’ – how it came to be at Joe’s cottage we don’t know!

This name plate - we think it might be from a saddle, but we're not sure - belonged to 'Rev R. Clarke, Walwick - who, according to late accounts, battled through the snow in 1823 to save Joe, who was 'perishing of want'!

This name plate – we think it might be from a saddle, but we’re not sure – belonged to ‘Rev R. Clarke, Walwick – who, according to late accounts, battled through the snow in 1823 to save Joe, who was ‘perishing of want’!

We’re just in the final process of moving the numbered stones and bricks to the Museum, where they’ll be stored in advance of the cottage being built in several years’ time. In the intervening period we’ll be putting more information about these finds on here as we have research done on them, writing the excavation up for academic publication and having a shorter booklet about the cottage’s history and the excavation created for general interest. There will also be opportunities to be involved in further research and reconstruction of the cottage – so watch this space!

We’re really happy with the findings of the excavation and I’m very thankful to all those who’ve been involved – well done everyone!

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Finding Joe the Quilter’s Cottage: the excavation!

The remains of Joe the Quilter's Cottage being excavated by our fantastic team of volunteers.

The remains of Joe the Quilter’s Cottage being excavated by our fantastic team of volunteers.

This week we have begun our hunt to uncover the remains of the cottage in which the famously murder Joe the Quilter lived and died. You can learn more about Joe’s story by clicking here.

What seems to be one of the former walls of Joe's cottage has been uncovered.

What seems to be one of the former walls of Joe’s cottage has been uncovered.

With help from students from UCL and Newcastle University, as well as local volunteers, John has been leading the excavation of the site where Joseph Hedley’s cottage once stood. So far we have uncovered what appears to be the former back wall and gable end of the cottage, which is not only very exciting, but will help to inform our recreation of the cottage back at Beamish. We’ve also found lots of shards of pottery, stems of clay pipes, nails, pieces of glass and a couple of bone bottles that give hints about the former occupants of the cottage. We still don’t know yet whether these items belonged to Joe or to the family who lived in the cottage after his death. As we dig deeper, we will hopefully reveal more contextual evidence that will help to date the finds.

DSCN3699

Some of the finds! Including a the stem of a clay pipe with the maker’s name stamped on it, shards of pottery, iron nails and pieces of handmade brick.

There’s still a lot more to discover so look out for further posts!

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Re-creating the home of Joe the Quilter

What the front of Joe's cottage may have looked like.

What the front of Joe’s cottage may have looked like.

As part of our Remaking Beamish project, we are planning to re-create the cottage that the famously murdered Joe the Quilter lived in.

Conceivably, if Joe was born in the cottage (a contemporary poem tells us), it must have been built at least by the mid-1700s, and given its appearance could convincingly be older. It’s location on the roadside of Homer’s Lane, approximately mid-way between two Northumberland villages, on land that was claimed from the moorland behind, suggests that it was probably a squatter’s cottage. It was perhaps gradually developed from a small hut or shelter, to a more substantial dwelling, undisturbed by local jurisdiction because of its liminal position. It was a tiny (just 16′ x 25′), stone built, heather thatched, and entirely vernacular dwelling, which built Joe’s family probably built themselves.

Joe's cottage had one main room in which he lived and a smaller one for his chickens and favourite pet duck!

Joe’s cottage had one main room in which he lived and a smaller one for his chickens!

Like most early vernacular buildings in the North East, Joe's house would have been thatched with heather, that could have been up to two foot thick.

Like most early vernacular buildings in the North East, Joe’s house would have been thatched with heather, that could have been up to two foot thick.

Joe's cottage probably had cruck trusses, which were made from the two halves of a split tree trunk.

Joe’s cottage probably had cruck trusses, which were made from the two halves of a split tree trunk.

Clara has pieced together the initial plans of the cottage using contemporary images and descriptions that were made at following Joe’s murder in 1826, as well as by using comparisons with other regional cottages of roughly the same age. We plan to excavate the site of the cottage in the early Autumn and hope that the dig will reveal further clues about what Joe’s home looked like.

Learn more about Joe’s story and his grisly end here.

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Investigating a murder!

The cottage

Front side of card recording Joes’ Cottage in 1826. Published by W Davidson, Alnwick, Drawn by R Donkin, Warden 10th January 1826. Image held in the Beamish Museum Collection (Acc. No 30802).

As part of our future expansion of the 1820s area at Beamish, the Buildings Team  are hoping to recreate the lost cottage of a Georgian quilter. This involves  investigating the scene of an unsolved crime from nearly 200 years ago!

On the 3rd of January 1826, an elderly, widowed quilter, Joseph Hedley, was  brutally murdered in his isolated cottage in Northumberland. Joe  was a kindly soul, who offered shelter to travellers and passers-by in his humble home. It was alleged that the killers were looking for his imagined wealth,  but his murder was never solved, despite making national news, and a substantial  reward being posted. In the wake of this tragic event Joe’s cottage was recorded in both plan and elevation sketches, which provide an extremely rare insight into the size, style and use of such a small, vernacular building.

Joe the Quilters Card Reverse

Reverse side of card recording Joes’ Cottage in 1826

The cottage was demolished in 1872, although it is shown on the first edition of the Ordnance Survey map, and Joe’s story is further recorded in a chronicle of folklore published in 1887 (see p221-225 of The Monthly Chronicle of North Country Lore and Legend, July 1887), its exact location was unknown.

In order to prove whether the plans were accurate, the Beamish Buildings Team set out to locate and excavate the remains of the cottage. We found a clue to the building’s location from some bricks and tiles included in a field boundary wall in the area, and with the kind permission of the land-owners Mr and Mrs Straker, began our search.

DSCF1560

Some bricks and tiles in the nearby wall

We started by removing the heavy field stones and thick vegetation that covered the site before scrapping layers of soil off to see what was below. Thanks to some precision excavation from Beamish’s Track and Plant Team – Darren and Mark – we managed to uncover a spread of mortar which shows us we were in the right area.

Darren and Mark taking a break

Darren and Mark taking a well-earned break

A bit more digging showed some ‘linear concentrations’ of the mortar which we think represent the location of the walls.

John and his trusty trowel do some closer investigation

John and his trusty trowel do some closer investigation

There was also an area of ash signifying a fire, although this is probably associated with the building’s destruction rather than its occupation.

We recovered a few finds, most excitingly a few fragments of blue and white Scottish Spongeware which we think dates from the same period as Joe was living in the house. We’re not sure if the plate would have belonged to Joe or the people who lived in the house after him, but it is a tantalising glimpse of the cottage’s past.

The excavated area highlighting the walls (Red) and ash deposit (Green)

The excavated area highlighting the walls (Red) and ash deposit (Green)

Clara and John diligently obeying Jim’s instruction to ‘look excited’ about the pottery

Clara and John diligently obeying Jim’s instruction to ‘look excited’ about the pottery

After our brief investigation we’ve now covered the site over for the winter, and plan to come back to do a full investigation of the site next year. Having identified where the cottage was, we’re hopeful that we may even find the floor where Joe breathed his last – a bit gruesome, but a real help for us in telling the story of the life, work and death of Joe and other ordinary people of the Georgian North East.

A better look at the Scottish Spongeware fragments

A better look at the Scottish Spongeware fragments

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