Nigel Paterson - February 2023




Mount Cottage in 2016




Mount Cottage in 2016

This is a suggested development history for Mount Cottage, Dowlish Wake.  It is based upon information remaining in the structure of the building as it survives in 2023.  Rooms are labelled as shown on the Somerset Vernacular Building Recording Group (SVBRG) plan (their report dated Dec 2015).  It seems that work has been done on the house at approx. 100y intervals, but at each phase, much of the earlier work was retained.  So, the present house appears to be rather complex and its development over the centuries will always be somewhat conjectural.  The building has been described and photographs given in the report written in 2017 by Nigel Paterson.



Plan of Mount Cottage [Somerset Vernacular Building Recording Group Report 2015]


Plan of Mount Cottage 

(Somerset Vernacular Building Recording Group Report, 2015)

It is an early house and now stands elevated above a sunken lane and close to the manor house and church.  It is an interesting thought that when first built, the lane may not have been so deep and the building may have stood beside the lane to the fields in the lower ground to the S.


Phase 1: Original Building (late15/early 16thC)

It seems to have originated as a 3-room longhouse (Rooms B, C, E) with cross passage (D).  The walls were cob (some survives in the S, W and N walls) and enough remains to show the early footprint.   The use of cob is consistent with an early origin, as local stone, although plentiful, may not have been in common use for less significant buildings in medieval times.  The cob sits on a low stone plinth, which has been revealed along the N wall of the house.  This is a feature of cob buildings and was necessary to protect the walling from damp and decay.  The original outside walls may have been lower, the window openings smaller (but probably in their current positions) and the internal floors of earth (flagstones only came into use in the 17th and 18thC).  The window frames would have been unglazed and probably fitted with shutters.


The cross passage (D) passed from the front to the rear of the building and gave access to the living and work room. The entrance to the cross passage in the N wall was closed and converted to a window in the early 20thC.  The passage was bounded to the W by a plank and post screen, with a doorway at its N end to Room E. The head member survives and shows the position of the doorway, posts and planks.  Room E was most probably a store/workshop/barn.  The rafters surviving in the ceiling of this room are early, nearly square in section and are closely spaced (260 mm), and show that there was a room above, this extended over the passage. There is a surviving vertical post in the NW corner of the room, which is embedded in the cob wall.  It sits on top of the low stone plinth and runs up to the underside of the roof truss.  Could this be part of the original build and intended to transfer the roof load to the stone plinth (to avoid problems with the cob walling?). The East side of the cross passage had a ceiling beam with a wattle and daub panel beneath.  This is indicated by the regular stave holes in the soffit of the surviving beam.  This panel may have been built on a low stone section of wall (which can be seen as the large, blackened stone blocks in the rear of the surviving fireplace in Room C), This may have been necessary to protect the partition from the open hearth in the hall (Room C).  Both of the beams adjoining the passage are similar in character (i.e. they are elm and are of a rough, simple nature with no chamfers or stops). 


Room C (the hall) was entered through a wide opening towards the S end of the passage.  At this point, the passage beam has a mortice and peg hole, at the point where the stave holes in the beam soffit end, which shows a former vertical post in this position.  There may have been a further post at the other side of the opening, but the evidence is obscured by later work.  It is worth noting that posts were added in these positions in the 1990’s restoration.  The wide opening may have been closed by a timber panel and door between the posts. 

Nothing remains in Room C to show any detail of the hall.  It would have been the living room of the house, with an open hearth, possibly set against the side wall of the cross passage.  Here, all food would have been cooked, eaten and other domestic activities conducted.  However, there is information in the room above (i.e. above the now ceiled open hall).  In this room, there is a smoke blackened truss, with a vertical apex joint (originally held together with a half lapped and pegged block (just beneath the apex)).   This is an early form of apex joint and has been noted in 15thC buildings in Wiltshire.  The truss seems to have been taken down and re-used during the first modification when the roof was rebuilt and possibly raised.  The truss apex joint, although now missing the block, shows the cut-out and the peg holes, which all line up, strongly suggesting the truss was replaced in the new roof.  Also, there is a vent (a wind eye) set into the top of the S side wall, which is thought to be where the smoke escaped from the open hearth.


Room B would have been entered from the hall and is generally known as the inner room.  This was more private accommodation and for sleeping. It would have been unheated.  Not much evidence of the form of this room survives.  The smoke blackened truss described in the hall, is not blackened on the inner room side, so this must have had a closed frame separating the inner room from the smoky hall.  No structure for this survives, apart from the re-used principal rafters.  The ceiling structure that now survives is from a later modification.  There is one section of cob walling in the SE corner of the room, which indicates the length of the room.

The hall and inner room seem to have been at a higher level than the cross passage and workroom.  This is reflected in the current arrangement (there are 2 stone steps to enter room C), although the floor level in the passage and room B may have been lowered slightly at a subsequent stage (which exaggerates the difference).

There is a well to the W end of the building, which probably provided the water supply for this early building.  It is over 6m to the water level, which is then about 2m deep.  Its upper level (about 1.5m) is formed of drystone walling, which then passes into a larger diameter near circular shaft through the Yeovil sands strata.

This initial building was not a small hovel, but probably of a yeoman status or something connected to the manor.  Its construction was simple and intended to provide the basic human needs: warmth, protection and somewhere to prepare food, work and sleep.


Phase 2: First Modification (late 16thC)

The hall was ceiled in the late 16th C and a good post and panel screen was added to form the wall between the hall and the inner room.  The new ceiling structure (which survives) is integral with the screen and a new cross beam.  Both the head beam of the screen and the cross beam have the same detail (wide chamfer (100-140mm) and step, run out stops).  Most posts of the screen are numbered at their bases (horizontal lines 1-4, progressing N from the door to the inner room).  This shows that the screen was made in a carpenter’s workshop and assembled on site.   The joists (nearly square section) sit in notches in the beam/screen tops and are closely spaced (250-270mm).  The floorboards (of the now ceiled open hall) are laid parallel to the joists and not across them.  All of these timbers are oak and are smoothly finished on the hall side (although adze and saws cuts are still evident).  The screen has good detail and from its style is thought to date from near 1580. This is the period, generally called ‘The Great Rebuilding’, when many medieval houses were upgraded.  The posts are chamfered (flat, 50mm wide) down to a height of 740mm above the current floor.  There are similar chamfers in the sections of the head beam above the planks and these give the effect of the wall being paneled.  There are wear marks along the screen at 740mm above the floor, which is consistent with the former presence of a bench.  There are two door openings in the screen.  The inner one has a peaked head and a recess for a door and will have been the entrance to the inner room (this is still in use).  The outer opening (blocked by early boards) probably marks the entrance to a stair to the new chamber over the hall and possibly to an existing room over the inner room.  The base sill of this screen is close to the current floor level, which shows no changes in floor level from this time, although the flagstones have been added at a later date.  The quality of the screen and associated timbers is good and suggests a house of middle class/yeoman status. There is an apotropaic double circle faintly scribed on the screen, which reflects the superstitious feelings of the time.

A large fireplace was added at the W side of the hall.  This has a wood bressumer beam (oak) with a narrow, slightly cambered, unstopped chamfer over the opening.  The chamfer is 50mm wide and is the same size as that on the screen. The timber failed to dendro date, other than it was felled after 1547.  At the S end, the beam is supported by a timber post with a crude chamfer and a timber pegged, mortice and tenon joint to hold it under the bressumer.  A smoke hood sits above the beam and ascends through the new room above.   At the S end, the hood member is fixed to the top of the fireplace beam with a mortice and tenon joint, secured with a large nail.  The rear wall of the fireplace consists of large stone blocks (blackened and heat damaged) up to a height of 110cm.  At this height there is a slight ‘shelf’, because the wall above is thinner and made of smaller stones. This continues to the underside of the beam (which formed the side of the cross passage, formerly with the wattle and daub walling).  The side walls of the hearth also have less large stones and these are not blackened and are less damaged.  Is it possible that the large blocks to the lower part of the rear wall survive from the first build?

The ceiling beam, which butts against the front of the smoke hood, has step, run out stops on either side of the wide entrance from the cross passage.  This was done to reflect that the living room of the house was being entered.  It would have retained the same uses as the open hall.

The roof was also rebuilt (at least over rooms B and C) and possibly raised to improve the head height in the new upper room.   The new timbers are oak and the principals, collars and purlins have been dendro-dated to the late 16th C. The truss behind the smoke hood is a jointed cruck (side pegged), which incorporates some re-used/re-worked timber.  It is possible that this design of truss was used here to allow free passage between the upper rooms over the hall and cross passage/workroom.   The new roof structure incorporates the smoke blackened principals from a truss in the original build (these did not dendro date, they may be elm).  This revised truss had a new collar, tie beam (dendro dated to about 1580) and stud at this time. The tie of this truss would have made access between the room over the hall and over the inner room more difficult.  The new roof had full height gable end walls, with the panels within the truss infilled with wattle and daub.  Below the level of the truss tie beam, the wall was still cob (this survives at the W end).

Both upper rooms over rooms B and C have dormers with wood mullion windows surviving on the N side.  As existing, they each have a single, central mullion post.  However, that over the inner room (room B) has pegs for two further mullions spaced between the central mullion and the sides of the frame.  This shows that this is an early frame with three mullion posts and in this form would have been unglazed.  It is probable that the other mullion frame has the same origin.  These could date from this building phase.  The use of glass panes did not come into widespread use in such buildings until well into the 17thC.  The presence of these frames, at the current height, shows that if the wall heights have been raised, they were done by this stage.

It is felt that the inner room was left unaltered at this time, apart from being separated from the hall by the new screen.  The side of the screen facing into the inner room has a much rougher finish, although the posts (except one) have the same chamfer details as the hall side, but without the detail on the head beam (which is plain).  The chamfers on the muntin are stopped at a height of 1020mm above the current floor. 

At this stage, the hall would have retained its use as the main living/cooking room of the house, with the inner room being used as a separate living area.  The upper rooms would have been used for sleeping.


Phase 3: Second Modification (late 17th C)

 The date has been shown by the dendro dating of the axial beam inserted into the ceiling of the inner room.  The work concerned the ceiling structure of the inner room and the E gable end and the E end of the S wall.  The post and panel screen (inserted in Phase 2) has a slight lean to the E and it is felt that this developed between the second and third phases and could be associated with some structural weakness at this end of the house.    

There is a near vertical oak post in the S wall which crosses the lean of the screen and is pegged to the screen and jointed to the underside of the tie beam of the late 16thC truss above the screen.  It is possible this was added to help arrest further movement of the screen and to support the truss.

The E gable wall was removed and was rebuilt as a timber frame (which formed the complete wall and truss areas).  The framing was also continued along the S wall for several metres.  On the ground floor there was a series of vertical studs, with rod and daub infill.  One stud survives in the N corner of the wall and the peg holes/pegs for the others survive in the rail at ceiling level and show that it was a complete series across the end wall.   The axial ceiling beam (dendro dated to being felled in circa 1676) with a flat chamfer and keel stops was installed.  The E end of the beam is jointed into the centre of the horizontal rail of the frame.  The other end sits in a shallow recess in the late 16thC screen, with additional fixing provided by a substantial iron pin driven through the screen into the beam end.  This prevented any further movement of the screen.  A half beam was installed against the N side wall (with the same stops, as the axial beam).  The joists sit in notches on the top of these beams.  Those to the N side of the axial beam seem contemporary with the beams, whereas those to the S have been modified when a later stair was built.  The ceiling joists show the absence of nail holes for lath, which shows that they have always been exposed in the ceiling.  The exception to this is the first joist in front of the timber frame end wall.  This has many early nails remaining and together with lath marks on the beams, shows that there was a plastered section against the end wall (although this could have been added in the next phase).  There is also a small section of ornamental plaster work in the S walling, which was found during the 1990’s restoration and has been replaced in its found position.  This would have been between a pair of joists and gives an indication of the detail of the room at this time.

On the upper floor, the new end frame wall is a mixture of oak and elm.  Oak was used for the horizontal rail and tie, with elm for the vertical studs, collar and principals.  Some of the elm looks to have been re-used as there are redundant mortices and peg holes in the principals.  The frame has a series of marks (11-1111 on the studs and rail on the first floor, which form approx. square panels between the horizontal rail and the truss tie beam.  The truss sits above with a collar and a series of studs between the collar and the tie beam.  The infill of the frame is rod and daub and the detail shows that originally it was a fully closed from ground to apex of the truss.  However, the detail on the outer face of the truss (I.e. the E side) shows no signs of weather wear and the top panel, beneath the apex of the truss, has never been painted.  The only explanation for this is that when built, there was a further section of building extending to the E.  It is felt that this was not the current stone walled end part of the building.  The 1840 tithe commutation map does show a long building continuous with the E end of Mount Cottage and a partition in the position of this frame.  Perhaps the dating of the frame wall is a clue to the date of building of this now removed building.  The only other possible evidence for this building is a well showing on the 1885 Ordnance Survey map which is sited behind this lost building.




Tithe Commutation Map [1840] Showing the building now called Mount Cottage [24]

Tithe Commutation Map (1840) showing the building now called Mount Cottage (24)



Ordnance Survey Map [1885]




Ordnance Survey map (1885)

An outshot in stone was built out from timber stud walling which extends along the S wall.  This would have either been for domestic or agricultural use.

Phase 4: Third Modifications (19thC)  

Up to this time, the house only had one fireplace and this shows the original house had not been subdivided. In the 19th C the building was extended by additions in stone at the E and W ends and by the 1880’s the whole had been subdivided into 3 occupancies (shown on the 1885 Ordnance Survey map.  It was still owned by the Manor and leased to the tenant of Dowlish Manor Farm.  It was most probably used as agricultural workers cottages.  It is possible that the 2 additions were contemporary, but this has not been proven.  A single storey range was built along the S of the building, which extended the outshot built during phase3.  This S range may be of a later date (late 19th/early20thC) and may be an upgrading of the domestic services available in the cottages.  These additions have together protected the early building and probably ensured its survival.  Phase 4a and 4b concern the E and W additions to the original building respectively.  The subdivision was probably:

Cottage 1: the former cross passage/work/service room of the medieval house and the W addition.  The stair to the upper floor survived until the 1990’s and was a straight flight with plain rectangular, wood balusters on the landing, with a plank and ledge door at the foot.  The detail looks similar to that surviving in Cottage 3.  Its position is shown by the new joists in the ceiling of Room E.

Cottage 2: the former open hall and room above.  It is possible that the stair to the upper room was via a winder built in the former way through from the cross passage to the hall.  There is an arched cut out in the 1580’s beam soffit and several cut-outs in the beam to suggest this.  The arched cut-out would be at the entrance to the stair.

Cottage 3: the former inner room and E addition. Internal detail of this survives in the fireplace, stair and window with seat.

All 3 would have had very basic services in the single storey rear addition.  They would have had pumped water from the well initially, although by the mid 20th C there was an early mains system as indicated by the surviving ‘tap’ at the entrance to the property from the lane.  Sewage disposal was via a septic tank in the garden (now filled in) and there was a wash-house adjacent to this (the rear wall and floor survive).

Phase 4a: Most of the 1676 gable end frame wall was removed on the ground floor and a large open fireplace was built in brick.   The style of this fireplace seems old fashioned for a mid 19thC build, however, the use of brick is consistent.  They most probably came from Bridgewater and the industry developed there in the first part of the 19thC to become of national importance by the mid-century.  This expansion was enabled by the development of the canal system for transporting bulky, heavy goods.  The Chard canal was opened in 1842 and would have made the use of brick to the Ilminster area more economic.  The fireplace beam sits below the rail of the frame wall, with the flue passing up to the east (outside) of the remaining frame. The beam is elm, is slightly cambered and has a flat chamfer, with run out stops on either side of the opening.   In its original form the fireplace had a fairly large bread oven, also in brick, opening into the N side of the hearth (subsequent changes to this oven are described later).  A bread oven was also added to the N side of the fireplace in the former hall of the original build.  This was also constructed in brick (as shown when exposed in the 1990’s restoration) and must have projected from the front wall of the building (this part has not survived).  The similarity of material for the ovens could indicate a similar date of construction. If this is correct, then it is consistent with the division of the original house into separate occupancies.  It seems likely that the building to the E of Mount Cottage was demolished at this time and the new flue and the stone addition at the E end (surviving) were built.    This can be stated with some confidence, as the studs removed from the lower part of the timber frame, have been reused in the construction of the hearth and in the way through to the ground floor of the addition. The differences in the building footprints shown on the tithe commutation map of 1840 and the Ordnance Survey map of 1880 shows the time period when this occurred.

Consistent with this build date are the rough-cut joists in the ground floor ceiling of the E addition and their support on a ledge across the rear of the new hearth.   The above shows that this part of the now divided building had two rooms on each floor (one each in the old and new parts).  The enclosed stair in the former inner room (stair elm, enclosing wall in matchwood, with a simple bead moulding) still survives from this time. On the upper floor access to the upper room of the new addition was made by removing a section of the timber frame, below the N principal rafter.  The ground and dormer 3-light windows (facing N in the former inner room) with flat mullions and lambs tongue moulding are consistent with the suggested modification date.  The ground floor window has a contemporary window seat.  The entrance was from the S side of the building into a lobby formed in the space beside the fireplace.  There was a window facing S on the ground floor of the addition, with a gable end window in the new upper room.

The stone of the addition is brown coloured, random rubble stone.  It is a ferruginous limestone from the upper lias (Jurassic).  There were quarries for this stone in the fields to the W of Kingstone. The stone is similar to that used in the adjacent Glebe Cottage which also has a mid 19thC character.  It is possible that stones from the demolished building were used in both constructions. A ledge along the N wall of the upper room of the addition, at near floor level, may remain from the removed building.

 At a later date, the bread oven in the ‘new’ fireplace in the former inner room (Room B) was converted to have the entry facing into the room and an extra layer of bricks added to the side fireplace wall to modify the original oven opening.  This has made the N stop on the beam look unsymmetrical with the hearth opening.  The changes were probably associated with improving the operation of the oven and perhaps converting the hearth to the use of coal and a more restricted hearth area.

Phase 4B:  This phase concerns the stone addition to the W end of the building beyond the work/service room of the late medieval house.  It is seen in the 1909 photograph of the building, but the form is different to that existing now.  It has the same footprint, but there are coping stones on the gable end, no indications of windows in the gable end (although it is covered in vegetation) and the N facing ground floor window and the dormer above are smaller than existing.  So, there must have been a re-working of the addition after the date of the photo.   

Internally, the W (outside) face of the roof truss of the 1580’s roof structure is weather worn, so it is considered that this addition did not replace an earlier part, nor is there evidence on the maps to show anything here.  So, before this addition, the end truss from the Phase 2 roof remained and this sat on a cob ground floor wall.   The stone used for this addition looks similar to that used on the E addition, but some of the stones are well dressed (particularly in the gable end) and are mixed with more rubbly stone.  It is apparent that stone was being re-used here as well.  The extent of addition is clearly evident in the N wall of the building, where there is a building line showing in the render and this coincides with the end of the early building.  The stonework forms the front wall of the addition, the W gable end (subsequently rebuilt) and then returns along the S wall where it merges into the surviving cob walling, part way along the wall of the work/service room.  There is one room on each floor.  Internally, some of the cob walling under the Phase 2 truss was removed and replaced in stone to link in with the new stone walling along the S wall.  There is a blocked doorway in the S wall, with a wood lintel, which would have entered the ground floor of the addition.  No other info on the internal detail of this addition has been found, because it seems to have had extensive work done in the early 20th C.  This particularly concerned the W gable end, which has been rebuilt to incorporate coal burning hearths on the ground and upper floors and new window openings with brick arches over beside the chimney breast.  In the N wall windows with larger frames were introduced.  Internally, a simple cast iron cottage fireplace was used on the upper floor (this survives) and pitch pine floor boards were used.

Phase 5: mid-late 20thC

The Dowlish Manor estate was broken-up and sold in 1920 and the sale catalogue can be seen in the Somerset Archives (Taunton).  The labourers cottages were included in the sale and described as two cottages with gardens as plot 45 and part of Lot 1 (Dowlish Manor Farm).  So, between the 1885 Ordnance Survey map (showing 3 occupancies) and 1920, there must have been internal changes to re-configure the accommodation.  They were sold to the new owner of Manor Farm, presumably remaining as agricultural workers accommodation.

By the mid 20thC, the two properties were known as the Mount (W part) and Church Hill (E part from the screen).  Work done in the 1960’s involved the updating of the services to the houses (drains, water and electricity) and the casing-in of much of the early detail of the structure, to meet the standards of the time, but on a budget.  I guess a bit ‘Barry Bucknell’!

The Mount and Churchill were sold together in 1992, after being empty for some time.  They were sympathetically restored, as one house, revealing and retaining as much of the structural detail as was feasible.  The work was specified by Philip Hughes (Historic Buildings Conservation Consultant).  The phase 2 roof structure was retained, with a new set of rafters above the old roof.  Extensive work was done to the internal structure to ensure the survival of the building and to bring it up to late 20thC standards.

In 2014, the building (now known as Mount cottage) was bought by the present owners, who have continued the work to ensure the survival of this venerable building.

Nigel Paterson

Feb 2024


Sources of Information

Mount Cottage: SVBRG Survey Report, April 2016

Dendrochronological Analysis of Oak Timbers from Mount Cottage, Dowlish Wake, Somerset: Dr A Moir, TAMC /03/16

Mount Cottage, History of the Building, Sept 2017, Nigel Paterson

Period Fixtures and Fittings, Linda Hall, Countryside Books, 2005

The Vernacular Architecture and Buildings of Stroud and Chalford, Nigel Paterson, Trafford Publishing 2006

Traditional Buildings of Somerset, Jane Penoyre, Somerset Books, 2005

English Cottage Interiors, Hugh Lander and Peter Rauter, Weidenfield Paperbacks, 1989

Thatched Buildings of Dorset, Michael Billett, Hale Books, 1984

Dowlish Wake Heritage, K. W. Webmaster Admin, personal communication 2022