IntroductionThis building forms part of the former small supermarket situated on the edge of the Islington Road Recreation Ground. It has been empty for over five years and has been subject to a considerable amount of vandalism which has caused some structural damage. The site has now been identified for redevelopment which will include the demolition of this building. A brief survey was carried out to ascertain whether the building had any historic significance but was limited to the ground floor and a visual inspection of part of the first floor as the staircase had been removed.
DescriptionThe "Plank House" forms the living quarters of the Skears Stores and is located at the west end of the range of buildings. It is two storey in height and constructed of rendered brickwork under a concrete tiled roof. The north elevation abuts onto the footpath linking Meadow Court to the Islington Road Recreation Ground and has been marred by the construction of two large modern picture windows on the ground floor. On the first floor are a pair of symmetrically positioned small windows with shallow arched heads. Similar windows are used on the first floor of the rear elevation, the lower part of this section of the building being masked by a single storey rear addition. Vandalism within the rear addition revealed a blocked-in metal framed (Crittal) window 1480mm x 920mm constructed in the south wall of the building.
Internally the ground floor had two square rooms (7.7m x 7.8m and 7.7m x 8m) now missing the dividing wall but separated by an almost square isolated brick fireplace located to the north of centre. The fireplace opening heated the west room. Surprisingly the ceiling was of an earlier form than would have been suspected and had two chamfered timber spine beams spanning from the gable walls to the central fireplace. The exposed joists were 115mm x 60 mm with slightly arrised edges mortised at 470mm centres into the spine beam. Plaster was applied to the underside of the floor boards. Swept chamfer stops on the west rooms spine beam tied-in with the gable wall and the fireplace. In the east room the spine beam had a cut stop adjacent to the gable wall but no corresponding stop at the fireplace. The exposed side of the spine beam within the fireplace shows the chamfer continuing and suggests that the rear half of the fireplace was an addition i.e. the room was unheated.
Prior to the vandalism taking place there was a steep open tread timber stair situated in the south-west corner of the eastern room. This had been pulled down and was lying in the ground floor room. Immediately adjacent to this was an R.S.J. or beam traversing between the west side of the chimney stack to the south wall which suggests that there was originally an internal wall in this position. A brick wall was located in this position on the floor above but was built of floorboards with a rounded "nosing" projecting into the stair well.
This location appears to have been the early position of the stair well as the joist arrangement allows for no other location and there are no redundant mortices in the spine beam exposed in the stair well to suggest that this section was originally joisted and floored over.
At the first floor level within the stair well was a timber half-turn stair constructed around two newel posts fixed to ground floor joist by lap joints. This gave access to the attic and it is presumed that the base of the stair was framed with a door. The underside of the stretchers and risers was match-boarded. Supporting corner struts underneath the stretchers were fixed to the risers and the other ends built into the dividing wall and the south side of the central stack. This would suggest that this staircase was contemporary with the construction of the south side of the stack and the dividing wall.
At first floor level above the east room the joist and spine beam arrangement appears to be identical to that of the room below. Together with the half-turn stair it indicates that the attic was originally floored over and provided bedrooms or storage.
From the structural evidence of the spine beams, joists, recessed ceiling and brickwork an erection date of circa 1800 is probable. This is supported by map evidence which shows the building existing in the 1840's. e.g. the map accompanying Baker's History. At that time the building was in a close on a route which linked the Brackley and Wood Burcote Roads. Commencing in Pomfret Road it continued as a bridle road along Water Lane ( where it followed the same route as Silverstone Brook), along part of Meadow Court (alias Plank Houses) and then followed the west and south boundaries of Islington Road Recreation Ground to Islington Road. The plot of land in which the building was located was boarded on the north by Meadow Court and on the east by the recreation ground sections of the bridle road.
An Estate map of circa 1840 ( NRO ref map 2922) shows the land as being in the occupation of Robert Wooding. Whellan's 1849 directory includes Robert Wooding of Handley in the section on Farmers and Graziers. By 1900 the building had been extended to the east and was enclosed by a garden with the rest of the plot being used as orchard. The ordnance survey map of this date would suggest that the building was divided into two tenements.
ConclusionsThis is a small post enclosure brick house circa 1800 erected by a smallholder or grazier on the edge of Towcester close to a bridging point of the Silverstone Brook where there was an existing small suburb known as the Plank Houses. It was of brick construction, two and a half storeys high with the primary frontage facing south-east. Each floor contained two rooms and the attic rooms were lit by dormer windows. On the ground floor there was a kitchen with a brick inglenook or a coal grate and an unheated room adjacent which contained the staircase. The main entrance appears to have been into this room from the south or garden side.
As the building has been radically altered it would probably not reach the criteria for listing as a grade II building. It would, however, be suitable for inclusion within a non- statutory list of local buildings deserving of special consideration as it is the sole survivor of the plank house suburb and the earliest building within the western development of the town. It also forms an important visual element to this area of the town and if sympathetically restored could provide the area with an historic "anchor".
© Brian L Giggins 1997
Towcester March 1997