Wattle & Daub: Craft, Conservation & Wiltshire Case Study
3.6 Daub
4.1 Soils
4.1.3 Strength
4.2 Dung
4.2.2 Lignin
4.2.3 Urine
4.3 Fibre
5.4.2 Renewal

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1 Introduction

Wattle and daub epitomises vernacular construction. Its continuous use for at least 6000 years owes much to cheapness and abundance of raw materials. It starts with primitive building and spans the entire history of England until the craft’s demise during the 18th century. The craft was used across the world but the scope here is confined to English traditions.

There is a plethora of minor references to the craft and history of wattle and daub, yet extensive research, such as that published by Salzman (1952), Bowyer (1973) and Forrester (1959), is scarce. A primary objective of this dissertation was therefore to consolidate and contrast these isolated references with the intention of producing a consolidated and comprehensive guide that explores the materials used in wattle and daub, where it was used, diversity of form and to define the factors influencing variation.
Wattle and daub is dependant on the various styles of surrounding timber frame. However, brevity limits discussion of framing to only those factors directly affecting the craft. Styles such as close-studding and decorative panelling are only briefly introduced: a fuller comprehension can be acquired from sources such as Brunksill (1985), Clifton-Taylor (1962) and Mercer (1975).

The only title dedicated to the conservation of wattle and daub is the brief pamphlet by Reid (1989). Short chapters in Ashurst and Ashurst (1988a) and Wright (1991) are also valuable and supplemented by even briefer discussions of wattle and daub within the wider subject of earth building, (e.g. Houben and Guillaud (1994), Minke (2000) and Harrison (1999)). It is therefore unsurprising that academic understanding of the wattle and daub craft, its performance and preservation are poor in comparison to other historic building materials. Indeed, many surveyors and architects specialising in historic buildings still take the view that it is of secondary importance to the value of an historic building. As a result, wattle and daub is often unhesitatingly replaced where damaged and readily removed to facilitate a structural inspection or an alteration. A further intent of this dissertation was therefore to appraise the values of wattle and daub and thereby establish criteria for methods of repair and conservation. This necessitates a comprehension of the material characteristics of wattle and daub. For example, why was the inclusion of dung habitually specified and what was its active ingredient? What factors influence the cracking of a new daub and what are the likely consequences with respect to its durability?

Through a preliminary literature review, it also became apparent that most of the studies of wattle and daub relate only to specific areas of the country. From the author’s viewpoint, living in Wiltshire, conservation using the techniques of local tradition would be made troublesome due to the lack of regional knowledge. Indeed, Wood (1965) in her review of wattle and daub, concluded that, ‘much research, however, needs to be done in local methods of building’, and the literature review demonstrated that this statement is still valid today. The final objective was therefore an appreciation of the craft as practiced in the County of Wiltshire. Sources included regional publications such as the journal of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society and Victoria County History of Wiltshire, which were combined with case studies comprising site visits, recording and sample analyses.
Figure 1. Iron Age wattle used flat as a track, c.1800 B.C. From Brunning (2001).