The Herefordshire Wildlife Trust headquarters are at Lower House Farm, a spectacular half-timbered farmhouse on the outskirts of Hereford. The house is reputed to be the second oldest building in the city.
History of Lower House Farm
The first dated record for a building at the Lower House site is 1431. At this time the land was owned by the Bishop of Hereford and the house was known as 'Ree Place' (presumably because it is beside the Lugg Rhea stream). The Church continued to own the house and land until 1860. During this time it was occupied by a succession of tenants.
From the mid 1500's the house was known as 'Nobletts' after Thomas Noblett who lived here and died in 1545. The current building was constructed in 1614, probably by Henry and Elizabeth Merricke. The name 'Lower House' was first used in 1783, although 'Nobletts' was still in use up until 1805.
In 1860 Lower House Farm was 'enfranchised' by the Bishop and sold to Edward Griffiths, a former tenant. He passed the property on to his son-in-law, Captain Burden who sold it to Mr J.D. Watkins. Mr Watkins became the first owner-occupier of the farm.
The Nature Trust purchased the Farm from Mr Watkins family in 1995. Restoration of the building began in January '96 and was completed in March '97. Lower House Farm was officially opened by Prof. David Bellamy on the 3rd July 1997.
Restoring the Farm House
The building is swathed in scaffolding and sheeting as work commences to restore the farm house. The render is removed and the house stripped back to its timber bones.
Jim Watkins, former Reserves Manager with HNT, cleaving oak for use as wattle strips.
The oak was obtained from HNT reserves and other local sources. The oak is cleaved and shaped using traditional tools and techniques.
The walls of the house are made from a oak frame in-filled with panels of wattle (a woven mat of oak strips) and daub (a mixture of straw, dung and mud).
The restoration of Lower House Farm was funded by Heritage Lottery Fund and generous donations from Trust members.
Dating the House
During the restoration work samples were taken from roof beams and other timbers within the house in order to establish an accurate construction date. The samples were dated using dendrochronology, which uses the pattern of growth rings to age timber.
Fifteen samples were analysed by Ian Tyers from Sheffield University. These put the date of the timbers between AD 1425 and 1613. It is normally assumed that there was very little delay between felling the trees and constructing the building. This assumption has come from documentary evidence. Lower House Farm supports this theory as the timber beams clearly show signs of warping, i.e. the house was built using recently felled green oak which dried out in situ. This puts the date of construction between 1613 and 1614.