THE DEV6EID)PMENT OF CARPENVTRY, 1200 1700
Bys Cecil Alec Howett
JOHN H. MYERS
THE DEVELO)PMENT OF CARPENTRY, 1200 1700, An Essex Study
Authors Cecil Alec Hewett
Publishers David and Charles, Newton Abbot 1969
The thesis of Hewett's in this book is that the art and craft
of carpentry did not emerge full bloom, but developed over long
periods of time. He states that a widely held view is that
carpenters chose from a wide selection of av411able Joints, with
which we are now familiar, in order to construct their buildings.
Hevett is endeavoring to show not only that individual types of
joints evolved and became more refined, but that different categories
of joints developed at different times. He says, for example, that
scarfing had evolved to a peak and had begun to decline prior to the
advent of timber floors.
The method of study in the book consists of examining structures
in the county of Essex, in England, according to what he states is
the chronological order of their construction. The goal is to
establish a. technique of dating the structures by studying the joints*
He breaks his book down into period by centuries, with the twelfth
and fourteenth centuries being further broken down to two fifty year
spans. He dates the structures as carefully as possible, using
Carbon 14C dating whenever possible.
Each chapter examines buildings individually and discusses in
depth the joinery and quite often the order of assembly or method of
erection of the structure. The joinery is compared and contrasted
with other structures in order to demonstrate a succession of
development. Important techniques of construction and design are
pointed out and used to support Hewett's assertions of a particular
chronology in the development of carpentry. The chapters are very adequately
illustrated with drawings of the various structural systems and
j66bnts discussed, and there are some plates.
Each chapter is followed by a discussion or summary of the
reasons why examples were selected and dated as they were. There
is a thorough comparison between the buildingsand he deals in
depth with the methods relied upon for the dating of structures.
It is not possible without quoting from the book to describe the
detailed analysis Herett goes into to justify his statements yet
be remains concise enough to avoid belaboring issues or becoming
Two sections of the book are extremely valuable as a reference
source quite apart from the body of the text. First there is a
glossary at the beginning of the book which is very helpful in
understanding the terminology of the old construction traxa, types
of joints, and building characteristics from the period covered.
The second section of value is the group of appendices at the rear
which table and detail the development of scarfs, tying joints, floor
joists, corner joints and decorative elements. Each joint is
illustrated by a clear drawing and is thoroughly identified and
described. Short essays on the development of the items in question
follow the tables.
This book by Hewett is a very scholarly treatment, and I would
recommend it a a necessary reading for anyone interested in the
subject of wood construction. The nomenclature and descriptions
and comparisons of construction require serious study; the book
is virtually impossible to read casually. The major limitation
of the book is the one which Hewett himself acknowledges in the
introduction, the area, of study it severely limited. Although I
agree with his premise that it is possible to date buildingsby
a study of their joinery, I believe that the method will have
serious geographic limits, and thorough histories of this sort
will have to be prepared for each area of concern.