Pyracantha, Reading Room, Long Houses and Bastles


Or all the things you didn’t need to know
about some old villages
Pyracantha planting

I’ve been working on the Pyracantha and finished it off with a couple of layers of gloss varnish.  Whenever I think of this plant I think prickles and I think glossy leaves, hence the varnish, but it’s mainly been added to help hold the leaves and berries together in the hope that they’ll stay put on the wires.

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Stepping back a bit


I can see a small Pyracantha from our kitchen window.  Technically the plant is not ours, though I did plant it.  It’s actually in someone else’s garden.

That may need explaining, I suppose, so get comfy, this may take a little time and a diversion into ancient and more recent history.

We bought our home in 1980; it’s a longhouse of which we have about half. (Here are a couple of links to: Dartmoor , Scottish Borders variations and historical reconstruction of a medieval one.  Actually, some of our ground floor rooms have part flat ceiling and part coombing, having had loft space added at some time.

Older houses around here, sometimes built on the pattern of old longhouses and sometimes were bastles.  In the bastle, you’d have your animals down below on the ground floor and you and family would live above, accessible by ladder which could be pulled up, or by external stone steps which could be defended, thereby gaining some security for when the next raiding party came through and also lots of hot air (unspecified here) from the cattle and horses below.

In the longhouse, one end would be for human occupation and the other for animals.  Ours has thick walls, varying from two to three-foot, of random rubble walling.

We bought into the animal end and found plenty of evidence for that when renovating.  The whole building had been human habitation for a couple of centuries.  We found a George II penny in the dwarf wall of one of the rooms (I can’t just find it at the moment as it’s in a ‘safe place’, along with the early twentieth century silver threepenny bit) and there is at least one late George IV/William IV extension (1820 – 1837) built on at right-angles.

We needed to knock back quite a bit of plaster, either due to age (animal hair and dung can only last so long) or because some of the whinstone tends to sweat under the plasterwork and it needed sealing off.  In one such area, when we got back to the stonework, we came across a whole little story in itself.  Some large animal had obviously be tethered in place for quite some time with its back against the wall and had permanently stained the stonework and infill with its deposits.  We also found that the majority of our end of the house still has earth floors under the floorboards with here and there bits of grain and straw.  Some of our rooms still have flooring suspended over earth.

What’s all this to do with Pyracantha?

I am coming to that.

Many villages around here are, or were, built as housing for animals and workers on a particular farm.  Roll forward a number of centuries and along comes the nineteenth and the ‘powers that be’ felt that the workers might benefit from improving literature and religious tracts, always assuming some basic schooling had already been provided, or that someone would read items aloud.  A building or room space (Reading Room) was given over to storing books and other useful items, and also may have been allowed to be used for small meetings etc.

Late Victorian side issue here
example of actual historical infill

When renovating a cupboard in one of the bedrooms, I found that the cupboard door frame (added in Victorian times) had had its regular oblong shape packed against the incredibly irregular random rubble walling with sheets of old newspapers.

In the advice to the workers there’s mention of Albany, Harrisonburg and Washington, and yet, and yet — I found it in my bedroom chimney breast cupboard on the English side of the Scottish Borders.   Multi-national infill.

Back to the Self Help of Samuel Smiles and others

Our local Reading Room is right next door to us.  Or used to be.  No, it hasn’t moved but it has been repurposed.

Sometime in the early twentieth century, when general schooling had increased and the need for improving literature was perhaps less, this building was granted in some form or other to the village as a meeting place.  A full size slate bed snooker table was added for the men in the area.  As the table would take up a large part of the space, a small flat roofed extension was added and the table could be slid into this embrasure on really smart brass rails – a real delight to behold.

Move forward to the end of the 20th century

Pyracantha time

The snooker/billiards club would meet once a week in the autumn, winter period and park up next door and, when caught short and in need of relief, the odd gent might trot out and decide that our dividing wall might just prove a good place to ‘stand’ as it were.  Yes, I am mean, I know, but you can see why I might plant it just there, can’t you?

Coming up-to-date and much, much more recently, the village was sold, or at least those buildings that hadn’t already been disposed of, and the Reading Room became a lovely home – with a ready-planted Pyracantha.

In late breaking news

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Porch and a Pyracantha getting everywhere


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