The heft and feel of a well-worn handle,
The sight of shavings that curl from a blade;
The logs in the wood pile, the sentiment of huge beams in an old-fashioned house;
The smell of fresh cut timber and the pungent fragrance of burning leaves;
The crackle of kindling and the hiss of burning logs.
Abundant to all the needs of man, how poor the world would be
Without wood.

Everard Hinrichs, quoted by Eric Sloane in A Reverence for Wood


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Great Designs in Wood (10) - The Maypole Inn

The recent May Day weekend reminded me of one of my favorite wooden that I've never actually seen. But it's clear as a bell in my mind's eye...

"In the year 1775, there stood upon the borders of Epping Forest, at a distance of about twelve miles from London—measuring from the Standard in Cornhill,’ or rather from the spot on or near to which the Standard used to be in days of yore—a house of public entertainment called the Maypole; which fact was demonstrated to all such travellers as could neither read nor write (and at that time a vast number both of travellers and stay-at-homes were in this condition) by the emblem reared on the roadside over against the house, which, if not of those goodly proportions that maypoles were wont to present in olden times, was a fair young ash, thirty feet in height, and straight as any arrow that ever English yeoman drew.

The Maypole—by which term from henceforth is meant the house, and not its sign—the Maypole was an old building, with more gable ends than a lazy man would care to count on a sunny day; huge zig-zag chimneys, out of which it seemed as though even smoke could not choose but come in more than naturally fantastic shapes, imparted to it in its tortuous progress; and vast stables, gloomy, ruinous, and empty. The place was said to have been built in the days of King Henry the Eighth; and there was a legend, not only that Queen Elizabeth had slept there one night while upon a hunting excursion, to wit, in a certain oak-panelled room with a deep bay window, but that next morning, while standing on a mounting block before the door with one foot in the stirrup, the virgin monarch had then and there boxed and cuffed an unlucky page for some neglect of duty. The matter-of-fact and doubtful folks, of whom there were a few among the Maypole customers, as unluckily there always are in every little community, were inclined to look upon this tradition as rather apocryphal; but, whenever the landlord of that ancient hostelry appealed to the mounting block itself as evidence, and triumphantly pointed out that there it stood in the same place to that very day, the doubters never failed to be put down by a large majority, and all true believers exulted as in a victory.

Whether these, and many other stories of the like nature, were true or untrue, the Maypole was really an old house, a very old house, perhaps as old as it claimed to be, and perhaps older, which will sometimes happen with houses of an uncertain, as with ladies of a certain, age. Its windows were old diamond-pane lattices, its floors were sunken and uneven, its ceilings blackened by the hand of time, and heavy with massive beams. Over the doorway was an ancient porch, quaintly and grotesquely carved; and here on summer evenings the more favoured customers smoked and drank—Aye, and sang many a good song too, sometimes—reposing on two grim-looking high-backed settles, which, like the twin dragons of some fairy tale, guarded the entrance to the mansion."

So starts one of Charles Dickens' best novels...the story of Barnaby Rudge. The charm of the story lies in the central role of the old Maypole Inn; the characters of the story all seem to revolve around, in, and through the inn throughout the story, so much so that the reader begins to feel like one of the locals sitting in the Maypole's pub, waiting for the next character to arrive.

Now none of this would be interesting to the Go Wood community if the old Maypole were a figment of Mr. Dickens imagination. But it turns out that the Maypole is a real place (although by another name) and it was a real place back in the 1830's, when Dickens visited the place often.

Ye Olde King's Head Pub has survived in one form or another for over 600 years in Chigwell, Essex, England. And, as you can see from this modern-day picture, it remains essentially the same building, although with a different facade, as the one Dickens' illustrator portrayed above. Count the gables and the chimneys, doors and'll see that the structure is basically unchanged. As one travel site puts it...

“The King’s Head” illustrated here is the inn Dickens had in his mind when describing the “Maypole” in Barnaby Rudge, and the whole of the plot of that work is so wrapped up in Chigwell and its immediate surroundings that one should not visit the village until one has read the story. One may see the panelled “great room” upstairs where Mr. Chester met Mr. Geoffrey Haredale. This room has a fine mantelpiece, great carved beams, and beautiful leaded windows. On the ground floor is the cosy bar where the village cronies gathered with Mr. Willett, and one may also see the low room with the small-paned windows against which John Willett flattened his nose looking out on the road on the dark night when the story opens."
One element and proof of great design is longevity, and the King's Head, or the Maypole as I prefer to think of it, has 600 years of evidence of its greatness. They don't make 'em like that anymore.

"Well, I've never been to England, but I kinda like the Beatles." And if I ever do get there, I'll absolutely visit The King's Head/Maypole Inn and get the scoop on its wooden structure. No doubt the experience will be enhanced and the beams will increase in size as I sit and discuss the building with Mr. Willet's latest incarnation while sampling the charms of the pub.

Last news on the King's Head: it was bought about a year ago by a local entrepreneur and was being converted into a Turkish restaurant. It seems kind of sacrilegious, and the locals seem to be lamenting losing the last of the good old local pubs in the area. But I'm betting the old inn will outlast the Turkish decor, and many others, before it sees the end of its time.


timberdude said...

Very interesting article. Probably the first time I enjoyed reading Charles Dickens (after I got past the nightmarish flashbacks of Pippin and 8th grade English Lit class).

Your post brings to mind a question/comment I frequently get from my customers - I own and operate a small sawmill and custom-cut lumber and log company: "It doesn't cost anything to grow a tree; they are everywhere. Why are lumber prices so high?" Of course in my opinion lumber prices are painfully low. I usually respond by explaining such dry topics as supply and demand, labor costs, transportation costs, etc, etc. What I would really like to demonstrate is the historical pricing of lumber and other materials that go into a structure, such as nails, plywood and the like, and how prices, when adjusted for inflation, have actually gone down since the days of the pit-saw and hand drawn nails. Or at least dis-prove my hypothesis.

Do you know of any historical price information for this? Maybe an interesting topic for a future post on Go Wood? Great blog, by the way, I share it with my log home building buddies up here in Alaska.

Chuck Ray said...

Thanks, t-dude. Glad you like the blog. You rang a bell in heaven for me with my 8th grade English teacher, anyway :-)

Great idea on the historical price trends. I can assure you that you're right, lumber prices are near historical lows. I'll dig up some data that illustrates it. I'm only about 27 topics behind on my posting right now, so it may take me a few to get to it, but I'll get to it eventually...then you can post the results for your customers. They won't be any happier about it, but at least they'll believe you.

I hope the lumber/log home business is booming up there for you...kinda slow down here in the lower 48.

Lumber1 said...

If trees don't cost anything, why are lumber prices so high? you buy bottled water today?