In the Highlands turf-built longhouses (known as laithes) were used. How typical they were I can't say, nor can I give you dimensions. I'd assume they were of similar size, perhaps a little smaller - it depends on the timber available for roofs. These wouldn't have to be as strong as the principle frame of a timber building, so poorer timber might suffice. It's possible they could be larger - I have visions of great Scots Pines in my mind, but I couldn't say how plentiful they were in the medieval period or whether they were used. (We're out of my region here).

In the Hebrides, the turf-built longhouse developed into the blackhouse, of which there are still a few surviving 19th-century examples. A similar 9th-century house was found at Jarlshof, so this design has medieval precedence. This is basically a longhouse with extra rooms tagged on the outside of the long axis, all under one roof. The thick "internal" walls would have provided extra support enabling shorter timbers to be used.

But it may be that smaller stone or turf cottages are more the norm. They are certainly well known in such areas. In some areas they were of oval rather than rectangular design, but whether this is likely to be a culural rather than a technical variation. Whatever their shape, these smaller cottages did not have space for animals, which would have required separate provision. Although I don't have exact dimensions I'd suggest length:breadth proportions of 2:1 would be appropriate, with a 12-15ft width being not unappropriate. (Is that non-commital or what?)

Note also that places like the Hebrides had a fairly active trade with Norway, which was a big exporter of wood. England not only imported wood >from Norway during the later middle ages, but also ice, believe it or not.

Of course, you could easily build a larger house with shorter lengths of wood by altering the design of the load-bearing timbers - a couple of tall (perhaps imported) posts along the central axis would allow a peaked, perhaps hipped, roof to cover a larger ground area.

If you have access to a good library, Jean Chapelot and Robert Fossier's The Village and House in the Middle Ages (Batsford, 1985) offers an excellent overview of European developments, though it concentrates on England, France and Germany, where most of the research had been done at the time of writing.

>Maybe you can help me. I would like to know about how large the home of a >medieval pheasant or farmer was (in feet by feet).

Well, pheasants weren't particularly common in England until the 16th century, though some had been imported during the middle ages. ;-)

Farmers, on the other hand, tended to live in cottages or longhouses. All the longhouses at Wharram Percy were between 15 and 20 feet wide, and 49 and 75 feet long. They had doorways facing each other in the middle of the long walls, and one half of the building was dug slightly lower than the other half - the lower half was for animals. There was a hearth in the middle of the people's side. Sometimes, becoming more common as time progressed, a small room was added to the end of the human half (probably used as a private bedroom by the householder and his wife).

The limiting factors in the size of medieval buildings are the lengths of timber available for the load-bearing posts and the construction techniques used to build the house frame. Most usable timbers available to peasants seem to have maxed out by about 15 feet (give or take a couple of feet). If longer timbers are available in your world, building sizes could be bigger.

Some of the houses at Wharram Percy exceed 15 feet width because they were of cruck construction. This involved creating a sort of A-frame using matching pairs of curved timbers. There's a reconstuction drawing showing the interior of one of these cruck longhouses at the Wharram Percy website (it's by Peter Dunn, one of the finest reconstruction artists at work in Britain today, though the website doesn't tell you that). It shows the cruck frame very clearly.

The Wharram Percy website is at:

I can't remember the exact URL of the drawing, but have a look around - it's a good site if you're interested in medieval rural buildings.

Early buildings tended to built directly onto the soil, with key posts either sunk directly into post holes or resting on padstones to make them last a little longer (earthfast timbers tend to become rotten in 20 to 30 years, requiring replacing or total rebuilding). In the 13th century stone foundations became more common, which should make the timbers last a little longer still.

In some parts of England cob walls were used. These were made of packed clay, gravel and straw, and didn't use any supporting timbers. The cob was probably poured into a wooden mould on site (rather like concrete). A 12th/13th century cob building at Wallingford (Oxfordshire) measured 28ft by 40ft externally (its walls were 20 ins thick). The building was divided into three rooms, each with its own hearth. and the walls survived to a height of 6 feet, showing that there weren't any windows


(c) 1999 Andy Staples at

The above was taken from the Campaign Cartographer Mailing list