Oxford Archaeology South recently carried out a large project investigating the historic buildings in the National Trust estate village at West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. The National Trust carried out a programme of work to refurbish over 20 of the buildings, including adding insulation to the roofs and improving the utilities.
The roof works involved removing the tiles and exposing the rafters which presented a wonderful opportunity to learn about the archaeology of the buildings as well as the evolution of the village more widely.
The work has also been complemented by a separate programme of dendrochronological analysis of the structures which dates the timber using the tree's growth rings which provided valuable firm dates for the construction of some of the buildings.
The buildings are largely timber framed, with several having been refronted in brick. The dendrochronology suggests that the older buildings tend to be of 16th century date, although what is thought to be the oldest building, the Church Loft, has been dated to 1464.
The village prospered in the post-medieval period through the coaching trade on the route between Oxford and London but by the early 20th century the houses had fallen into a state of considerable disrepair and in 1929 the village estate was purchased from the Dashwood Family by the Royal Society of Arts (RSA). The RSA undertook a programme of refurbishment under their Campaign for the Preservation of Ancient Cottages, a remarkable but little known campaign established in 1926 to protect cottage architecture by establishing a fund which purchased or restored cottages. In 1934, following the RSA refurbishment, the buildings were donated to the National Trust and they remain as a tenanted estate today.