Half Timbered T-Shirt & 2000 Years of Non Stop Nostalgia


Its taken a long time, but finally in 100% cotton, with edge to edge, seam to seam printing, our Half Timbered T Shirt is here! You can order from our online store through this link.

Here, though, is part of the long back story of our fasciantion with Half Timbering. Told in this essay/story titled 2000 Years of Non Stop Nostalgia.

Mock Tudor, its fair to say, has a less than glowing reputation. Take these sneering lines from John Betjeman’s Slough “Its not their fault they often go / To Maidenhead / And talk of sports and makes of cars / In various bogus Tudor bars”. (Maybe the very same bars that  Martin Freeman’s character in The Office notes have “a sign in the toilet saying ‘Don’t get your Hampton Court’”).

Mock Tudor is often accused of ‘bogus’-ness, of lacking authenticity, of fakeness and many other kinds of architectural sin.

But I’d argue that Benjamin et al fail to recognise a deepness and sincerity contained in the shallowness of this applied fake history. In fact, its maybe Mock Tudor’s very shallowness is an intrinsic part of its depth.

The following is the (or at least one) story of Mock Tudor, Tudorbethan and all of the other forms and bastardisations of Half Timbering. It’s a story that spans millennia, that veers between the people and the powerful and wealthy, that rises and falls with nations, that contains different (and sometimes opposing) dreams. A story that ends, for now with a T Shirt.

Half Timbering was a vernacular construction technique that evolved in Germanic Saxony. It came to Britain with the Saxons in the 5th century BC as a mercenary army for the failing Roman occupation. By the 6th century the Saxons and other Germanic tribes controlled most of the lowlands and were expanding to the north and west.

Half Timbering is already cutting loose from being a vernacular building technology, and heading towards a role as a cultural symbol. Removed geographically from its origins but related to a sense of identity.

Celtic tradition mixes with Saxon culture. Forests had been home to the Celtic Druids. Tree spirits possessed magical properties. The Anglo-Saxon poem “The Dream of the Rood” is a meditation on the crucifixion of Christ. In it, the tree speaks: “I was cut down, roots on end …. I was raised up, as a rood … I was wet with blood”. This personification of material suggests symbolism and identity are deep within the technology of building.

History continues …

The last Saxon King, Harold faced the Norman invasion. At Hastings, William defeated Harold. He was crowned in London on Christmas Day 1066.

England was now ruled by a French speaking king. The Norman Lords seized the assets of the Saxons. Norman architecture begins its transformation of England with the Tower of London, the first of a network of castle-strongholds. 21 years later, 100 had been built.

Saxon identity remains distinct through this era. Folk heroes like Robin Hood emerge as the scourge of Norman aristocrats. Like Robin Hood, the timber Saxon architecture was light, quick, and friendly in contrast to the cold heavy mass of the stone military State Norman buildings. Oppressed Saxon culture gains mythology and so do its buildings. Half Timbering is the architecture of the people: the tavern and the home.

Time passes. Eventually, Henry Tudor seizes the throne.

The Tudors forged a powerful new identity for England. Mythologised as one of the glorious eras of British history. Exploration, colonisation, victory in war, and growing world importance. Splitting from the Roman church, Shakespeare and Bacon, Drake and Raleigh. The rise of British sea power brought security, riches and glory.

Half Timbered architecture became known as Tudor. It became more extravagant and decorative, its graphic intensifying. Built with the very same skills that are providing England with her burgeoning sea power, these buildings celebrate the importance and skill of timber craftsmanship. Half Timbering is imbued with military technology. The relationship between military might and architectural statement is pretty clear through Tudorbethan architecture.

Sir Walter Scotts novel ‘Ivanhoe’, published in 1791 was an embellishment of the Robin Hood story, big on Saxon/Norman fighting. It leads to a fashion of reviving English vernaculars, re-mythologising stories of King Arthur and Robin Hood. This historicism is later theorised by Pugin and Ruskin, and bleeds into the Arts and Crafts movement. Arising in response to the Industrial Revolution, its ambition was to revive craftsmanship in the age of the machine. Politically, it was nascent socialism with anarchist tendencies.

Half Timbering is revived as an overtly historical style. It is used because it connects with cultural myths supporting their political position. Just like the appeal of Robin Hood to the Arts and Crafts movement: a band of men living in the forest away from civilization, robbing of the rich to give to the poor, in opposition to the control of the state and on the side of the people. Just like William Morris’ rural based company of pseudo-mediaeval craftsmen.

Half Timbering is now used as a badge of allegiance – a decorative political statement.

Arts and Crafts drifts from its Christian Socialist origins into mainstream fashion. It becomes a decorative symbol of status not politics. The country houses designed by Lutyens feature Half Timbering as part of their picturesque montaging of historical styles.

These large, Tudorbethan, bespoke homes for the wealthy became the template for the inter-war building boom. Volume building interprets the pre-war, expensive Arts and Crafts villas. Building quick and cheap, coupled with a shortage of skilled labor leads to a shift in Half Timbering from structure to appliqu???. Thin timber panels fixed to the exterior of the buildings that make patterns not limited by the demands of holding buildings up.

These houses represented a way of life. These miniaturised manor houses represented safe European homes after the mechanised horror of the 1st World War. Half Timbering still retained some of the progressive sentiment of Ebeneezer Howards Garden Cities. It became a mixture of optimism and fear, built on a budget. These metroland homes were a mass market version of the pre-war progressive and bohemian lifestyle.

Sometime around now, Mock Tudor becomes exported around the world. In part through England’s still-large Empire, but also through the pages of magazines like Country Life. Movie stars built Half Timbered homes that lined Beverly Hills streets. Frank Lloyd Wright designed icing coloured Half Timbering with giant sized roofs in Chicago’s Oak Park. Think of Steve Martin in LA Story showing of first a Tudor House, then next door a Three Door House.

By now any vestige of a traditional notion half timbering as a vernacular building technique has been cast off. Liberated, globalised through media, it becomes an international style. Its connection is no longer with a tribe like the Saxons, a Royal Dynasty like the Tudors, a country, or an ideology.

In the same way, the stories that were once part of Half Timbering’s myth are remade: Douglas Fairbanks a black and white and silent Robin Hood, Errol Flynn a Technicolor outlaw. Later, Disney cast a cartoon fox Robin Hood. Kevin Costner plays a sullen PC romantic version and Sherwood Forest is stalked by denim clad, Fender strummin’ minstrel Brian Adams. The folk story has less to do with Norman England and everything to do with Hollywood sensibilities. Like clouds of radioactive fallout, folk stories reach the jet stream and envelop the globe.

Half Timbering continues as a means of construction, but it also gains layers of meaning throughout the centuries. At each iteration it continues the story. Tacked onto the outside of Moe’s Bar in the Simpsons, painted pink in suburban London like a Jamie Reid collage, the framing of a Morris Traveller car, an option offered by developers in new developments in Chinese cities.

Half Timbering is like light from a distant star: incredibly old yet as it falls on our retina, bright and new. Half Timbering has been made repeatedly new through its different incarnations. Bristling with meanings which continue to peel away from geographic place, race and circumstance.

Its out of this story that the Half Timbered T-Shirt emerges. Another kind of flimsiness, this time fabric, dislocated from the facade of the building to become architecture for your body.


The Half Timbered T-Shirt is available here



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