Featured Building

1, 3 & 5 Castle Street, Thetford, Norfolk

1,3 &5 Castle Street are all parts of the same original building, a tripartite late medieval house of which the hall (3 & 5 ) and the service cross wing ( 1 ) survive.  It is probable that the modern brick building to the east occupies the site of the former parlour cross wing.

The street wall of number 3 presents an array of heavily weathered timbers to the street with three doors and sash windows under a roof of eighteenth or nineteenth century pantiles.  Inside the ground floor is open with two posts supporting transverse principal joists.  The area of ceiling to the east has an axial principal joist with sunk quadrant mouldings supporting flat-laid common joists with chamfers and miniature shield stops, probably seventeenth century.  Much of the rest of the visible construction seems to be of re-used historic timbers. 

The exception to this is the west wall which is composed of full-height studs of large section, disappearing past the ceiling level.  In this wall are two adjacent doorways with shouldered heads.  This wall therefore seems to be the Inner wall of the service end (see photo).

Through a modern partition to the north is a durn doorway, evidently the rear end of a former cross-passage. This doorway was originally of similar form to the service doors but was narrowed during the restoration of the house to form a two-centred arch. The later inserted stairs rise against the north wall and from these can be seen the northern brace for the central tie beam.


Both brace and tie beam are large, with surviving spandrel tracery. The companion brace and tracery are found at the south end of the tie beam. This southern tracery is a modern reproduction of the original. From the present bedroom to the east the entire tie beam assembly with its moulded and `castellated’ crown post is visible. In the bedroom to the west and below the tie beam can be seen more tracery related to the service doorways below, extending above them as far as would be unobscured by the former hall screen. In an attic space the soffit of the collars can be seen and they have lightly scribed carpenter’s assembly marks. The rafters of the roof appear to be sooted, suggesting that the hall originally had a central open hearth before the construction of a lateral chimney stack which partly survives in the north-east corner.







The floored area to the east, with its sunk-quadrant moulded principal joist, appears to be of seventeenth century date.   The passageway at the east end, accessed by the eastern of the three front doors was presumably to give access to the rear when the property was divided.  The decorative treatment of the doorway with its nailed brattishing may come from within the house, perhaps from the lost hall screen.  The east wall within this later passageway includes an original pegged doorway at the south end which presumably opened into the former east (parlour) wing.  The studs of this wall have a row of peg holes, presumably for the supports for a high-end bench, and in the north post of the door is the mortice for a draught screen to terminate the bench.  The parlour wing may have been the property destroyed by fire on 28 September, 1796, Bury and Norwich Post, (information supplied by David Osborne) replaced by cottages subsequently demolished. 

The crown post may be compared with that from `The Woolpack’ Coggeshall, Essex, as belonging to the mid-fifteenth century.  Long (24 inch) splayed scarf joints with under-squinted abutments and face keys visible in the north and south wall plates and within the west tie beam indicate a similar date.  

Such a large, expensively built (large timbers and twenty-two foot tie beams) and elaborately decorated building at a mid-fifteenth century date could be the house of a very prosperous person,  with the service wing to the west used for trade given the location next to the market.    

The two-storeyed service end of the house (1, Castle Street) is jettied to the front and rear, with originally two rooms to the ground floor accessed from the hall cross passage by the two doors seen in the service wall.  The frame of number 1 is largely intact, formed of timbers of large section, and showing similar carpentry characteristics to the hall section of the house.

The principal joist dividing the two ground floor rooms has the mortices for a stud wall, chamfered to the front and not the rear, presumably to indicate a difference in status between the two rooms.  Given the building’s situation at the top of the market place, this front room may have been a shop, but no evidence of a shop front is visible in the rebuilt lower front wall.  The east wall is dominated by the chimney stack, a seventeenth century insertion from the evidence of the shield and notch chamfer stop to the mantle beam.  To the rear of the room is a half-height screen wall of re-used timbers.  This wall defines a raised area above the cellar, probably a creation of the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries.  In the north-west corner of the ground floor is an original doorway and a similar doorway above this on the first floor suggests the possibility of an external stair or stair tower.     

The first floor, originally a single room open to the roof, is dominated by the central tie beam truss with thick arched braces and splayed heads to the posts of the same character as seen in the hall.  The gun-stock heads of the corner posts are similar to those seen at the eastern corners of the hall and like those have been cut back to limit their projection into the room, apparently an original feature.  It is probable that the front window to the street was an oriel, matched by a window in the same position in the rear wall.  Both of these windows have grooves for sliding shutters.  Next to the central truss there is a splayed scarf joint in the west wall plate, similar to those seen in the hall.  It is possible that this chamber served a ceremonial purpose such as a market court, as it could be accessed from the outside using the stair.  Access from inside the hall may have been by a stair door, not now visible, to the north of the service doors.

Unfortunately the crown post and original roof structure above the tie beam are missing, replaced by a nineteenth or early twentieth  century roof in softwood in the opposite orientation to the original roof.