The Figure above illustrates a typical box-framed open hall house of the 15th century (Harris 1978, 15). It consists of four bays, providing three ground floor ‘sections’; the so-called ‘standard tripartite plan’ of service rooms on the left, an open hall in the centre and parlour/solar on the right (Fairclough 1992, 362; Quiney 1984, 461). At this point it should be noted that although a great deal of houses were orientated this way, the plan can often be reversed with the service wing on the right. Even with the plan reversed the cross-passage is always at the lower/service end of the building. The bays are delineated by the tie-beams atop the main posts, as in Figure 3. There are five such posts making four bays. The service and parlour occupy one bay each with the hall monopolising almost two bays because of the cross-passage (Johnson 1993, 44-5). This four bay, three room plan is a generalisation as some have been recorded with the number of bays ranging, from anywhere, between one and seven. However, the four bays option is the most likely for the new middle class of the 15th century (ibid 44-5).
The floor of the late-medieval open hall house was generally formed by beaten earth and always featured an open hearth, towards the centre, to provide both heating and an area for cooking (Lewis et al. 1988, 11). Although the hearth is generally considered to be the centre of the hall, it should be noted that because the central bays also include the cross passage the hall is, therefore, not the centre of the two bays. This results in the hearth being placed nearer the high end rather than directly under the central truss (Goodall 1990b, 141). Subsequently, it is less likely to be placed directly under the central tie - as Harris infers in Figure 101 (Harris 1978, 15) – but rather
the hearth was placed slightly off-centre (Goodall 1990b, 141) as Fairbrother’s excavation drawing of Faccombe Netherton, shows in Figure 100 (Ibid., 139).
During the course of the Hampshire survey the author observed some evidence of crystalline, ‘fatty’ deposits in the roofs and central tie-beams of many properties. John Crook suggests that these are a result of cooking meat on the open fire (Crook 2006). Some of this residue was more prevalent on the “high” facing side of the central tie, such as at: 1 Somerset’s Cottage, Bentley (1311) the Swan Inn, Kingsclere (1449) and Rye Cottage, Mapledurwell (1487) to name but a few. This suggests that the hearth was placed centrally within the hall space, forward of the central structural tie (the green lines in Figure 102) and not, centrally, under the central truss that forms the two bays framing the hall and cross passage (the red lines in Figure 102). Finding soot in the roof of a suspected hall house, is generally a sure sign that, originally, the house had an open hall; prior to the start of the 16th century. However, it is not an indicator as to the exact location of the open fire because smoke dissipates freely, whereas the heavier, fatty deposits tend to rise straight up, giving a much better estimate as to the location of the original hearth (Crook 2006).