German and English hallhouses - an attempt at a historical survey During the last centuries most of the old farmhouses in Low Germany were Hallenhäuser, in England called aisled hallhouses. That means that their main feature was a special character of the interior: an oblong room longitudinally subdivided by two rows of posts in a high and broad nave and two low and narrow aisles, covered by only one huge roof. Whilst formerly such houses were mostly thought only to have existed on the continent (Lower Germany, East Netherlands), we later learned that this type had existed in several parts of England, too, though today we cannot explain how and at what time this house form came there. Nevertheless, the fact is that Lower Germany as well as England knew aisled hallhouses at the very least from the early Middle Ages. In this connection we need only mention the well-known results of the excavations at Feddersen Wierde and at Yeavering - at both places (and at several others) actual examples of this type were found. But already at this early period fundamental differences between these houses could be observed: at Feddersen Wierde (and in other excavated settlements on the continent) most of these aisled buildings were - according to their functions - so-called byre-dwelling-houses, i.e. they sheltered men as well as cattle. At Yeavering however (and again in other excavated English examples) all houses of this type had been erected for men only - at no time could remains of byres be found within these buildings. And concerning the owners of these houses we can mention other important differences: houses such as those found at Feddersen Wierde belonged to peasants, those at Yeavering to high-ranking persons such as kings, dukes or other members of the higher nobility. There can be no doubt that these striking social differences between the owners must have become decisive for the later development of the houses, stimulated by the different desires to improve the possibilities of utilisation. During the high Middle Ages these differences first became effective. At this time in Lower Germany we can see efforts by the peasants to make their houses more suitable for their husbandry. For this purpose, they began to store their harvests in the roof spaces of their houses, thus making them so-called unit houses. But to do so, first they had to put ceilings of poles or planks into the naves of their buildings and thus to vertically subdivide these rooms formerly open to the ridges, an innovation which forced the peasants to preserve further the two rows of posts for carrying not only the roofs but now the harvests resting on the ceilings, too. Besides, in order to get carts and wagons into the houses, they had to widen the naves, formerly only small feeding passages, to broad threshing floors and to open the front gable into a large gate way. These alterations led to the type now commonly called Lower German hall-house. In England, however, the development naturally took quite another course. Here the owners, the members of the higher nobility, were not interested in adding new functions to their buildings. They only wished to better their accomodation. For this reason, they first heightened the outer walls to get more light into their halls. Above all they wished to replace the rows of posts which hindered the free movement in their halls, which were open to the ridge; so new constructions were created, namely base crucks and - for splendid houses - hammer beams, which eliminated the embarrassing posts. Finally, still another difference should be mentioned; whilst German peasants later kept their houses open from gable to gable- sometimes only a low screen separated the hearth room (used for living in) from the remaining part of the house -, inhabitants of English hallhouses began to make separate little special rooms from both ends of their halls, used for services or parlours. The end of these two different ways of development seems to have been during the late Middle Ages, i.e. during about the 15th and 16th century. After this period we see only variations of the now fully developed final forms. In Germany we usually call this phase the blossoming-time of the Lower German hallhouse, since it now achieved its highest form. Economic wishes above aII marked the further development here. Increased harvests caused by growing demands led the peasants to enlarge their barn rooms in their roof space. For this reason, first they had to widen their threshing floors to about 9 or even 10 metres. Thus, since this period, the lypically broad houses became characteristic for villages of Lower Germany. In addition, the economically good situation during these centuries encouraged urban influences especially with regard to the rural form of dwelling. Now separated rooms were added or inserted, with sitting rooms (Stuben) and chambers of different use, and skilful craftsmen were ordered to create representative show gables for the houses of richer peasants. In England the path already begun continued to be followed. The owners, now no longer members of the nobility but rich farmers, also sought later on to better their accomodation. The installation of a chimney was one of the first important steps on which further steps were based. The whole house including the hitherto still open hall could be ceiled over, though at first the rooms above the now lower hall were not yet used for additional accomodation. Another interesting step at this time was the enlarging of the two storied ends of the houses to wings under independent roofs stretching across to the main ridge of the buildings. Looking at this final form of the English hallhouse we can say that the evolved type had no longer any resemblance to its original form, the aisled hallhouse of the early Middle Ages, and no one can imagine that this type could be a relation - we can say a cousin - of the Lower German hallhouse. Summarizing the results of this short survey, we have seen two house types starting from nearly the same proto -form, but differing completely in their final forms, due to the different social status of their original owners and their differing wishes for making use of their houses.
How to Cite
Baumgarten, K., (1983) “Das englische und das deutsche Hallenhaus.”, Ethnologia Europaea 13(1), 189-202. doi: https://doi.org/10.16995/ee.1851