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Medieval European houses

A house with dark wood beams and white plaster

Half-timbered houses in Toulouse, France

In the Middle Ages, many people in northern Europe (northern France, Germany, and England) built their houses in this half-timbered way. This was because wood for building was expensive. Most people couldn’t afford to build their whole house out of wood.

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What is half-timbering?

Instead, people built just a frame of wood. Then they filled in the frame with lath and plaster. Lath is made of smaller sticks, too small to hold any weight. Over the lath you smear on plaster made from lime. (You get lime by burning limestone or marble. Medieval people burned a lot of Greek and Roman statues to make lime for plaster.)

Getting more into it

At first people just did half-timbering to save money on wood. But soon they realized that you could make attractive patterns with the dark wood and the white plaster. Half-timbering never caught on in the Mediterranean or West Asia, because there wasn’t enough wood in those places to build with. Northern Europe had big forests and plenty of wood.

Was this house for just one family?

In the Middle Ages, people didn’t have just one family living in such a big house. If the family was rich, they lived in a house like this along with many of their servants and employees. If the family was poor, they might live as servants or employees.

Medieval European families

Or the whole family lived in one room of the house, and other families lived in the other rooms, like small apartments today.

Learn by doing: draw a half-timbered house
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Bibliography and further reading about medieval houses:

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