An Encyclopaedia of English Medieval Carpentry

by Robert Beech
Westminster Hall hammer-beam roof
Westminster Hall, section through hammer-beam roof (1393), from Cescinsky and Gribble, 1922.


In the later Middle Ages English carpenters achieved a level of technical competence and aesthetic creativity which has never been equalled. This project sets out to define and illuminate the techniques and structures the carpenter crafted during that period. It is written with the minimum of jargon with the non-expert reader in mind. I also supply brief biographies of important carpenters.

If you find some surprising omissions, this is because roof carpentry is the main focus of this work.
As the Middle Ages unfolded and patrons developed a penchant for display roofs and ever wider spans, roof carpentry provided the carpenter’s greatest technical challenge. As carpenters overcame these challenges, such carpentry is arguably the most fascinating form of the carpenter's art.

The period defined as the Middle Ages is 1066 (the Norman invasion) to 1534 (the Act of Supremacy).

This not-for-profit educational website is a work in progress. You will notice some of the entries are incomplete and a couple of pages are still being constructed. I will try to update the site regularly, but when it will be 'finished' (if a work like this can ever be truly finished) is anyone’s guess.

Magnificent Examples of English Medieval Carpentry:

Salisbury Spire Timber Scaffold   Ely lantern by William Hurley

Westminster Hall hammer-beam roof   St Mary's, Bury, hammer-beam +roof

Clockwise from top-left: The spire scaffold of Salisbury Cathedral, 1344-76; the lantern and timber vaulting in the octagon of Ely Cathedral, c. 1339; the hammer-beam roof of St Mary's Church, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, c. 1430; the hammer-beam roof of Westminster Hall, 1393-98.

The Encyclopaedia:

Unless stated otherwise, all illustrations and photographs are by the author. If you want to use them in any published material, either online or in print, please credit me.

Boxford Church north porch
Boxford Church, Suff., north porch, probably early C14.