This record has been compiled at the request of members by John Dallimore with contributions from, Clare Austin, Ann Heeley, Martyn Brown and some of the other long-standing members of the Group.


The need for a forum to further the study of traditional buildings (nationally) had in 1952 resulted in the founding of the Vernacular Architecture Group. That Group grew and by 1969 it was felt that as relevant books and articles were widely scattered ‘A Bibliography on Vernacular Architecture’ was needed and was subsequently published in 1972, edited by Sir Robert de Zouche Hall. In the Introduction he stated that ‘Vernacular architecture is not so much a new subject as a new name for an older, unorganised one. The study of houses and other buildings, which, in their form and materials, represent the unselfconscious tradition of a region rather than ideas of architectural style has been followed for many years in a diffused and unorganised fashion’. He went on to say that ‘The need in all field studies to classify material and, for those arising from human activity, to place examples in their setting in respect both of time and social background, has led workers in three directions. Some have engaged themselves in the basic tasks of typologies – such as of house plan, methods of roof and wall construction, and studies of detail which may be important dating criteria……Other researchers, again, have sought to use historical – that is, documentary – evidence, in the hope of proving or at least inferring the social status of individual houses or classes of houses’.

In the 1960’s two authoritative books became available, in particular, the ‘Monmouthshire Houses’ (in three volumes) by Sir Cyril Fox and Lord Raglan, and  ‘The English Farmhouse and Cottage’ by Maurice Barley. It is of interest to note that in Somerset, up until 1970 only Mark McDermott, Clare Austin, Sir Robert Hall and Lionel Walrond had published articles on the subject.

It is in the 1970’s however that interest in the subject grew substantially in the County and individuals, in particular, Cmdr. E.H.D. Williams, Ron Gilson, Brian Hale and Mark Mc Dermott became very active in the field and contributed a great deal by way of surveys and a number of papers – published principally in the Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society. Their work was (and is) extremely valuable – although it was mostly orientated to recording and researching houses with pre-1650 origins.

More books on the topic – but covering a wider field - also became available, in particular, ‘Houses of the Welsh Countryside’ by Peter Smith of the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monument in Wales and ‘English Vernacular Houses’ by Eric Mercer of the English Royal Commission. Also, Bob Machin, Tutor,  Dept. of Extra-mural Studies, University of Bristol produced ‘The Houses of Yetminster’.  At this time Derek Shorrocks, the then County Archivist, agreed to set up a ‘Vernacular Architecture’ file which enabled reports to be deposited and systematically catalogued at the Record Office. Also, in parallel individuals were encouraged to deposit reports and photographs at the National Monuments Record, London. In this connection if reels of film relevant to the reports were sent to the NMR they were subsequently printed and copies returned to the contributor - together with a new reel of film for future use!

In 1970 Clare and David Austin purchased a seventeenth century house in Crewkerne. David had met Sir Robert Hall in Yeovil where Sir Robert lived and, recognising his name from acknowledgements in Maurice Barley’s book, he invited him to look at their house. After his visit Sir Robert, noting Clare’s interest, took her to visit a number of houses which they jointly recorded. They observed that houses in Stocklynch, a village near Ilminster, had structural characteristics (timber framed gables above cob walls) that were different from the majority of houses in neighbouring villages. They recorded seven houses and also researched related land use, ownership and tenure. This they considered vital in order to discover the story of the village community and its development as a whole , as well as the changing structure and evident use of the buildings themselves. Their research was published as ‘The Medieval Houses of Stocklynch’ in Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society, Vol.116 (1972). They continued to record a number of individual houses, and later embarked on a study of Knole (Long Sutton parish), whose houses have quite different features from those of Stocklynch. This study was not, then, completed because Sir Robert Hall left to live in New Zealand.

Clare continued her interest in the study of the houses of an entire village as, together with Ann Glass, they recorded and researched twenty-two houses in Drayton (near Langport) – the work was oriented to the production of an exhibition held at the village hall in 1978 to celebrate the centenary of the building of the school in the village. [Regrettably, although the reports survive the project has not been completed]. In that period Clare joined the Vernacular Architecture Group and became aware of the recording, research and publications being undertaken by the Yorkshire Buildings Group (under the guidance of Barry Harrison and Barbara Hutton) and the Surrey Group (under Joan Harding) and it served to consolidated her thought that rather than researching individual houses in isolation that it would be better to put them into the wider context of the local history and the geographical and economic background of the community. When attending meetings of the Vernacular Architecture Group Clare met Eric Mercer, then a Senior Inspector for the then Royal Commission for Historic Monuments and he supported her idea that a wide view should be taken of the houses of entire village and encouraged her to proceed.

At about this time the Somerset Archaeological &.Natural History Society(SANHS) established an Historic Buildings Committee which in 1978 organised a one day seminar in Taunton, speakers included Marion Meak, Cdr.E.H.D.Williams, Martyn Brown and Mark McDermott. Subsequently, in order to encourage the interest generated by this seminar a field day was arranged involving the survey of buildings at East Compton Farm, near Shepton Mallet which was followed by a walk-about in Pilton and a drawing session at the Somerset Rural Life Museum, Glastonbury. This hands-on day stimulated the interest of some of the novice surveyors (in particular, Ann Heeley and John Dallimore) and as the result of this impetus Clare Austin suggested that there should be a meeting of those interested in recording houses. The meeting of this informal Group was subsequently held at the Somerset Rural Life Museum in Glastonbury under the auspices of Matyn Brown, the then Keeper of the museum. (Martyn had been at the museum since 1974 and was keen to foster interests in the older buildings of the county – particularly those associated with farms – currently he, together with Ann Heeley, had produced a small book on ‘Victorian Somerset: Farming’).

Cdr Williams attended one of the early meetings of this informal Group but decided that he did not wish to become a member as he would rather proceed with his researches independently. At about this time the Proceedings of the SANHS included a list of those properties which had been surveyed in the county and where reports had been deposited with the Royal Commission for Historic Monuments, London, together with some observations on particular properties. Later these contributions developed into more detailed accounts by various practitioners in the county each year.


Following the Group meeting mentioned above, some survey work ensued under Clare Austin’s guidance and towards the end of 1979 the first AGM of interested people took place at the Rural Life Museum. Seven attended: Clare, Ann Heeley, Stephanie Morland, Martyn Brown, John Dallimore, Marion Meak and Eric Mercer (of the RCHM).

The meeting decided that:

  1. A group should be formalised and should be known as the Somerset & South Avon Vernacular Building Research Group (At that time Avon County had been created and had taken over the northern part of historic Somerset).
  2. Monthly meetings should be held [Note - for some years they were held at the Somerset Rural Life Museum].
  3. A Constitution was adopted which stated that the main aim of the Group should be to record and study traditional buildings in the historic county of Somerset. 
  4. To carry out research into the relevant history of the area, provide a forum for discussion and to publish completed projects.
  5. That the first project should be the study of Long Load and Knole (Long Sutton) settlements which were close to one another, separated only by the River Yeo, but which had their own distinct patterns of house structure, materials and plan-forms. Also advantage could be taken of the work started by Clare Austin and Sir Robert Hall earlier.


All the Village books produced between 1983 and 2004 were printed by Prestige Services of Crewkerne and the typing and formatting prior to printing was carried out by Joan Dallimore and John Penoyre.  Some grants towards publication costs were received at various times in particular from the Maltwood Trust for Archaeological Research in Somerset, and also from the Marc Fitch Fund for Historical Research, Oxford.


The Rural Life Museum at Glastonbury ceased to be used some years ago as the rent being charged by the County Council was too high bearing in mind the small membership at that time. Subsequently, for many years, meetings were held at the houses of those members who had larger houses. However, as the membership increased larger accommodation became necessary so in 2002 we ‘moved’ to the excellent Village Hall at Compton Dundon . Our present meeting venue is the United Reform Church Room, Somerton.