A Potted History of Timber Frame and Log Houses in the UK

Some time ago, we met an elderly gentleman at a show, who wasn’t in the market for a log home, but was curious about them. He had lived in a wooden house as a child in the South of England, and wondered if the company who built it were still in business. When we looked them up on the Internet for him, it turned out that they still are! This made us think a bit about how long timber houses have been built in this country, since the company in question has been going longer than any of us have been alive (and we’re not exactly spring chickens). So, research commenced, and the results were certainly interesting.

Ancient History

Wooden houses are a mainstay of historical and fantasy TV and films based in mediaeval times, but, not entirely surprisingly, archaeology tells us that people were building homes based on logs or timber posts in what is now the UK as early as 11,000 BC, shortly after the glaciers of the Ice Age retreated and settlers moved North again, and while our land mass was still part of continental Europe.

Houses in this country were originally built by means of simple timber posts pushed into the ground, to which other wooden cross members were then added, until some nameless genius came up with the breakthrough idea of putting stones in a line to form a plinth and then laying a wooden beam onto them. Upright sections were then fixed to this by mortise and tenon joints held together with wooden pins. These houses were normally constructed from oak. Commonest types of construction were box frame construction, consisting of a rectangular frame with studding (vertical members); and cruck construction, which was a curved frame, where pairs of timbers formed an A-frame. Amazingly, over 2000 of this latter type of houses are still standing!

The earliest surviving timber frame houses are at Boxted in Kent and Upton Magna near Shrewsbury, and date from the 13th century. There is also St Andrews Church at Greensted in Essex, where the wooden staves in the original nave date back to 1060!

The practice of jettying, where upper floors extend up to 4 feet further out than the floor below (typical of mediaeval towns and villages) was introduced to allow the building of larger houses without encroaching on the streets below (because people were taxed on floor space at ground level). In some extreme cases, the residents could lean out and shake hands from upper windows on opposite sides of the street – e.g. in The Shambles in York


Originally the oak timbers used to be left their natural colour, sort of greyish, but they would blacken with age and soot. Proper brick fireplaces didn’t appear till the mid 16th century; prior to that there was either nothing, or just a hole in the roof, or at best a smoke bay, for the smoke to escape from the fire which was both heating source and cooking fire for the building. The fashion for painting the timbers black in the way that we are now used to seeing them, actually only started in about 1822, and was designed to make newer buildings mimic the colour of the really old timbers. 

Glazing windows wasn’t common until the end of the 17th century, so they used wooden shutters instead. When glass did become available, at first the windows were small-paned leaded types, and it wasn’t till about the middle of the 19th century when it was possible to make bigger panes.

Wooden housing fell somewhat out of favour in Elizabethan times, apparently because the English fleet needed the timber for ship-building, and we moved to the more common brick type housing that we see so much of today.

Modern Times

Jumping enthusiastically forward to the modern era, timber and log houses continue to be built, particularly using modern methods such as cross-laminated timber. Scotland has continued to build more timber homes than England, however, and market share there is currently at about 70% of new builds, while the figure for England is a mere 9% and Wales hovers at around 22% (figures from 2021).  

The construction industry and the customer, especially in the self-build market, are increasingly looking to wood-based homes such as log houses to deliver on environmental standards. The 21st Century log home, often based on Scandinavian designs, is a much sturdier, more energy efficient, and more environmentally friendly prospect than the houses of yore, and certainly more stylish, but you can see how the modern version has built on the solid foundations [groan] of centuries of timber construction experience.  There is the added advantage that this type of build enables houses to be built much faster than by ‘traditional’ brick and block methods.

Log houses are also finding new favour as holiday homes in rural and seaside locations, as well as becoming a realistic choice for both luxury family homes and ‘park home’ style luxury mobiles.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our gallop through time!  If you’d like to know more about what options you have with our log homes, please browse our website or get in touch with us.