In 1978, Granville Rudd, founder of the Longsands Museum, was taking part in an archaeological dig on the piece of land next door to London Road Farm, opposite Porch Farm. London Road Farm was derelict and had been empty for about six years and was being used as a tool store. Granville was intrigued by the house and he and his wife Audrey decided to buy it, investigate its history and restore it, although its dilapidated state and the lack of an electricity supply made the business of looking after their three children in such surroundings a daunting task.
They moved in in 1980, and began work straight away. The exterior was covered in pebbledash when the Rudds moved in, which had to be removed, and then rotten timbers and panelling had to be replaced. At first it was thought that the house was Tudor, as almost every timber was covered with wallpaper or plasterboard, and the only beam which was exposed, in the present sitting room, had a Tudor moulding.
The Rudds stripped off the plaster from the walls, and dug up the floors to try and find out more about the house, and as they did so the date of the house moved earlier and earlier. It was an exciting day when they stripped the plaster off the landing upstairs because they discovered what was known as a 'scarf joint': two timbers sliced at an angle so the cut the end of each piece is at a 45-degree angle, the pieces then being strapped together. (Middle English skarf, as in scarfnail, probably from Old Norse skarfr, end piece of a board cut off on the bias).
That discovery moved the date back to about 1500. Granville then did an excavation on the floor in the present sitting room, as he realised that the floor above the sitting room and adjacent dining room were later additions, as were the lobby leading to the kitchen, known as the 'outshut, and the kitchen itself. Originally the house would have been a rectangular open hall house, with no fireplaces, no ceilings and an earth floor. The house lies about 18 inches below pavement level and another 15 inches below that was excavated to the original earth floor. This meant digging through a concrete floor from the 1950s, a brick Victorian floor, a brick 18th century floor, then an earth Tudor floor, finally reaching the clay of the 15th century floor, beneath which was the Roman road surface. Granville uncovered a large circular area of burnt floor which extended into the present dining room, and a row of post holes parallel to the current fireplace and also a large white area. The circular patch of burnt earth was the site of the main fireplace, a simple bonfire, which burned in the centre of the rectangular hall, on which the inhabitants of the house did all their cooking, and which kept them warm in winter. The post holes had been used to secure tree trunks in the ground, which were then lashed together and used as scaffolding to build the chimneys and fireplaces in about 1530. The white patch was the remains of the lime mortar used for the chimneys. A smaller summer hearth was also discovered against the back wall and slightly to the right of centre on which some glazed pottery was found. This was the remains of a large pot which had stood on the hearth, had got broken and been buried as other floors were laid on top of it. That pot finally dated the house at between 1380 and 1430. To give some idea of the historical context, the battle of Agincourt took place in 1415, Joan of Arc was burned in 1431, and Dick Whittington was Lord Mayor of London in the 1380s.
The house was built on the Roman road which came out of Godmanchester through the gates where the Roman Gate flats now stand; the centre of the road would have passed through the middle of the sitting room. The road had to be re-routed around the house which accounts for the slight kink in the present road. There were some windows, but they were not glazed, and would have had wattle shutters to keep out the worst of the weather. A window frame in the dining room shows evidence of the grooves into which the shutters would have been fitted. The construction of the house is known as a "four bay construction' which means there are four main timbers going from the horizontal timber above the plinth up to the roof, and then smaller timbers for support in between.
Porch Farm across the road is an eight bay construction, so it is twice the length. London Road Farm was damaged by fire in the mid seventeenth century, so that the whole of the front had to be reframed and windows were put in; the present ones at the front of the house are copies but several original ones remain.
When the Rudds moved in, the sitting room was divided into three, and there was no dividing wall between the sitting room and dining room. All the inglenooks were filled in, and in the sitting room a brick fireplace had been installed. Some of the oak timbers around the house have remains of the bark still showing. When a house was built in the 15th century, there was no great shortage of oak, so all the timbers in the house are whole tree trunks. The trees were cut down and assembled flat on the ground. They were then numbered, taken apart and brought to the site where they were re-erected, matching up the numbers. In the room which is the present bathroom, a brick gantry was found, and a drain in the floor leading to a hole in the outside wall, and it was thought that this was where the pigs were killed so that the blood could flow down the drain to the yard outside. The beam in the bathroom looked like a sponge but as it was a complete oak tree, the heart of the oak still remained and was still extremely hard.
The 'outshut where the present back door is situated was one of the last rooms to be added to the house in late 17th century. The site of the original back door has been lost. There is a "finds' cabinet in the outshut filled with broken pottery and glassware excavated from a well found behind the house. The original outside wall of the house is now the inner outshut wall. The timbers at the entrance to the kitchen are cut away to enable barrels to be moved through easily. The kitchen was built in the early 17th century. It was not possible for the Rudds to excavate the kitchen floor which is a pity because it would have lain outside the back door of the earlier house where rubbish would have been thrown.
The fireplace in the kitchen was of a vaulted brick construction, and in the left hand side was a small cupboard which was part of a bigger cupboard. A large quantity of broken clay pipes were found sealed inside. On the back wall of the kitchen which had been the outside of the original house, some red painted scrollwork panels were found. There were two panels which have been preserved. On one of them was what is considered nowadays a very rude word, which must have been written by somebody literate, and as it was on the outside of the house, everyone could see it! Perhaps it meant something different then! The lead window is about 1625. It has been re-leaded with most of the original glass still in place. There is a blocked doorway leading from the kitchen into the late 19th century house next door which was built as an extension to this house. A game larder was added in the early 18th century, and lies well below ground level.
A narrow staircase leads from the kitchen up to the bedrooms. At the top of the stairs are two doors opposite each other. One led to the loft over the stables where the male servants and farm workers would have slept, and the other to a bedroom over the kitchen area where the female staff slept. On the bedroom door frame is carved a series of notches, perhaps a record kept of conquests. A roll of several sheets of paper was found behind some plaster in this bedroom which turned out to be the Poor Law papers for outdoor relief in Hilton, which were dated between 1890 and 1892. One of the sheets contained the account of an old man who had become ill. He was looked after for a year, then he died and was buried, and the sum total of his keep was £1 7s 6d. These papers are now at the Huntingdon Records Office.
The Rudds put up a wall in the larger third bedroom to form a corridor leading from the two smaller bedrooms to the main staircase, and they used Georgian panelling rescued from the dining room. The beautiful oak floor in the third bedroom was installed when the ceiling was inserted above the dining room in the 17th century. Diane Candy who used to live in the Old Manor House in Cambridge Street said that they had found a lot of tin which had been used to patch the floors there. She had been told that that there used to be a chap called Tinny Smith who used to go round putting bits of tin in the holes in floors. A few pieces were found in London Road Farm.
When the ceiling was built above the sitting room in about 1530, the staircase to the new first floor would have been a ladder. No evidence was found of this however, so it is not known where this would have been. The next staircase was built before the 17th century fire and would have come up across the present front door. When the house was burnt, and the front was reframed, another staircase was built, this time from the dining room, turning across to a landing where the present stairwell is. When the Rudds rebuilt the staircase, they had the surviving Georgian banister copied, and Granville made a number of spindles copied from the originals to make the present staircase. Two of the originals are set at the bottom of the staircase. The remaining spindles are in store. A length of the original banister can be seen in the 'finds cupboard' in the outshut. There was one original newel post, and two more were made for the present staircase. On the original was inscribed some initials: I W 1663. On the new one has been inscribed G & AR 1982.
When the Rudds took out the Georgian staircase in order to build the new elm staircase they found remains of the earlier staircase from before the fire. The newer staircase had been built over the remains of the burnt oak staircase which was very twisted, and made it impossible to incorporate the earlier remains into the new stairway. The wall of the staircase which is in fact the sitting room chimney, incorporates some stonework. It is thought that it may be of monastic origin or may be tied in with rebuilding of the church when stone would have been lying about and may have been used by local people. No explanation has yet been found as to why these large pieces of stone were built in when the rest of the chimney was brick. The stone has been used fairly high up in the construction and must have been very difficult to manoeuvre. When the plaster was taken off the stair well, the back of the bread oven was exposed. Mr Rudd had been excavating the Roman Gate and had rescued some stones from it which were going to be thrown out, and these were used to fill in the hole.
When the Rudds moved in they took the ceiling in the main bedroom down, and then recreated a vaulted ceiling by stretching chicken wire across the beams and then plastering over. They found a trap door with leather hinges in a little cupboard. Below the trap was a hole in the plasterwork leading to an area between the walls which were whitewashed, although the rest of the walls were still rough. The Rudds believed, somewhat tongue in cheek that this was a priest hole for a very slim priest it has also been suggested that it might have been an oubliette, or indoor lavatory.
The front door is now in the original position, although earlier in the Georgian period, the front door led into the dining room. There was a window under the staircase which was later filled in perhaps because ladies going upstairs with their hooped skirts would have presented an interesting view to little boys going along the street
Under the fireplace in the dining room was found evidence of the big scorched earth patch where the original bonfire would have been. There was evidence of five fireplaces, Edwardian, then 3 Georgian then original Tudor fireplace with herringbone brickwork. A mummified toad was also found which was probably put there to ward away witches who might have come down the chimney. On the north wall of the dining room there is a 17th century window with grooves to hold woven wattle shutters, and a 17th century doorway which replaced the front door when the stairway blocked the original entrance. Some large stones, some with ornate mouldings were found in the dining room wall. They may have been taken from an important building, possibly monastic.
Many thanks to Audrey for her fascinating talk to the Huntingdon and Godmanchester Civic Society on which this article is based. The house is a monument to the inspiration and hard work of Audrey, and her late husband Granville Rudd.