A guide to Tudor houses

Tudor architecture is distinctively British, with its black and white timbers and decorative brickwork instantly conjuring romantic images of a bygone age of elegance.

While the idea of owning a Tudor house may be both attractive and aspirational, there are some essential points to consider before making such a purchase.

From architectural matters to legal requirements, this article has got you covered. It’s vital to be well-informed, so here are the key factors to think about.

Grade II listed Anscott House in Bedfordshire was built in Tudor times.

Background to the Tudor era

England began to prosper at the start of the Tudor era, which spans three centuries, officially running from 1485 to 1603. Many great houses were built around the country at this time, evidence of the new wealth coming from economic prosperity. This also led to social change and more house building: new techniques were being used, and brick began to replace stone and wood which increased the rate of building.

One of the finest examples of architecture from the Tudor period is Hampton Court Palace, built by Henry viii, with its impressive great hall and tall chimneys. It was built for Cardinal Wolsey, Henry iii’s chief minister, and it remains one of the finest examples of a Tudor palace standing today. Other grand houses from Tudor times include Hardwick Hall, Sutton House, Barrington Court, Coughton Court, and Speke Hall, owned by the Norris family for many generations and now owned by the National Trust.

The Tudor style enjoyed a revival in the mid-19th century when many `mock Tudor’ homes were built.  The main difference between Tudor and mock Tudor is that the beams used in the latter were not part of the supporting structure, they were purely decorative.

One of the grandest buildings of the Tudor period, Hampton Court Palace, was built by Henry viii.

Key points to think about with Tudor houses

Structure

When viewing Tudor houses, it’s important to examine the foundations and walls. Look for signs of cracks, dampness, or unstable walls, all of which indicate potential structural issues. Also study the roof and ceilings, looking for signs of leakage, sagging, and water damage.

Maintenance and renovation

Be aware of the costs of restorations which might involve restoring or repairing historical features. The ongoing maintenance costs of Tudor houses could be high, depending on the condition of the property, the level of insulation, and the heating system.

Legal considerations

It’s crucial to understand the legal restrictions and requirements for preserving the historic features of houses from the Tudor period.

Conservation areas

Find out if the property is in a conservation area which may indicate restrictions and rules about the alterations that can be made. Be aware of constraints imposed on changes to the property’s exterior.

Is the property listed?

Many buildings from the Tudor period will be listed, which places restrictions on the alterations that will be allowed.

Planning permission

Research local planning regulations to understand restrictions or permissions required for changes to Tudor properties.

Typical features of houses from the Tudor period include:

  • Wooden frames and exposed oak timbers, often coloured black and white.
  • Decorative half-timbering: intricate designs of exposed timber arranged in vertical, diagonal, and horizontal patterns.
  • An oak frame constructed with tight-fitting joints and wooden pegs. Wattle and daub were often used in between beams and whitewashed: this created a flexible material that could move with the timbers.
  • Steeply pitched or low and sloping roofs with gables.
  • Many buildings had tall chimneys, often topped with decorative pots.
  • Narrow windows often comprising multiple smaller leaded glass panes. Stained glass and oriel windows were also common.
  • Low, narrow doors.
  • Spacious rooms and high ceilings.
  • Large fireplaces.

The advantages of owning a Tudor house

  • Plenty of period charm and character.
  • The pleasure of living in an original house.
  • Large and spacious rooms are ideal for families and entertaining.
  • The craftsmanship of the era is evident in ornate features and details.
  • A house that has stood for centuries could present a solid investment.
  • The ability to enjoy a piece of national heritage and Tudor houses may have historical significance.

The disadvantages of Tudor houses

Costs

The initial cost of purchase plus further renovation work and ongoing maintenance. Specialist building materials may be needed along with skilled craftsmen experienced in working on Tudor buildings.

Hidden problems

Later construction work may obscure original Tudor features: a full structural survey will be needed to identify hidden issues.

Listing

Due to their age, most Tudor houses will carry a listing that will restrict what a purchaser can do: you must obtain planning permission to carry out alterations. Getting work done satisfactorily may require costly construction techniques and materials that will preserve the house according to its age. Grants may be available in some cases.

Timber

The timber used in the Tudor period would not have been treated like construction wood in houses today and may be liable to infestation and warping.

Thatched roofs

Straw thatch may need replacing every 25 years while a combed wheat thatch can remain durable for 50 years. Thatching must be carried out by an expert. Thatch (and timber frames) come with a greater risk of fire and measures need to be put in place to counter this. It’s important to check the maintenance history of thatch.

Drainage

Drainage systems built in Tudor times are unlikely to cope with the demands of modern living and may well need upgrading.

Insurance

Listed buildings require special insurance policies.  

Due diligence

Buying a Tudor house is a dream for many people, whether they are caught up by the romance of owning a house that’s stood there for centuries, or because they want a unique home to live in.

Provided that you inspect the property’s structural integrity carefully and are aware of the maintenance requirements and legal aspects of ownership, you will fully arm yourself with the information needed to make an informed decision.

Consult with property professionals and assess local regulations to be clear. With care and due diligence, owning a Tudor house can be an enjoyable experience and a great investment.

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