From 2002-2006 I lived in this old and wonderful little cottage in the tranquil village of Great Offley, between Luton and Hitchin (directions are available for the lost). It was originally a post office until the 1960's, and possibly also a toll house on the old road from Hitchin to Luton which passes nearby.
Behind Court Cottage in the large photo is the adjoining Court House, which was once the old court room, complete with a gallery above the large fireplace, and intricate beam work. The exact age of Court Cottage is uncertain, although it is believed to be contemporary with Westbury Farm (c.1510), so besides the 12th Century Church of St. Mary Magdalene, it is one of the earliest buildings in the village that remains today.
The old timber beams which make the structure of the house have been carbon dated back to 1350 (!), but carbon dating is not very accurate for such young things as houses, being more suited to fossils and other geologically ancient things. Certain clues also indicate that the beams were brought here from another building, which was common building practice. The upstairs room features a special kind of beam formation called a king post which allows for a greater span of roof to be supported, and was first used in the 14th Century. That was the time of Geoffrey Chaucer and the wondrous tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (check out this modern translation).
David Baines, in his entertaining book "Two Coats Colder", describes Court Cottage thus:
The Old Post Office, which was originally thatched, is of great antiquity and is probably the oldest building in the village. It also has the name of the 'Old Court House' and may have been the building where Richard Farmer of the Staple and maybe Henry VIII held courts in 1527 and 1543 respectively. ["History of Hertfordshire" by J.E. Cussans (1874), and "Historical Antiquities of Hertfordshire" by Henry Chauncy (written between 1700-1719)] It is interesting to notice that it faces into Old Plantation Road, now very overgrown, which, until 1807, was the main road through the village from Hitchin to Luton. In the 1920's and 1930's Bessie Wilmot kept the post office and shop where "a strange mixture of smells, from foodstuffs to paraffin, greeted the shopper on entering her shop." [from discussions with Mrs Margaret Pearman] [Period image from Angela Hillyard's book "Images Of Old Offley" courtesy of Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies]
Here are some shots from before I moved in; you can clearly see the crazy crooked 500-year-old timbers which still hold the building up.
My cottage has a music room downstairs (much more sonorous now that my piano has arrived), a compact kitchen, and an understairs cupboard (potential darkroom/vocal booth).
A staircase leads up to the spacious bedroom with ensuite bathroom and high loft ceiling; a good home for my extensive record collection and later my studio gear which eventually took over the place!
© copyright Malcolm Smith 2002-06-18 - last updated 2018-05-05 - links verified 2018-05-05