Carpenters' Marks
Carpenters' marks on each piece Carpenters' marks on arcade post 4:

vii on left brace

vi on post and right brace

Click here to see diagrams showing the locations of the Carpenters' Assembly Marks.

Our vernacular farm barn is classified as nine bay with side aisles and two midstreys. It measures 150' x 33' (9 x 2 rods). Two midstreys face east into the original farmyard. The timber framing is all oak and contains many reworked oak timbers. The style of construction suggests an original build date of mid 1500s.

Carpenters' marks, or more correctly carpenters' assembly marks (CAMs), consist of two matching symbols, one on each of the pieces of timber close to where they come together to form a joint. The purpose of these marks is to allow the individual pieces to be identified and correctly relocated when the joint was reformed during final assembly. The joints would have been cut and the timber framing pre-assembled, as far as was necessary, at a carpenter's workshop or yard. When all was seen to be correct, the sequential matching marks would be applied and the framing taken apart for ease of transport to the building site for final assembly.

The opportunity for discovery and close inspection of the first of these marks in the St Barnabas barn came with the construction of the new mezzanine first floor parish office addition at the southern end of the barn. A chance find behind the Rector's desk prompted further scrutiny that eventually resulted in the location of almost 100 marks down the complete length of the barn. This initial discovery fired the inquisitive imagination and stimulated an investigation with the assistance of an equally keen colleague.

The marks take the form of deliberate scratches made by a scribing tool or a knife. A modified form of Roman numerals is used. 4 is indicated by IIII, to avoid any reverse confusion by using IV, 9 is shown as a Z and 15 is shown by telescoping X and V.
Telescoped marks Carpenters' Marks on Post 9:

telescoped X and V + I = 16
They are to be found on the back faces, i.e. the hidden sides, on the tops of the arcade posts, on braces, principal rafters, tie beams and queen posts. So as to avoid left and right confusion the marks on the west side of the barn have an additional tag attached.

The locating and recording of the first of these marks was relatively straightforward but later findings required the use of a ladder, a narrow beamed torch, a pair of binoculars and dark evenings. Only then, by directing the torch beam at an oblique angle up the arcade post, could the profiles of faded and often cleaned up timber markings be confirmed as deliberate carpenters' marks. Renovation marks and shakes in the timbers often confused identification. Neighbours also had to be reassured that the intermittent flashes of torches were legitimate and not the nefarious activities of intruders!

The marks were sketched as accurately as possible and located on a master plan. Only when we had a comprehensive map of the whole barn, and reassessed some of our earlier identifications, were we able to draw reliable conclusions as to two sequences in the barn's 97 carpenters' marks. One set locates braces from the arcade posts to the arcade plates whilst a second set connects the principal rafters with the arcade posts and the queen posts to the tie beam. A few anomalous marks were found on braces that had been relocated. The significance of these two sequences of carpenters' marks is that the barn was built in one phase using new and reworked oak timbers.

Click here to see diagrams showing the locations of the Carpenters' Assembly Marks.