Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Straw bale houses and a fornicators' charter



Research – for me it’s one of the most fun bits of the writing life, getting to find out about stuff you wouldn’t otherwise come across. Today, I have been looking into buildings made of straw bales and the ‘New’ Poor Law of 1834.

I’ve come across some lovely buildings, not least this one in West Wales, not far from where my current book is set. It is a dream harboured very dearly by the Other Half and I that we might, one day, be able to build our own house and, I must say, straw bales look as if they might be a strong candidate for our material. Incredibly green in all respects and producing highly original looking buildings which people like Amazonails and Chug at Strawbale building will help you build yourself, what’s not to like?



Judging from the websites Google pointed me to today, there is a spate of this kind of building breaking out in my home area of West Wales but I’m not sure that the climate is going to draw me back there, however many like-minded people the green hills might be harbouring. I need more sunshine than that. Or at least less rain.

I’m not a huge fan of the straight line in architecture – I love old buildings whose roofs have sagged until they take on the shape of the ‘in the round’ rafters beneath, and walls which have settled and ‘skirted’ down on the ground on which they sit. The house I was brought up in, being almost four hundred years old, did not have a true right-angle in the place which made wallpapering a nightmare but added to the visual charm of the place. Strawbale building (or s/b as I’m going to have to get used to calling it if I aspire to move in these circles) looks like providing the ultimate non-rectilinear building. One of the lovely things you can do is shape your bales with a hedge-cutter so you can round off edges and cut away window recesses.
Definitely a thought to keep on the front-burner, and not just for the book, where there will definitely be one.

And the Poor Law of 1834? Well, deeply fascinating to someone as interested in social history as me. The New Poor Law was the infamous one which turned the relief of the impecunious from a charitable duty of the parish (usually done in kind) to a statutory duty of the Union – ie a number of parishes combined – via the dreaded workhouse. Following implementation of the Act, people had to pay parish rates to fund the workhouse and couldn’t give people clothing or food in discharge of their charitable duty any more. No wonder workhouses were hated – you couldn’t be ‘relieved’ in your own home and you couldn’t relieve people directly, you had to hand over your cash (which you probably had little enough of if you were working class) to a faceless bureaucracy which relieved them for you.
And yet… in the area and time I’m dealing with – West Wales in the 1840s - the elderly people whose poverty was relieved by sending them into the workhouse felt that they were more generously dealt with than under the old system, where some quid pro quo was expected from the impecunious by the parish.

But, for me, the worst thing about this poor law was the way it dealt with unmarried mothers. Prior to 1834 if a pregnant girl swore on oath as to the paternity of her child, the man responsible could be committed by a magistrate until he either paid up to support the child or appeared before a quarter sessions to dispute paternity. Under the new law, the poor girls were out on their own. The report of Edwin Chadwick, upon which the law was mostly based, stated that ‘a bastard will be what Providence appears to have ordained that it should be, a burden on its mother, and where she cannot maintain it on her parents.’ From then on, as you can imagine, errant fathers mostly escaped scot-free. It was a fornicators’ charter. There’ll be one of those in the book, too. And I'm not talking about a charter.

4 comments:

Akasha Savage said...

I too love cottages made out of straw. One of my favourite programmes is Grand Designs, and there was a man who made his own homw with straw bales...it was fantastic, I loved it.

You're so lucky The Other Half is atune to you. My hubby is not a bit of a risk taker and would not dream of doing anything that unconventional.

I also agree with you about research...it is one of my favourite parts of writing. I have learnt so many interesting facts that I would never have discovered if I didn't write, and met some truly wonderful characters along the way. Erzsbet Bathory for one!!

Akasha Savage said...

I too love cottages made out of straw. One of my favourite programmes is Grand Designs, and there was a man who made his own homw with straw bales...it was fantastic, I loved it.

You're so lucky The Other Half is atune to you. My hubby is not a bit of a risk taker and would not dream of doing anything that unconventional.

I also agree with you about research...it is one of my favourite parts of writing. I have learnt so many interesting facts that I would never have discovered if I didn't write, and met some truly wonderful characters along the way. Erzsbet Bathory for one!!

Akasha Savage said...

PS Not sure why my comment was printed twice! I only pressed Publish Your Comment once!!

Alis said...

Shucks - i got all excited about 3 comments too!
Thanks for posting Akasha - when are you putting the next thing up on The Darkside?