illustration of west wing in 1425The West Wing

West Horsley Place is a house of many styles and periods, drawing together hundreds of years of English history. Stepping into the west range, visitors are able to experience the oldest extant part of the building, revealed through the trust’s maintenance and interpretive work. Whilst the south end rooms, used continuously by the residents of the manor house, reflect the tastes of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, the work of medieval craftsmen can still be appreciated at the north end. This once contained the rooms of servants and estate workers, with stud walls fitted to compartmentalise what was once a larger, more prestigious space. This has now been stripped back and visitors can experience building fabric from 1425 AD, a construction that will soon be celebrating its 600th birthday. Standing in what are now our visitor loos, specially designed to cause minimal obstruction of the ancient timbers and plaster walls, visitors can imagine this building as it was first conceived.

dragon beamPrestige

This area is the single-storey ground floor of an extremely long timber range. It was a highly prestigious construction, with a stunning crown post roof that can be seen in one of our recent videos. One fascinating building convention of the time this range was built was the jetty. A jetty is the projection of a wall over a lower storey, creating additional space above. Other reasons for this trend in construction have been put forward, such as sheltering the ground floor from weather or taking up less space on the street. Due to the rural location of West Horsley Place the latter of these causes is unlikely to be linked to the construction of the west range, however buildings of this type can be seen throughout many of England’s historic towns for which the creation of additional first floor space is more applicable.

the west range todayDesign & Engineering

The creation of the jetty was usually achieved by extending the joists of the first storey beyond the ground floor walls. Typically such joists run parallel to each other across the room’s width, at regular intervals. Many jetties protrude in one direction, in line with the joists and this creates the distinctive effect of overhanging the street. West Horsley Place, constructed as a building of some gravitas, actually extends in two directions. In order to accomplish this, the engineers employed a special timber called a dragon beam. This vital component of the west range’s double jetty has nothing to do with fire-breathing lizards, but instead it has been put forward that the name comes from a corruption of ‘diagonal.’ This speaks very clearly to its function. Extending at 45° to one set of joists, it provides support for a second which help to create the doubly expanded first floor. These joists are tenoned into the dragon beam, and you can see in this picture of the timber frame in the west range that the joists themselves are massive. The dragon beam, as is often the case with timber structure, has deteriorated over the many years it has been in place and has had to be reinforced with large steel flitching plates. It plays a crucial role in the support of the first floor and the roof structure beyond, and despite the action of moisture, pests and possibly fungus, it now has its strength restored.


At some point in history, the double jetty was absorbed as the building developed, concealing it almost entirely. This is likely to have occurred at the time the brick façade was constructed at the south elevation in approximately 1650 AD, disguising the medieval timber-framed house as a newer brick building. When you visit West Horsley Place, look carefully at the walls of the west range, as they contain the secret to how this was done. On the western elevation, mathematical tiles have been fitted to the exterior, giving the impression that this wall is made of bricks. In fact, these are only a surface covering and the timber frame is present beneath. You might also notice that the walls on the ground floor are extremely thick compared to those of the first floor. This is where the 17th century builders, to disguise the unfashionable timber house with its impressive double jetty, have filled in the overhang and created a uniform outer wall. Fortunately for us, the structure of the medieval range has been preserved within, fossilised until it was finally uncovered again for our audience today.