Time team – Sunderland students learn ancient building skills

Sunderland University staff and students helping to wattle and daube buildings at Bede's World, Jarrow.
Sunderland University staff and students helping to wattle and daube buildings at Bede's World, Jarrow.
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ANCIENT building skills have been passed down to a new generation as students gained hands-on experience.

Undergraduates due to start courses at Sunderland University next month were given the chance to get a headstart on the latest stage of their education as they tried out wattle and daube – a technique dating back to 700AD.

Their work has helped restore exhibits at Bede’s World in Jarrow, the twin monastery of Monkwearmouth.

The group of 25 learnt the skill used to construct buildings like those used during the time of St Bede, with museum staff showing how it was done before the students got their own hands dirty.

Wattle is the technique of weaving timber or branches together to make a wooden frame for a building, and daube is used to pack it with mud and excrement before the buildings are then painted white.

John Williams, assistant director of studies and programme leader for the English for academic purpose summer school, said it was a new experience for many of the students, most of whom are Chinese.

“Not many people get to wattle and daube in this day and-age,” he said.

“It was a good experience for them to have, and totally different. It was a dirty job, and not one for wearing your best Gucci’s, but thankfully we used more mud than excrement.”

John said staff at Bede’s World, now a museum of early medieval Northumbria, asked the group to help with the maintenance work after he contacted them.

He added: “I’ve been running trips around the country, so I got in touch with them, then they asked us to do this.

“We worked for about three hours, and it was great for the students, who are all aged between 19 and 23.

“They were told how to do it by staff who looked to make sure the buildings were healthy and ready to work on.”

John, added: “I was really looking forward to it because I hadn’t tried anything like it before.

“The students really enjoyed it because they felt like they were contributing to the community.”