Inglenooks and ritual marks – click on the image above for slide show

Working with historic buildings as we do, we frequently come across man made marks on timbers, plasters and sometimes masonry.

Some of these are clearly a system for identifying which timber goes where during construction, the more interesting ones though are there for other reasons, some of which we are not too sure of.

These marks,or Apotropaic, ritual or ‘witches’ marks were often carved into doors, windows and fireplaces where the  air, and therefore possibly ‘witches’, could enter a building to protect them from  evil spirits.

Times ,beliefs and customs were different then and just imagine the house lit by flickering candles, quiet ,except for the wind in the chimney and the noise of the draught through the windows, it’s no wonder that they really believed the house needed protection and the marks had real purpose!

Although found  on doors,window frames and jambs of doorways, they are most likely to be found around fireplaces, which is a major part of what we work with.

Among the most common markings are interlocking circles (some carved to create a six-petalled daisy flower effect), concentric circles and intersecting lines creating crosses and M’s representing the Virgin Mary or double V’s for ‘Virgin of Virgins’.

Many marks are not easy to see- very faint and can be best seen if the light is shone along the beam,whilst others are deep and clear.

It is thought that these relate to two( or more) ‘phases’, the really thin, faint ones being cut into the green timber during construction,( but not as identifying marks), perhaps as part of the carpenters’ ‘spiritual’ role, the deeper ones could have been cut at a later stage- the timber has hardened by then and the cuts more difficult to make,hence deeper and in some ways less clean cut, possibly by the owners/occupiers.

That they had a purpose is clear and many have been worked through to logical conclusions, but others may have been more personal codes.

This case study represents the story of just one of the many ingelnooks we have uncovered and brought back into the home.

At first( see pics) the inglenook had been reduced in size and a ‘modern’ fire inserted, once opened up we couild see that the beam was a special one,with an abundance of ritual marks.

Restoration to the fireplace and beam revealed a bread oven to the left hand side and an original floor brick hearth.

The whole tidied up, re pointed and orginal features carefully restored, the fireplace is a real part of the home once more and what a feature!