Cynric has one of the most interesting skills in the village. He and his descendants will have a profound effect on Wichamstow as it grows, but this is rather getting ahead of ourselves.
By and large, all of the buildings are made of wood, even the bridge is made of wood. With the demise of the Roman era in Britain, the organisation and technologies associated with stone buildings were forgotten. That said, in the remoter corners of the British Isles, stone was still the major component in building construction. More of that later. Wood was the ideal material for the construction of homes, farms and halls because of it's abundance. In addition, most people could assist either in part or entirely on their own in erecting wooden buildings. A home made of oak in suitable conditions will last decades, which was all that anyone needed. As buildings were erected in dribs and drabs, those that were unfit to be left standing were demolished and rebuilt, or cannibalised. Often, as families expanded, new houses were erected next door or nearby. When finished, the older building was left to collapse, with the new exposed site ripe for modification. This in it's own small way was the beginning of urban sprawl.
The Anglo-Saxons were well aware of the previous efforts of the Romans. Areas of London, Lincoln and York for example were still visible, but the Anglo-Saxons almost without fail avoided building inside the old Roman towns. The reasons for their single mindedness in avoiding such a rich source of foundations and materials is mysterious, especially when habitation patterns in the rest of Europe are examined. The cities and towns on the continent show no such hiatus as can be seen in Britain. So Cynric's skills are the beginning of a new and exciting phase of building in Anglo-Saxon England.
Whilst he has learnt all the skills of carving freestone (a stone that has no layers or 'grain'), the lack of large volumes of such materials precludes him from making any building solely out of such stone. Apart from a small chapel on the estate of Drengham, his greatest work is the continuing expansion of the church of St. Alfheah's in Wichamstow, particularly the top tier of the tower. The stone tower has now been up for over fifty years, and there are plans to expand so parts of the church. If the church had been built on the other side of the channel, then it would have been made in all likelihood of one type of freestone. However, because of the lack of decent materials back at Wichamstow, and the infancy of the quarrying trade, other techniques utilising rough hewn stone were used to build the church.
The church stands because of a substance known as 'Lime Mortar'. This is not as advanced as the mortar the Romans used, which could even set under water, however, when employed to hold layers of stone together, worked quite well. (So much so that the areas of the church he built were still standing 1000 years later). Lime Mortar is made by roasting Limestone in kilns creating a substance called 'Slacked Lime'. This was then placed in large pits or vessels and water was slowly added (this is a volatile action, that can on occasion explode sending caustic 'Quick-Lime' flying). This is the basis of the mortar, with fine washed sand added to the mixture.
The nature of the stone means that there are not really any regular courses or layers of stones mortared in place, such as brick building today, but a slightly more random pattern emerges as the building rises. The walls are a sandwich of larger sto27 March, 2005ller irregular stones and chippings used to pack the middle of the wall. Where doors and loops for windows are needed, a wooden frame was erected to make the outline of the door for example, and the wall made to surround the frame. When dry, the frame could then be removed. An alternative would be to acquire some of the expensive freestone, and use that to make the door or window frame, supported by wooden beams during the building process. This would then also be built over and left to dry. In fact, just such a method has been employed at St. Alfheah's. The 'secret' of the arch was also paramount to any builder then, allowing areas to be spanned with stone rather than wood.
Lime mortar takes quite some time to dry, and this controls the speed of building. Modern mortar can be left overnight to harden, and building can them commence the next day. The lime will take substantially longer to set, slowing down the work - not that they were aware that things could be built any faster of course. With StAlfheah's, some freestone was used to edge the window loops, doors and corners of the tower.
A mason from London was hired to carve some of the most difficult pieces on the church, and taught Cynric some of his tricks of the trade. So now, apart from the more mundane building of walls, Cynric can now turn his hand to Gravestones, and other religious pieces. His tools are not particularly varied or specialised. He has two favourite hammers, one for hard stone, and a mallet for softer stoneworking. With the softer stone, over enthusiasm with a heavy hammer will undo a lot of careful work. He has a few chisels, that are either for the harder stone or the soft stones. The former are very strong and hard, and the latter types are not very far removed from those suitable for cutting wood. After a short while, in fact several times a day, he has to resharpen the chisels on a rotary grinding wheel he's acquired. A young apprentice turns this for him, which is all part of the learning process.
Cynric, like so many other people from Wichamstow, cannot read or write, and all his work will be forgotten in time, without even a masons mark to identify his efforts in the name of God.