Discover more about the enchanting English cob cottage and the best counties in England to find them.
Cob houses are built of a mud mixture which has been hardened in the sun its English name is “cob.” These cottages are built by hand from a free form; the English style normally did not use dried mud bricks as used for adobe building except in East Anglia. Cob cottages and cob houses are the vernacular style of building of the South West of England especially in the counties of Devon and Somerset.
‘Cob’ is an old English word meaning lump or rounded mass. The earth was mixed with sand and straw, crushed stone and flint or chalk could also be used depending on the district. Cob lumps would be formed by hand then added to the wall and trodden down and allowed to dry. Cob was used in districts that did not have easy access to building stone or timber from the forests.
Cob was used for small cottages and large houses in the South West of England also known as the West Country. It is one of the oldest building materials used in the world. The English cob cottage is properly older than the timber frame cottage. Evidence of houses in London in 1212 had mud walls and it was a building style used in the Middle ages all over the country.
English cob is mainly mud hardened in the sun it is built layer upon layer smoothed by hand. In larger or more important cob buildings in England they may have been reinforced with stone or brick work. Most small cottages would have simply been made from local mud; the cottages in the Wiltshire Valley are an example.
You can find cob mainly in the South West of England. Wales in Great Britain also has many cob cottages. In Wales cob is called ‘clom.’
Here are the main English counties to find surviving cob cottages in England.
Normally the foundations of the cob structure were made of brick or stone about a foot above ground level. The cob mix was a local clay and contained quite a lot of gravel and small stones it would be dug out and mixed with water. To help it bind together a little straw would be added the mix would be trodden down.
The mix would then be laid down for walls approximately eighteen inches or two feet wide it would be laid about eighteen inches in height the sides squared off with a trowel. This cob mix would be allowed to stand until it was dry; this could take a few days or weeks depending on the weather. When it was dry another layer would be added. This would go on until the wall was finished. You can see the cob layers on the walls of old cottages.
Doors and windows could be either put in while building the wall or cut out when the wall was finished. The corners of the wall would be rounded off to help prevent cracking which is the enemy of cob. It is the smooth curves of cob walls and the sumptuous thatch roof which work so well together.
Some cob buildings in England have been added onto creating a rambling effect in the cob cottage plan. Walls could be as thick as four feet wide. It is these thick walls and thatch roof which helps keep the cottage warm in winter and cool in summer.
The cob would then be either left as it was or plastered and covered with a coat of yellow wash or white wash to protect it from the weather. The side walls could be left unprotected but the top of cob walls must be protected from any wet weather otherwise they would crumble.
Cob cottages normally have thatched roofs to protect the cob. Thatch is also used as cob walls are normally too weak to hold any other roofing material.
In Dorset in the South West of England the building is done as above, sometimes with chalk added to the cob mix. In Somerset there are beautiful larger cottages and cob houses and farmhouses particularly on the eastern side of Exmoor where the landscape is a little softer. Cob here has a yellow or cream wash more than a white wash. Cottages in Somerset normally have tall chimneys and deep thatched eaves.
Wiltshire has small cottages made from the local mud. Cornwall has cottages made of stone but you can find a few cottages that have been built with stone and cob. Cob mainly can be found in neighbouring Devon.
In Devonshire the style of building is highly characteristic of the district the cottages here can be quite large. Devon is the home of picturesque cob villages, cob here is whitewashed and casually thatched. The soil and weather suit cob building and Devon has thousands of cob structures from small bus stops to the larger cob house of the birthplace of Sir Walter Raleigh in Hayes Barton, Devonshire.
You can also find a few cob building in the South of England in Buckinghamshire white clay called ‘witchit’ was used in the cob mix. A few cob cottages survive in Hampshire and the New Forest and in Berkshire.
In East Anglia brick making was a flourishing industry, the main building material here is boulder clay. Different from the South West style of cob building here the builder would mix the mud with straw and form rectangular blocks and then build with cob bricks similar to ‘adobe’ then plastered to protect it from the elements.
The South West of England is cob and thatch country and one of my favourite parts of England. Here you will find beautiful cob villages. Devon is home of the cob cottage and the cob village. If you are interested in cob building then Devon is the perfect place for your cottage holiday. Glorious Devon has a milder climate than the rest of England and holidays here are wonderful.
If you are interested in cob building and creating your own English cob cottage stay tuned to ECL I personally love cob cottages and Devon is one of my favourite places in the world.
"The Cottage Homes of England"
By Stuart Dick and paintings by Helen Allingham 1909
"The Cottages and Village Life of Rural England"
By P. H. Ditchfield 1912
By Lydia Greeves and John Miller