Kent is famous for its Wealden Hall houses, built by prosperous yeoman farmers in the fourteenth, fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.
The hall was built as a series of units, each as long as a timber. The central hall, where there was a hearth, was open to the roof. The windows had shutters. The hall often had 'wings', which are two storey additions at each end. The upper floor, which projected out over the lower floor, was called a jetty.
An early Wealden hall house can be seen in the Square at Chilham. It was built between 1370 and 1410. The house was modernised in the late sixteenth century, with the addition of an upper floor in the main hall.
A fine example of a later Wealden hall house is Cumberland House in The Street, Chilham. Built between 1470 and 1510, this house was built with close studding, a decorative series of vertical beams between the main beams.
At first, houses simply had a hole in the roof that allowed the smoke to escape from a central fire. A thatched roof was a fire risk and tiles were used where they could be afforded. Later, a brick chimney breast and fireplace was built against the end wall of the hall. A floor could then be built across the central hall. Staircases were also added at this time, replacing the ladder to the upper chambers.
There are a number of reasons suggested for the building of jetties, where the first floor of the house overhangs the ground floor. They include: for ease of building; as a way of reducing a tax bill; to protect the lower walls from water off the roof, as there were no gutters; as a fashion adopted from the towns, where plots were more expensive.
Kent has a local style of timber framed building, using curved pieces of oak to brace the horizontal and vertical timbers. They can be seen at each corner of the upper floor of the wings, either side of the main hall. The braces rise up and away from each other to support the main corner uprights. There is often a window in the centre between the braces. This style of framing is a clue to the early date of a timber framed building. Straight braces are often later in date, simply added for decoration.