You’re standing in front of a foundation arch from 1860. It was recovered for our museum during the demolition of a farmhouse in Stengelheim, a hamlet near Karlshuld. And thereby hangs a tale that is very typical of the fen.
Fenland is tricky to build on. That’s why the first settlers built their houses from timber, because timber-framed structures and log cabins remained stable on the soft ground. However, the timber would rot on the wet peat, so the early buildings survived for barely a hundred years. The timber constructions were then replaced with lightweight brick buildings with thin walls.
In Stengelheim, where the layer of peat was just around two and a half meters about eight feet thick, brickwork houses could be built on pillars. The builders cut rectangular holes into the peat until they reached solid ground, and then filled the holes with rubble to form posts. The stone archway here shows that dry stone walling was used to build the posts.
Incidentally, the cement mortar you see here was only applied after the structure had been recovered.
The builders then combined the dry stone walled posts with masonry arches. These arches then formed the foundation on which the farmhouses rested. After 1850, people started erecting brick buildings with thin walls directly on to the peat base. The houses were single-story, and the roof truss pressed down on the walls from above, which stabilised the brickwork. These lightweight houses sat on top of the peat as if on a sponge.
… and whenever a heavy, horse-drawn cart came past, the substrate would vibrate so badly that the coffee-cups in the cupboards rattled as loudly as the horses’ hooves on the road.