The fine granite ashlar of the front and east gable demonstrates the relatively high social status of its builders. It was thought at first that when built it had the further refinement of an inner room at the upper end of the hall, with a chamber above it. Doubt was cast on this theory in 1977, when during restoration it was revealed that the roof truss into which the chamber partition fits had smoke blackening on both sides. The partition, and there- fore the chamber, were shown to be a later insertion. It followed that the stone wall, which supports the chamber, was also likely to be an insertion. Michael Laithwaite, investigating, concluded that "the massive boulders at its base are not bedrock but a structural peculiarity, and it appears not to be bonded into the front wall of the house".
Just possibly the wall was built on the line of an earlier low partition or screen, similar to that between hall and cross-passage. Peter Beacham has found enough evidence of inner rooms divided from the main body of the hall in this way to identify the arrangement as a regular first phase in the development of the rural house in Devon, as he describes it in a chapter on Local Building Traditions in Archaeology of the Devon Landscape (1980).
Such an inner room could have been a dairy. Alternatively, it could have been a parlour, as indeed it became later. W.G. Hoskins, for one, would favour the latter, it being his fond belief, as stated in Old Devon, that:
"the fundamental improvement in the dwelling house, its development into two rooms from the original one, was due to the need for some privacy for the women of the household. Left to themselves the majority of men would go on living in one room until doomsday."
As first built, there was no chimney in the hall. The fire was lit on a central hearth, the smoke from which gathered among the rafters, and seeped out between the thatch with which the building was then roofed.
Three roof trusses survive, two of them visible in the central bedroom: one, with straight principals, perhaps always marked a division between hall and inner room. The second is a raised cruck truss. Crucks are cut from the trunk and projecting branch of a tree, so that they are curved in the middle. A full cruck reaches from the apex of the roof to the ground, but in a stone building there is no need for that, and the curved end is buried in the wall.
The third truss, another raised cruck complete with smoke blackening, can be seen over the lower side of the cross-passage, just beyond the partition enclosing the end bedroom. The shippon has been reroofed, but it too probably once had raised crucks, and there is evidence of a half-hipped end gable. The beams of the hayloft survive, as does the loading door, together with the ventilation slits, the drain down the middle, with the drain-hole at the lower end, and even the sockets for the stall-posts to which the cows were tethered.
The division between hall and shippon was very rudimentary, just a post- and-panel screen between the main area of the hall and the passage, of which one section survives. There does not seem to have been any screen at all on the lower side of the passage, there being no mortice slots in the underside of the beam in that position. The present partition is of much later date.
All the above is straightforward, and in line with other buildings of similar date and type. There are two areas of less certainty. The first is the date of the porch. This is not bonded in with the walls of the house, but is of similar granite ashlar, and has the same shouldered arch as the door between cross-passage and hall, of which one jamb is original. Alcock, Child and Laithwaite decided that the porch, too, was original, and Peter Beacham, in various articles and in The Buildings of England: Devon, agrees with them, as do the authors of the DoE Lists. W.O. Collier, however, Senior Investigator for the Historic Buildings Council, thought it a later addition, because it bonded in with the masonry of the projection containing the present staircase.
The second debated question is whether the separate shippon door is original or, as in most cases, a later insertion made as men began to wish for some further separation between themselves and their cows. Alcock et al. could find no evidence of it being inserted, but left the question open. The DoE Listing officer thought it original. Mr Collier tended to favour it as an insertion, of the same date as the porch - late 16th century. Peter Beacham, too, has come down in favour of insertion.
The next stage in the development of Sanders came later in the 16th century (the lists say mid-, others say late-), when some major alterations and improvements were made. Most important was the insertion of upper chambers at either end of the still open hall, providing more private sleeping space. On the evidence found in 1977, a stone wall was now built between hall and inner room, and on this rested the floor and partition of the chamber, which projected into the hall as an internal jetty: the joists, with their rounded ends, are clearly visible. Old wattle and daub survives in the partition which rests on them. Access to the chamber would have been by a ladder from the hall. There was no staircase at that date.
The second upper chamber was inserted above the cross-passage and like the first one, was jettied out into the hall. On the upper side of the passage, the floor joists rested on the earlier screen. Access, again, was probably by a ladder-stair from the hall, presumably against the north wall.
Evidence for another addition of this date lies in the projection on the south face, next to the porch. This is generally accepted as the chimney for a lateral hall fireplace added at the same time as the upper chambers. All traces of such a fireplace have disappeared, however, and the Lists suggest that it may have been a stair from the beginning. If so, it would then belong to the next phase of alteration, which followed in the 17th century.
In this next phase, a new chimney was built across the end of the hall, backing onto the cross-passage. The existence of a chimney made the lofty roof-space unnecessary, and so the hall was now floored in, to create a third upper chamber. Assuming there to have been an earlier lateral fireplace (and it would be surprising for a house of this status to continue with only an open fire for so long), this was now adapted to provide a stair to the upper floor, with a bread oven beside it. At about the same period, a lean-to was added at the back of the hall, which Mrs Harvey confirms was a dairy, in use until 1942; and fireplaces were added in the parlour and the chamber above.
Inevitably a number of alterations were made later, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries. Most noticeable has been the raising of the roofs of both shippon and dwelling, adapting them to a shallower pitch for slate. To judge from patches of inferior masonry, there has been some rebuilding of walls too. New window openings have been made, or existing ones enlarged. Two early window embrasures survive in the north wall, where they were blocked by the addition of the dairy. Doors were repaired and replaced. A new staircase, against the north wall of the hall, replaced that in the old chimney, which then became a cupboard. Fortunately, such alterations have all been minor. In its essentials Sanders remains the house it had become by 1700.
The farm-buildings that were an essential accompaniment to the house have been more extensively rebuilt and renewed. Only part of the small barn behind the house dates from the 16th century; mostly it is 18th-century. The linhey, stable and pig-houses are later still, probably all dating from the 19th century. The linhey was later adapted for milking, but according to Mrs Harvey, in the 1930s the Sanders cows were milked in the larger yard behind. This yard, with its large hay-barn, now belongs to Southmeads, but until 1942 it belonged to Sanders. It was probably added in the late 18th or early 19th century, at a time when ideas of new, more productive methods of agriculture were filtering through to hill-farms such as this.
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