ONCE upon a time, there were crucks everywhere – not crucks as in crooked criminals, but crucks as in crooked timbers which formed the frames of ancient buildings.

A cruck house was usually a cheap, humble abode. A suitably crooked branch or trunk was spotted growing and cut down. It was split in two so that it became a pair of matching pieces of crooked timber. These were then pegged together at the top, using pegs of wood, to form an A-shape, with the crookedness of the timber naturally providing the slant of the roof.

Several crucks were placed in a line. The space between them at the lower level was filled up with wattle and daub to make walls, and the roof was covered with a thatch of straw or heather.

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The cruck technique was perfected in the 13th Century, with cattle sleeping in one end of the cruck and peasants in the other – or, if they were really lucky, the humans got to sleep in the roofspace at the top of the A-shaped building.

However, the cruck was fundamentally flawed: where the wooden struts touched the wet ground, they rotted away. Still variations of the technique were used into the 18th Century.

In September, Memories stumbled upon the cruck house which had stood since the 15th Century in the North Yorkshire village of Ravensworth. In 1977, derelict, it was taken down and a third of it was re-erected in the Richmondshire Museum in Ryders Wynd, Richmond, to show how live used to be.

Were there, we wondered, any other examples of surviving cruck houses?

Several have disappeared in fairly recent times. One in Cockerton was demolished in 1968 to make way for a new precinct; one off Carmel Road in Darlington made way about the same time for the Nunnery Lane development. One in Eppleby came down in the early 1970s, and one in Hunderthwaite (between Cotherstone and Romaldkirk) fell down in the 1950s.

But on the positive side, one reader who lives on a farm near Heighington was inspired to persuade her husband to crawl into their attic and she reports that theirs is probably a hitherto unknown cruck survivor. How exicting.

Lots of people pointed us in the direction of two famous local crucks: in Ryedale Folk Museum at Hutton-le-Hole on the North York Moors there’s Stang End, a 500-year-old cruck from Danby rebuilt in the museum, and in Bilsdale, also on the moors, there’s Spout House, which is open to inspection during the summer.

It is regarded as the best preserved 16th Century cruck in the north of England. It dates from 1550, starting life as a farmhouse but from 1714 it was the Sun Inn – horsedrawn drays supplied it with beer from Thirsk but as Sutton Bank was too steep for the horses to pull the barrels up, they had to be rolled up by human hand.

In 1914, a larger inn was built beside it, so the old property became disused, until it was restored in 1982 by the National Park as a historic feature, and it is open to public inspection from Easter to October 31.

There are at least four others worthy of attention:

Barningham

THE Hollies in this North Yorkshire village on the cusp of Teesdale was once the Boot and Shoe Inn and is probably the tallest cruck house in our area. It dates from the late 17th Century, and features one of the smallest windows in our district: just eight inches by four. Until 1946, it was owned by the Milbank estate, based in Barningham Park.

Northallerton

THE most visible cruck is the one on the side of Alexander Optometrists at the south end of Northallerton High Street. The optometrists’ shop is itself a cruck dating from the late 17th Century, but the feature on the wall – technically a “cruck struss with a saddle and a high collar” – was exposed in 1974 when the neighbouring cruck house was demolished for road widening. This cruck looks to have rotted away where it touched the ground – and the feature on the wall is actually a replica of the original, rotten cruck which was put up in 2014.

Little Stainton

THIS village to the north-east of Darlington. It is on the Roman road, Rykeneild Street, that runs from York, over the Tees at Middleton One Row, through Sadberge to Stainton and on to Sedgefield, Bowburn and Chester-le-Street before heading for Hadrian’s Wall.

The house dates back to at least 1601, was renovated about ten years ago when its classic Durham cruck was rediscovered. It is now the home of Darlington borough councillor Nick Wallis and his wife Sandy.

Cockerton

DARLINGTON’S only known surviving cruck is on Cockerton Green – opposite the cruck that was demolished in the 1960s, so this village should really be known as Cruckerton.

This long, low building – a classic cruck shape – is made of 16 oak crucks that were set into walls about 3ft above the ground. This was to stop them rotting which may be why, unlike so many other cruck buildings, this has survived.

It used to be known as Garden House, as the Harrison family had a market garden here. It is now called as Bridge House because the passage beside it used to lead to a footbridge over the Cocker Beck.

BUT there are probably far more cruck houses than this little survey shows. There are believed to be – or to have been – crucks in Barton and High Coniscliffe, which are both around Darlington, and Yearby and Marske-by-the-Sea, which are both near Redcar. There’s another at Guisborough, and another at Aukside, which is somewhere near Middleton-in-Teesdale.

Then there are probably crucks that have been long since forgotten about. The Cockerton cruck was only rediscovered in the 1950s when Bridge House was converted into two; the Heighington cruck was not known about until a Memories reader persuaded her husband to have a look in the attic.

So if you can give us any more details about crucks known and unknown, please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk. Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to today’s article.