About Dartmoor Longhouses

The Dartmoor longhouse is a type of traditional stone-built home, typically found on the high ground of Dartmoor, in Devon and belongs to a wider tradition of combining human residences with those of livestock (cattle or sheep) under a single roof specific to western Britain; Wales, Cornwall and Devon.

Springfield has been developed to retain all the character of the original Dartmoor longhouse whilst incorporating modern styles and contemporary comfort.

The earliest are thought to have been built in the 13th century, and they continued to be constructed throughout the medieval period and into the Early Modern, using local granite or other stone. Many longhouses are still inhabited today (although adapted over the centuries), while others have been converted into farm buildings. Forms of longhouses identical to those on Dartmoor are also found in Cornwall, particularly on Bodmin Moor and in Wales.

Higher Uppacott, one of very few remaining longhouses to retain its original unaltered shippon and medieval thatch, is a Grade I listed building, and is now owned by the Dartmoor National Park Authority.

The longhouse consists of a long, single-storey gable-ended granite structure built lengthwise down the slope of a hill, with a central ‘cross-passage’ dividing it into two rooms, sometimes partitioned with a screen. The higher end of the building was occupied by the human inhabitants; their animals were tethered in the lower, especially during the cold winter months.

The animal quarters, called the ‘shippon’ or ‘shippen’; a word still used by many locals to describe a farm building used for livestock, were located down the slope to allow slurry to drain out through the end wall.

Early longhouses would have had no chimney – the smoke from a central fire simply filtered through the thatched roof and the whole space was open to the rafters, without a ceiling, as in a medieval English hall, to benefit from the heat of the open peat or furze hearth. Windows were very small or non-existent, so the interior would have been dark. The cross-passage had a door at either end, and with both of these open a breeze was often created which made it an ideal location for winnowing.

Later in the medieval period, separation from the animals was increased with the introduction of enclosed stone fireplaces and upper floors inserted to create private bedrooms, while the roof space above the shippen was often used as a hayloft or store.