The early halls of the Saxons and Vikings were isled buildings characterised by rows of upright wooden posts that supported the roof. A new type of construction technique, based on the use of cruck trusses, came into use just before the Norman conquest that allowed the size of the interior spaces to be increased without being interrupted by rows of supporting posts.
The technique is based on the use of pairs of curved blades of wood that spring from the base of the structure and meet at or near the apex of the roof, forming an arch, from which the walls and roof are supported. The blades would normally be made from English Oak, each one hewn from a single tree. Trees the right shape and large enough for a 20 foot high great hall are very rare, even in medieval times, so it is likely that they could have been sourced from woodlands located many miles from the place of construction.
The wood used to build houses in the later Tudor and Stuart periods would have been treated with a bituminous black paint that gave them a distinctive black and white look. The timbers in earlier buildings would have been untreated and left in their natural condition on the inside and outside of the building. The wattle and daub infill would have been treated with a lime wash giving it a white colour. The inside of this infill may have been further decorated with paintings or covered over with tapestries depicting great events from the past.
Floors may have been left as natural earth covered with hay, covered with wooden boards or laid with paving stone. In the middle of the hall there would have been an open fire on a pedestal made from clay or in an earth pit surrounded by stones. The fire served to heat and light the hall and also provided heat for cooking.
The roof would have been thatched without a chimney, the smoke simply rising into the roof spaces and filtering out through the thatch, helping to kill any infestations that were taking refuge there.
Windows were sometimes incorporated to provide additional light to illuminate the hall. These would have been unglazed and fitted with panels that could be closed from the inside as a security measure and to keep out the worst of the English weather.
The hall would have been the main focal point of a small settlement or of a group of buildings within a larger settlement. Typically the Lord of the Manor or some other important person would live in a hall like this with his family and close retainers.