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What is a cob cottage?

Updated on July 3, 2012

Historical ... or hysterical?

My previous home, the one before my present and much loved Michaelmas Cottage, was a glorified mud hut in Devon (in the UK) and although I loved it so did the local council.

In fact they loved it so much that they had designated it as Grade 2 listed.

Such protected status as an historic building meant that I had to ask their permission (even though it was my home) if I wanted to make any changes to it, especially to its external looks.

I even had to get the Conservation Officer's approval for my choice of paint colour for the outside walls and woodwork.

To many people this would be seen as an infringement of their civil liberties but people who buy buildings that they know to be listed tend to have a different mindset. For a start we are usually card carrying romantics, we love history and we aren't too fussed about wallpaper.

This last thing is very important as many of these properties have very few straight walls on which to hang wallpaper, Georgian and Palladian mansions excepted.

In my cottage for instance there was not a single straight wall of any sort and that was solely down to the fact that it was made of cob.

Cob ... another name for adobe et al.

Cob is a wonderfully plastic (in the original sense of the word) substance made from clay, earth, straw and water mixed together by trampling underfoot. Sometimes even animal dung and horse hair was added to the mix to make is strong and flexible.The resulting substance makes for thick and thermally efficient walls.

Cob, adobe, clomm in Welsh, whatever you choose to call it, is a material that has been used for building dwellings since man first gave up nomadic hunter/gathering and started to stay put and raise crops and domestic animals.

The indestructibility of cob.

It was said that as long as cob walls had a hat and a pair of boots they would last forever, meaning that as long as they had a roof with a wide overhang and were standing on a firm foundation, usually of stone, they were almost indestructible.

This would seem to be borne out by the fact that whilst my own cottage was a mere youngster at around 250 years old there are inhabited cob dwellings in Brittany that are over 500 years old.

The ancient city of Timbuktu in Mali, Africa, now an UNESCO World Heritage Site, is made entirely of baked mud. The Malians call this version of cob, banco and they celebrate this unlikely material with a important ritual annual rendering of the walls of the Djingareyber Mosque, their oldest monument and one of their most sacred places.

The Djingareyber Mosque in Timbuktu, Mali, Africa.
The Djingareyber Mosque in Timbuktu, Mali, Africa. | Source
A classic cob cottage in Devon.
A classic cob cottage in Devon. | Source
Not a straight wall in the place.
Not a straight wall in the place. | Source
Thick walls make for deep window reveals.
Thick walls make for deep window reveals. | Source
The curve of the chimney breast in a bedroom.
The curve of the chimney breast in a bedroom. | Source

Building with cob is a slow process.

Building with cob might seem like a good excuse for an adult to tune in to their inner child and play at making mud pies. This is fine as long as you are in no hurry for a home.

The major drawback to building with cob is that it is a slow and time consuming process in an age when most modern houses are usually mass produced or can even come in swiftly erected kit form from a factory.

A shallow section of cob wall has to be allowed to dry thoroughly once it has been constructed and this can take as long as a fortnight depending on external conditions.

This dried section is then shaped and the next section built upon it, and in the interests of strength and solidity the walls are narrower at the top than the bottom.

The advantages of building with cob.

Despite this slow progress there are many advantages to building in cob which would appear to make it a very viable alternative to other methods of housebuilding even today.

The most obvious advantage to a cob house is the cheapness of the building material.

Cob is a seemingly very modern building material with its inbuilt qualities of energy efficiency, which make the building warm in winter and cool in summer, fireproofing and even earthquake resistance, should you live in an area where this could be a problem.

Even the building skills are still known despite the fact that, with the exception of a few self-builders who have recently been experimenting with it, such skills have not been widely utilised in Britain since the 1920’s.

Fortunately there are those amongst us who are both intrepid and interested enough in this ancient technique to produce sustainable and ecological homes, not just of great originality but also of remarkable character.

The beauty of organic shapes.

For me, one of the most pleasing aspects of this new interest in cob buildings is the artistic quality of the houses that are now being produced.

Cob, being a natural substance, is infinitely mouldable and the shapes of these new dwellings are much more organic in form, less utilitarian and formulaic.

Rounded edges and curves have always been part of the beauty of cob buildings and the new properties that are now being built, almost without design, have a softness and smoothly sculpted look that makes them not only practical but beautiful to look at as well.

Source

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    • Angie Jardine profile imageAUTHOR

      Angie Jardine 

      8 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Yes, so we have, MME. That final one ... isn't it cute? The other photos are of my own cottage ...

      Many thanks for commenting ... will pop back and read your hub now.

    • My Minds Eye53 profile image

      Maude Keating 

      8 years ago from Tennessee

      I had to come by and look at what you wrote. We used some of the same photos! haha good hub.

    • Angie Jardine profile imageAUTHOR

      Angie Jardine 

      8 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Hi jacqui - thanks for your input on this hub. I hadn't realised cob was used in the Highlands.

      We have now moved back to Cornwall and yet another quaint old cottage. This one is mainly stone however with just the upper storey made of cob. I think it may be much older than the Devon cottage ... possibly 300 - 350 years old. Again its walls are about 2 foot thick. Cosy!

    • jacqui2011 profile image

      jacqui2011 

      8 years ago from Norfolk, UK

      The photo of the cob cottage is amazing. It reminds me of family holidays in the highlands of Scotland. We used to rent one for a fortnight. Love the photographs. I can't believe how thick the walls are in these houses. Voted up and interesting.

    • Angie Jardine profile imageAUTHOR

      Angie Jardine 

      8 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Hi everyone!

      @Maureen - oooh, I would be sooo jealous if you got to build a cob shed. If you do will you write a hub about it with photos please? Many thanks for commenting.

      @Sunnie - they sure are interesting and so ecological too. Those old timers knew a thing or two. Thanks for taking time to write to me with your thoughts.

      @mijdgulley - you're welcome.

      @klanguedoc - you're right about Tolkein. He was very much into Norse mythology, tradition and legend. Cob dries rock hard and round here there are lots of very old structures that have lost their 'hats' and although they are very pitted from weathering they are still miraculously standing. It is amazing stuff ... Thanks for such a thoughtful comment.

      @wmhseo - the top photo was my own cob cottage ... but I would have loved to live in the wonderful creation at the bottom of the hub. Many thanks for stopping by ...

    • klanguedoc profile image

      Kevin Languedoc 

      8 years ago from Canada

      Great hub. I have learned a lot about a type of house I didn't existed. I have visited the Norse village in St-Anthony's in northern NewFoundland and their houses resemble the house from the Lord of the Rings, so I guess Tolkien based some of his books on Norse legend and tradition.

      Your last picture reminder me of the Norse tradition somewhat, but not quite.

      What I find fascinating about your description of the Cob and Adobe material and construction is that the material didn't dissolve during rainy weather.

      Thanks.

    • mljdgulley354 profile image

      mljdgulley354 

      8 years ago

      Very interesting. Thank you for sharing.

    • profile image

      Sunnie Day 

      8 years ago

      Very interesting Hub. I have seen cob houses online and I find them so interesting..Thank you for sharing..loved the pictures.

      Sunnie

    • My Minds Eye53 profile image

      Maude Keating 

      8 years ago from Tennessee

      I love these houses and I think at the very least I may built a shed to try it out. Thank you for the neat hub.

      Maureen

    • Angie Jardine profile imageAUTHOR

      Angie Jardine 

      8 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      I rather think you have the better deal, GoodLady ... but many thanks for stopping by to comment.

      Buon Natale! Or Nadelik Lowen as we say in Cornish at Michaelmas Cottage (yet another cob cottage).

    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 

      8 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Delightful, eccentric and makes me want to come back home and buy grade 11 listed building.

      Thanks. Voted up!

      Best wishes for Christmas.

    • Angie Jardine profile imageAUTHOR

      Angie Jardine 

      9 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Thanks, Trish ... bless you for commenting ...

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 

      9 years ago from The English Midlands

      Wonderful!

      Great hub! Thoroughly enjoyed it!

    • Angie Jardine profile imageAUTHOR

      Angie Jardine 

      9 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Oh wow, slock62! How wonderful to actually be thinking of building a cob house! I do hope you manage it. I live in a whole village full of them and they have been around for a very long time.

      Good luck - and thanks for the comment.

    • slock62 profile image

      slock62 

      9 years ago from Florida

      Thanks for sharing this interesting history on Cobb houses. I did not know Cobb and adobe were the same material. I hope to build a house like this one of these days. I feel it would blend in with the surroundings and look homey and inviting, as well as being kind to the environment.

    • Angie Jardine profile imageAUTHOR

      Angie Jardine 

      9 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Guess you must be, Bob ... (chortle!)

      Thanks for reading ... I presume you read it?

    • bobsimpson profile image

      bobsimpson 

      9 years ago from Largo Florida

      The cob house in the last picture looks edible and delicious. Slice me off a piece of the front door, hold the dung.

      I guess if you live in one of these earth homes, you are considered a Hubbit.

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