Buildings form a central part of Exmoor’s historic environment. Settlements on Exmoor comprise farms, hamlets, villages and some small towns, and their buildings are by far the most visible and striking part of the historic landscape. Most settlements have existed on their current sites for hundreds of years although frequent rebuilding means that the oldest known buildings date from the medieval period (some as far back as the 1300s). The appearance of most buildings suggest that they date from around the nineteenth century, but sometimes external appearances can be deceptive and the interiors of buildings may well reveal a much more ancient core.
The earliest surviving buildings on Exmoor are its churches where their style and ornamentation can date them to the years shortly after the Norman Conquest. Establishing the earliest date of simple stone structures is far more difficult. An indication of a building's age can be gained initially from the type of construction used. For instance the wooden limbs of the cruck-frames forming a building’s roof; one of these near Selworthy has been dated by dendro-chronology to the early 1300s.
Overall, there has been a lack of research into Exmoor’s historic buildings, so that we have a relatively poor understanding of them.
The predominant building material on Exmoor is stone. Examples of early brick, timber framing and complete cob (a mixture of earth and straw) structures are rare. Roofing materials were mainly thatch or slate. By the nineteenth century corrugated iron was widely used as a roofing material on farm buildings, and this too has now become accepted as ‘traditional’. There are sub-local styles on Exmoor as well: for example in some settlements there is a widespread use of clay roofing tiles, whilst in other parts of Exmoor slate hanging is used to face some external walls. Many of these local variations are the result of estate ownership in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These simple, often very local materials, together with traditional construction methods, combine to give many of Exmoor’s farms and villages their distinctive appearance.
The historic buildings of Exmoor provide one of the most important records we have of the development of our buildings, settlements and land use. Each building possesses features and characteristics, which give valuable information as to the design and materials used when it was originally constructed, or when it was altered. It is important to recognise this when works of repair or maintenance become necessary. The removal of original features, such as doors or windows, can immediately reduce the historic importance of a building.