However attractive the landscape of the Lake District, it is almost as difficult to picture the scene without buildings as without sheep. Whether as isolated points of punctuation on the hillsides or as the domesticated base from which the wild fells rise, the buildings contribute a visual component to the landscape as well as indicating stages in its evolution. Those humble utilitarian farmhouses and farm buildings which nowadays are called works of vernacular architecture constitute essential evidence in the development of landscape history.
In studies of vernacular buildings generally it has been found convenient to separate farm buildings from the domestic buildings of the farmstead. The houses then may be divided into the categories of Large House, Small House and Cottage according to the assumed social status of the families for whom they were designed. The matter of social status was important not least because of the sheer survival of buildings to populate the landscape. Although the Lake District has been inhabited for so long, the houses of the inhabitants which remain above ground, occupied or ruined, represent only the latest centuries of occupation or the latest generations of inhabitants.
It seems likely that the longvanished dwellings or farm buildings were made of material too impermanent to survive or of material too valuable not to be used over and over again. Impermanent materials include turf, peat and clay and the seventeenthcentury and eighteenthcentury claywalled buildings which do survive on the Solway Plain, just north of the Lake District, suggest that skill in the use of such an abundant material as clay could well have been more widespread. Impermanent materials also include thatch whether of poor oat straw or of heather. Reusable materials include the stout timber which made up structural frames clad in such materials as clay or turf and also the stone, whether gathered from the fields or roughly quarried near each building site. The redundant halvings and pegholes in timber indicate its reuse; walling stone may be used several times without giving evidence of reuse.
However, the early vernacular buildings which do survive appear fully developed in plan and cross-section and from each early plan type a full sequence can be seen to have developed. The evidence suggests that in the Lake District, as elsewhere in the country, a Great Rebuilding occurred whereby householders felt sufficiently prosperous and sufficiently selfconfident to replace their inadequate dwellings with others stout enough to survive to the present day. As one might expect, those of higher status in a given locality felt able to participate in a Great Rebuilding or enjoy a housing revolution first, while those at the bottom of the local social ladder escaped such benefits until much later. Equally, one finds that at all social levels any Great Rebuilding took place much later in this poor and remote region than it did in more favoured counties such as Kent or Sussex or even Devon or Somerset.