Medieval Storage Solutions

Cupboard, Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

Having spent the best part of an afternoon this week buying, assembling and filling a flat-pack storage unit for the spare room, I thought we could have a look at medieval storage solutions. Using the word ‘solutions’ rather implies that there was the same problem with storage space then that many of us have today, but that wasn’t the case. Even in very well-off houses, there were very few things that needed to be stored and a few chests were usually all that was required.

Chest, Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

All the photographs in this post are of reproduction chests and cupboards in the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton. I’m not sure that a house of this size would normally have had quite so many, but they’re all very striking in their own way.

Chest, Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

So, what did medieval people need to store? Mostly clothes, bedlinen, tablecloths, towels, pots, pans and cooking implements. One of the most important things they kept in their houses was, of course, money. There were no banks in which people could deposit their money, although there were banks that loaned money and there were sophisticated banking practices that allowed money to be sent across Europe without any coins leaving England.

Chest, Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

Cupboards in larger houses were used to display the owner’s plate, rather than to store it, although storage is obviously a function of a cupboard. In very wealthy houses the plate would have included fine objects made in gold or silver by master craftsmen. The medieval merchant whose cupboards are our example might have had a few pieces made from precious metals, so he probably didn’t display his pottery jugs and cups. That’s the choice of English Heritage who own the property.

Cupboard, Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

One of our modern storage problems can be clothes. We never seem to have a large enough wardrobe or enough drawers. This was not something that was experienced in the Middle Ages. Everyone slept either naked or in the chemise they had been wearing under their clothes all day. When they took off their outer clothes, they shook them out and hung them over a rail. I think this was a fairly hygienic solution, as it allowed clothes to air overnight before they were put on again the next day. They didn’t put their clothes away as soon as they took them off.

Pots and pans not in use would have been stored on a shelf or on the floor, but there were unlikely to have been many of them, as most meals in ‘ordinary’ houses would have been made using a single pot over an open fire. It was only in very large houses where there was a requirement to cook different dishes for the main meal that more pots, pans, bowls and cooking implements would have been used. These would have been put away when not in use.

Chest in Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

What, then, was kept in the very bright chests that were the models for these reproductions? There would have been some clothes, since outer clothing would have needed to be cleaned at some point and at least one change of clothes would have been needed. Since the purpose of the chemise was to protect the outer clothing from sweat and other bodily excretions, they were washed fairly frequently and spares were kept in chests. Mainly, though, it would have been bedlinen, tablecloths and towels. We tend to think of medieval meals being taken on bare tables, but tablecloths were an important part of the ritual of eating meals. Bedlinen would have been washed, so there were spares in chests where blankets were also stored when not needed.

Chest in Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

My own biggest storage problem is books. I don’t know how many I have, but there are more than 150 about the Middle Ages. Storing books wasn’t a problem at all for most medieval people. Although many people could read, books were prohibitively expensive. They had to be copied by hand, but it wasn’t the labour that made books pricy; it was what they were written on. Paper was starting to be used in England in the fourteenth century, but vellum was usually used for books. It was made from calfskin, which had been treated and cured and stretched. Many skins didn’t survive the process, making those that did very expensive. Very few people who weren’t monks or kings or nobles owned books. If they did, they would have had a very small number, all of which would have been kept in a very secure chest.

Chest, Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

The last time I visited the Medieval Merchant’s House, sadly more than a year ago, the chests were the stars of the show. They’re not just useful, but interesting to look at, with their bright colours and pictures that tell a story. My new storage unit is just a storage unit. It’s not a work of art.

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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The Influence of the Medieval Church

Abbey Church, Rievaulx Abbey

It’s hard to overstate the influence that the church had on everyone in fourteenth-century England regardless of who they were or where they lived.

Most people’s experience of the church was within their own parish and parishes were tiny. Southampton was a small town enclosed by one and a quarter miles of walls, yet there were five parishes within those walls. There was also a friary, but we’ll come to that later. The size of the parishes, even in towns, made it possible for parish priests to know their parishioners and vice versa. Nobles and the king had their own chaplains to look after their spiritual well-being.

Many towns also housed a monastery or abbey. Southampton had an Augustinian friary. Monks of the mendicant orders, like the Augustinians, were more visible in the community than other monks, who tended to remain within their monastery walls, although even they left the monastery more often than we might think. In some towns, again like Southampton, a local monastery provided the priests for the parish churches. Even if you didn’t have one in your town, you were never very far from a monastery or abbey in fourteenth-century England.

Not only was the church everywhere, but it also influenced every aspect of life. It didn’t just tell you what to believe, but it also decided when you could or couldn’t eat meat and what type of meat you could eat. Horseflesh was forbidden, although it was a rule followed only in England. The church said that you couldn’t have sex on certain days (although that was probably fairly widely ignored).  The church told you who you could and couldn’t marry; the rules about consanguinity, however, were so complex that few people who weren’t aristocrats or monarchs, for whom legitimate heirs were important, could have worried about them. Somewhat surprisingly, you didn’t need a priest in order to marry, although the church was doing its best to bring that too into its sphere of influence. The church told you what the time was and rang bells to announce it. The church told you when you could have a day off from work. It turns out that there were lots of days off if you were a medieval labourer.

For many people the church was also its landlord. The bishop of Winchester, for example, was lord of much of the land between the south coast and London. Over the centuries wealthy men and women had given gifts of land to monasteries and individual churches, often in exchange for prayers and masses after their death, but sometimes simply because it was an act of charity. This meant that many thousands of people paid rent to the church and farmed the church’s land.

Schools and universities were run by the church and part of their purpose was to educate boys and men for the priesthood, but more often for the civil service. Most men in what we would today think of as public service were clerics of one kind or another. Some of Edward III’s closest advisers were churchmen. This access to education also meant that the best educated men in the kingdom were clerics and they tended to be the ones who studied to advance knowledge. They were the scientists and philosophers, as well as the theologians.

It wasn’t just the men in the civil service who were politicians, though. Bishops, abbots, cardinals and popes were also very involved in national and European politics. Various popes sent cardinals to negotiate with the participants in the Hundred Years War. Since they were French and based in Avignon, however, they weren’t trusted by the English and the diplomatic missions were failures.

The medieval church really was everywhere and governed most aspects of people’s lives.

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Medieval Markets

Westgate Hall, Southampton

Last week we looked at medieval shops and I thought it would be interesting to take a look at medieval markets today. On average, most people in England in the fourteenth century lived just over four miles from their nearest market, which meant that both buyers and sellers could get there and back in a day. Often people were both buyers and sellers if they came in from outside the market town.

It wasn’t just merchants who had goods for sale; by the fourteenth century peasants were growing crops to sell and they sold them in the nearby market towns. Although grain was the chief crop and had to be sold and transported in bulk, they also produced poultry, eggs, fruit, vegetables, honey and wax. These were normally the responsibility of the women and it was their job to take them to market, usually on foot. Peasants also grew flax and hemp and dyestuffs all of which would be sold.

Markets weren’t just about local produce, however. You could also buy, depending on which merchants were there, luxury goods such as sugar, almonds, dates, aniseed, liquorice, sweetmeats, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, currants, raisins, figs, cloves, ginger, salt and rice, most of which had travelled a long way. Foreign foods weren’t the only luxuries, though. Cloths and threads from silk to linen, furs and leatherware could also be purchased.

Most market towns were small and they were controlled by the lords of the manor who founded them. They received the tolls, rents and fines from the market. Tolls were paid to enter the town and rents were paid for the stalls. By the mid-thirteenth century markets had to be licensed by the king and a century later about 1,200 had been licensed. There were undoubtedly many unlicensed markets as well.

The authorities of a market town were keen to see that buyers weren’t cheated, since there was usually another market town not too far away. Smaller market towns existed solely to enable trade. If buyers went elsewhere there would be no more tolls, rents or fines, so the market was overseen by a catchpole whose job was to look out for merchants who were breaking the rules of the market, mainly by cheating their customers. This is where the fines came in.

Markets in towns close to one another were held on different days, partly to reduce competition amongst them, but also to allow traders to travel around them. In larger towns there could be a market on every day of the week, except Sunday.

Markets were held in large open spaces, often in front of a church, and the roads around it were made as wide as possible to allow carts to pass one another coming and going. It was the bells of the church that told everyone when the market was opening and closing.

I mentioned last week that many market stalls were semi-permanent and some were even permanent. Many were housed in arcades of a building that had an enclosed top floor used to store items sold by the traders in the arcades below. Usually there was a requirement that certain goods coming into a town be stored in one place, regardless of who they belonged to. This applied particularly to wool and it made it much easier to tax the traders.

Westgate Hall, pictured at the top of the post, was built towards the end of the fourteenth century or the beginning of the fifteenth. Although you can’t see them now, there were arcades all around the bottom for stalls in the fish market. Relocated in the seventeenth century, it used to stand in the middle of the fish market, outside St. Michael’s church. The top floor was used to store wool.  I suspect that there was little point storing fish in a town where fishing was a major concern. There was, however, always the need for somewhere to store wool in a port from which it was exported.

In larger market towns, and large didn’t have to be very large in medieval England, there could be separate markets for different types of goods. There might be a cloth market or a fish market or a grain market where traders could buy in bulk, for this was another purpose of a market. It didn’t just exist to allow local people to buy and sell in small quantities. If an area specialised in a particular product, as Southampton did in fish, those who produced it didn’t necessarily want to travel long distances to sell their goods. It was better for them to continue to produce them while someone else sold their produce in distant markets. Traders with the resources to buy large quantities and transport them did so.

Sources:
England in the Reign of Edward III by Scott L. Waugh
Making a Living in the Middle Ages by Christopher Dyer
A Social History of England 1200 to 1500 by Rosemary Horrox and W. Mark Ormrod
The Time-Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Medieval Shops

Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

This photograph shows a medieval shop. It’s closed. You can tell because the wooden counters at the front have been lowered. If it were open, the counter would be raised as it is in the photograph of the model below. Some shops have a board on top as well, which provides shade in the summer and shelter from the rain in winter for customers. At night the counter forms a shutter for the window, increasing the security of those within.

Model of the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

Like most medieval shops, it’s narrow at the front to allow as many shops as possible to be crowded into the street, but it stretches back quite a long way. It’s on three levels: a cellar below ground in which the goods sold by the shop are stored; a ground floor level where business is transacted and money stored; and an upper floor where the owner and his family sleep. On the ground floor there’s also a hall where the family eats and the servants sleep. In some shops the hall is upstairs to allow a workshop to be set up in which the goods for sale are manufactured.

The shop above sells wine. You can tell this because from the barrel hanging outside. Literacy rates are quite high in fourteenth-century England, but not everyone can read, so signs showing the purpose of the shop use pictures or objects. A cutler might have a picture of knives on display and a surgeon’s sign usually has a representation of a bleeding arm wrapped in bandages.

Shops were a feature of medieval towns along with markets. Most towns were to be places where goods were created and traded. Although people could make much of what they needed, there were many specialised items that had to be bought, including nails, horseshoes, good quality candles, cloth, ironware and leatherware.

A market was the town’s main feature and it was usually, as we discovered in the post on St. Michael’s, in front of a church. Market stalls could be semi-permanent, or even permanent, and the main difference between market stalls and shops was that the shops sold goods for which there was a high demand in the town, while markets sold things for which demand was lower. Furs and expensive fabrics, for example were sold in markets by merchants who moved from town to town. Fish was usually sold in markets, since it had to be transported from the coast. Smiths, weavers, butchers, bakers, carpenters, drapers (selling woollen cloth) and mercers (selling linen) had shops.

Shops didn’t just sell goods brought in from elsewhere, however. Often the products they sold were made on the premises, for example by goldsmiths, shoemakers, cutlers, smiths, weavers and bakers. Butchers, carpenters and mercers also had shops, although they didn’t manufacture anything.

Sources:
Making a Living in the Middle Ages by Christopher Dyer
The Time-Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer

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Fiddleford Manor — A Bit About Britain

Last month I wrote a guest post for Mike Biles’ site A Bit About Britain. It’s a wonderful site, full of posts about places in Britain and British history, all accompanied by good quality photographs. If you go there to read my post, look around for a bit, as there’s bound to be something else that will interest you.

A Bit About Britain is delighted to welcome author April Munday, as a guest writer introducing us to Fiddleford Manor. Fiddleford Manor, such a great name, is a small manor house in North Dorset. 17 more words

Fiddleford Manor — A Bit About Britain

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Medieval Rivers

The River Test at Romsey

In the comments section of last week’s post, I had a brief discussion with Doctor Christopher Monk about the use of waterways for transport in the Middle Ages. I wanted to know more, so I did some reading. By the way, if you’re even remotely interested in medieval food, and why wouldn’t you be since you’re reading this blog, you should visit his blog and his YouTube channel.

Rivers were used extensively to transport goods in the Middle Ages. Road transport was dependable and fairly predictable, although slower in winter, but it was expensive.  It cost 1 ½d per mile at the beginning of the fourteenth century to transport a ton of grain. By water it was ½d. It cost more to transport wine 50 miles on land than to send it nearly 1,000 miles from Bordeaux to London. Rivers didn’t go everywhere, though, and often it was easer to transport goods around the coast on ships. Roads were useful if you were transporting people, but if you were moving heavy or bulky goods, like wine, rivers were better.

Many goods didn’t have to travel far from where they were produced to where they were sold. Generally things like vegetables and eggs travelled between 7 and 12 miles, although the shorter distance was the norm. This was as far as the person who had grown it could travel to a market, sell the goods and return home in a day. These people would have travelled on foot, sometimes with and sometimes without a pack horse.

If you wanted your goods to travel further, other people and methods of transport had to be involved. Costs for transporting goods over roads included feeding hungry animals. Most items were carried by pack animals, which needed men to lead them. The animals had to be relieved of their loads each evening and reloaded in the morning, which took time. The same thing applied to carts, which were even more expensive to use, since they were a large capital investment on the part of the owner. Fewer men were needed on boats and no animals. Boats didn’t have to be unloaded and reloaded every few miles. They were another expensive capital investment, but they were cheaper to run than a cart.

Rivers were very useful for bulkier and cheaper goods which would have been prohibitively expensive to transport by road.  London needed to bring in hay to feed its horses and other animals in the winter. The hay was grown in the Lea Valley and transported to London along the River Lea. Had it been transported by road, the cost would probably have been more than the value of the hay.

Most foodstuffs for London travelled by river. Towns upriver from Oxford down and particularly Henley sent grain on the Thames. Vegetables travelled mostly by road, usually from Hertfordshire. Barley came round the coast from Kent and East Anglia.

Medieval boats had more or less flat bottoms and could sail up and down rivers that aren’t navigable for modern boats, although it must be said that some rivers have changed substantially in the last 700 years and some are much more silted up and overgrown than they were. Many rivers were navigable for long distances even for ships and work was often carried out to make rivers as navigable as possible. Channels were sometimes cut where the river was impassable.

Using rivers was not without its hazards. On some rivers there were fish weirs in the deeper water. These were wooden or stone structures built across the width of the river which directed fish into traps from which they could not escape. Not only were they a danger to boats, but they also threatened to reduce drastically the number of fish in a river. This possibility was recognised even in the early twelfth century and there were edicts and statutes against fish weirs over the centuries. That they had to be repeated shows how ineffective they were.  

Low bridges were another danger to boats. Since these were much cheaper to build and maintain than bridges with arches allowing boats to pass beneath them, it must have been a real problem. Eventually lifting bridges were devised. These were bridges with a drawbridge in the middle, which could be lifted for a fee.

Many goods travelled by both road and water, depending on where they were destined. The two methods of transport were complementary rather than in competition with one another.

Sources:
Making a Living in the Middle Ages by Christopher Dyer 
A Social History of England, 1200 to 1500 by Rosemary Horrox and W. Mark Ormrod
Power and Profit by Peter Spufford

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB
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Medieval Staples

The French attempt to recapture Calais

To my immense shame, I have often come across the word ‘staple’ when reading about the Middle Ages and not bothered to find out what it really means. I knew it had something to do with merchants and trade, but I didn’t know the details. Today I’m putting that right.

A staple was, essentially, the only town through which a certain commodity could be imported or exported. There were some in England and some were on the continent. The practice was begun by Edward I in Dordrecht.

The main commodity for which this was important was wool, England’s largest export, but there were also wine staples. The wool staple was introduced in 1313 by Edward II. All wool had to be exported through a single continental port. Initially it was St. Omer, then Antwerp and then Bruges. Eventually it was Calais. The port chosen depended on the king’s political and diplomatic goals at the time.

The staple gave an advantage to English merchants, as foreign merchants couldn’t buy wool directly from the producers. All wool for export had to be taken to a staple town and sold to authorised merchants who then sold it abroad. It was also a way of making it easier for the government to collect duty, as only a limited number of people had the right to export certain goods.

In 1354 the Statute of Staples listed the staple towns in England and Ireland. They were Bristol, Canterbury, Chichester, Cork, Drogheda, Dublin, Exeter, Lincoln, London, Newcastle, Norwich, Waterford, Winchester and York.  At first I was surprised not to see Southampton on the list, but the combined blows of the French raid in 1338 and the Black Death in 1348 had almost destroyed the town by this point. Much later it was made the staple for various metals.

Calais became a staple town in 1363 which it remained until it fell to the French in 1558. In Calais there were twenty-six merchants permitted to trade in wool. The intention of the English government was to make Calais financially self-sufficient instead of being a drain on the country’s finances. Calais was a town in France held by the English after a year-long siege in 1346/47. As you can see from the picture at the top of the post, the French wanted it back and defending the town from them cost money. In theory, giving the town the wool staple would increase trade within Calais and, therefore, duty, which could be used to reduce the financial burden on England. The theory was good, but the practice wasn’t. Making Calais a staple town had a negative impact on the wool trade from which it took some time to recover.

England wasn’t the only country to use staples. Scotland used them and there were also staple ports on the Danube and the Rhein. They were unpopular and powerful foreign merchants often petitioned against them. Sometimes they ignored them entirely and took their goods to non-staple ports where, presumably, local merchants were happy enough to break the law.

Sources:
Power and Profit by Peter Spufford
A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases by Chistopher Corédon and Ann Williams
England in the Reign of Edward III by Scott L. Waugh
Making a Living in the Middle Ages by Christopher Dyer

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB
TheHeirsTale-WEB

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The Walls and Towers of Southampton

Catchcold Tower with Arundel Tower in the distance

On Sunday 4th October 1338, while the people of Southampton were at Mass, fifty French and Genoese galleys sailed up Southampton Water. The town had few defensive walls and the raiders were offered little resistance while they killed, looted and burned. Those who could fled and some never returned. When he learned of the attack and how easy it had been for the raiders to wreak so much havoc, in which he had lost large quantities of wool and wine, Edward III accused the people of the town of conspiring with the French.

Spurred on by reports that wool and wine that had survived the raid had then been looted, he ordered an investigation to find out who was responsible for the town’s lack of response to the raid. Southampton was put under martial law. The raid had a devasting effect and trade was very much reduced for years. Many properties had been destroyed, especially those belonging to the wealthy merchants in the southern part of the town.

In March 1339 Edward III visited the town himself. The king decided that it needed to be surrounded by walls in order to prevent another attack by the French. It wasn’t a small or quick task to encircle the town with stone and some merchants lost their gardens, others their sea view. Blocked up doors and windows of the houses that were incorporated into the walls can still be seen.

When they were eventually completed, the walls were about 25 to 30 feet high and there were almost one and a quarter miles of them, of which about half remain. There were seven main gates and twenty-four towers. Today there are six gates and thirteen towers still standing. They were built mostly of limestone from the Isle of Wight.

Arundel Tower

Arundel Tower was almost 60 feet high and had a good view down Southampton Water. When it was built, and up until the turn of the last century, when the land was reclaimed, it was constantly being damaged by the sea, as all the paved area that you can see in the photograph at the top of the post used to be underwater.

Southampton’s walls and towers were among the first in England to provide for cannon, although I don’t think that’s obvious from my photographs. A few yards from Arundel Tower is Catchcold Tower, which you can see in the photograph at the top of the post. It was designed to be used by cannon and was built early in the fifteenth century. The steps are a nineteenth-century addition and they led to a beach.

Biddles Gate
Postern Gate

This is the Postern Gate at the bottom of Blue Anchor Lane. Originally it was much narrower.

West Gate

The West Gate is, unsurprisingly, in the West Wall. It had a double portcullis. On the water side of the gate was the West Quay. It was the only commercial quay belonging to the town until the Water Gate Quay was built towards the end of the fourteenth century. As well as goods, it was also used for passengers. Edward III departed through it on his way to Crécy in 1346, as did Henry V on his way to Agincourt in 1415. In 1620 it was the turn of the Pilgrim Fathers on their way to America.

West Gate

Just next to the West Gate is Westgate Hall, which was known as the Tudor Merchant’s Hall as I was growing up. In the eighteenth century it was known as the Guard Room. I’ve included it here because it’s a medieval building, but I don’t know enough about it to give it a separate post. It was built at the end of the fourteenth or the beginning of the fifteenth century in front of St Michael’s Church. The top floor was for storing wool and the ground floor was arcaded to house part of the fish market. In 1634 it was in such a state of disrepair that it was about to collapse. The Town Council sold it to an alderman. A condition of the sale was that he take it down and rebuild it elsewhere. At the end of the nineteenth century the council took possession of it again and it became a museum store. Later it was a lecture theatre and now it’s used for civil weddings.

Westgate Hall

This is the tower by the South, or Water, Gate. It stands at the bottom of what used to be English Street, while the Bargate is at the top. On the other side of the gate was the Water Gate Quay, which has been replaced by the equally imaginatively named Town Quay.

In 1439 William Soper, Clerk of the King’s Ships, was given a lease on the tower of 120 years. In return he had to repair the gate and the tower and give the mayor a red rose each year on the feast of John the Baptist. Earlier in his career he had overseen the construction to his design of the ill-fated Grace Dieu in Southampton. She was large and she was beautiful, but she only went on one voyage. Her crew mutinied in the Channel. A few years later she was sailed to the River Hamble where she was struck by lightning and sank in the same year in which her creator took over responsibility for the Water Gate.

Friary Gate

The last and least gate is on the eastern side of the town. Medieval Southampton was home to an Augustinian friary. When the walls were built the friars’ need to get to the other side where their gardens were situated was accommodated by this little gate. All that remains of the friary are a few bits of wall incorporated into the nearby car park, this gate and the monks’ latrines.

Sources:
Historic Buildings of Southampton by Philip Peberdy
Collected Essays on Southampton edited by J B Morgan and Philip Peberdy
Medieval Southampton by Colin Platt

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB
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Southampton Castle

Drum Towers, Gate of Southampton Castle

Within the small medieval town there was a small castle. Nothing is left of it today, save the remains of two gates, a wall and a vault. It stood on the western side of the town on top of an artificial mound. The original castle was probably an early Norman wooden fort within a stockade and a ditch. By the end of the twelfth century the wooden stockade had been replaced by a stone wall. It’s possible that the wooden fort wasn’t replaced until the end of the thirteenth century.

The castle belonged to the king and was run by his governors or constables. It wasn’t a royal residence in the way that Windsor or Eltham were, but it was a handy place for a king to stay if he was about to visit or invade France, for example. Henry V in particular, started most of his expeditions to France from here. In 1415, just before setting out on the campaign that was to take him to Agincourt, he wrote a letter addressed from the castle. Elizabeth I also wrote a letter from there when she was in residence.

In the twelfth century, Henry II and Richard I spent a lot of money on the castle, but John outdid them both. His main building efforts took place from 1204 to 1209, rendered even more urgent when he lost Normandy in 1206 and the threat of invasion from France increased. He also kept a fleet of galleys in Southampton, just in case.

His son Henry III set a levy on wine imported into the town. If a ship was carrying twenty or more tuns of wine, two tuns went into the king’s store in the castle. If the ship carried between ten and twenty tuns, one tun went into the store. In theory, this meant that the king would always have enough wine.

The castle was often allowed to fall into near ruin and it proved useless in assisting the town to defend itself against French raiders in 1338. Although Edward II had ordered repairs towards the end of his reign, he doesn’t appear to have provided the funds to enable them to be carried out. As we shall see when we get on to the walls, the raid, in which much of his property stored in the town was destroyed, focused the attention of his son, Edward III, on the town and its lack of defences. He also neglected the castle, though.

The garrison varied in size over the years, but was usually made up of five knights and their attendant soldiers. In 1369, when Edward III renewed the war with France, there were only eight squires and two archers, which was increased to forty-seven men-at-arms, thirty-nine hobelars and one hundred and seventy-two archers. The town couldn’t really support that many soldiers, though, and the number was quickly reduced again.

By 1378 the keep had disappeared entirely and a new stone one was built by Sir John Arundel, the Keeper of the Castle. It was believed at the time that there was a good chance the French would invade. Richard II was only 12 and the two countries had been at war on and off for forty years. Since 1369 it had been very much on and history had shown that Southampton was very much a target.

The new keep was by all accounts very fine. The castle mound was about 200 feet in diameter. The keep was cylindrical and had four turrets. The castle also had a barbican, two inner gates with portcullises and a twelve-foot ditch. The stone came from Portland, Purbeck and the Isle of Wight, all fairly close by sea. The building work was completed in 1388, just as Richard II’s uncles began to think about negotiating an end to the war.

The earl of Cambridge and Lord Scrope, two of the plotters involved in the Southampton Plot against Henry V in 1415 were kept prisoner in the castle before their trials. Both were found guilty and executed.

The war with France ended and the castle was no longer really necessary. If it had been easy to neglect it when it was needed, it was even easier when it wasn’t needed. By the time James I became king, it was no longer fit to receive royal guests. During the Civil War some of the stones were removed to maintain the town walls. What was left was used to build a castle in the Gothic style in 1804. This was the castle that Jane Austen knew when she lived in Castle Square. It lasted less than fourteen years and the mound itself was removed in 1822. Today there’s modern housing where the castle used to be.

It has left some traces, though. These arches formed the foundations of the northern wall of the bailey. They were mostly buried in an earthen bank and the wall proper started just above the arches. You can see the line where better quality stone was used for the part of the wall that was visible.

Just around the corner are the remains of the drum towers by the main gate into the castle. The towers were built in the late fourteenth century and were over twenty feet high. They were only discovered in 1961.

On the other side of the castle is the Watergate. It opened onto Castle Quay to which goods coming to the castle by water were delivered. Castle Quay belonged to the king and there’s a Norman vault on the other side of the wall where his wines were stored along with weapons for the soldiers in the garrison. Unfortunately, the vault is closed at the moment. There are quite a few medieval vaults in the town and I hope to be able to visit some of them in the summer.

Sources:
Historic Buildings of Southampton by Philip Peberdy
Collected Essays on Southampton edited by J B Morgan and Philip Peberdy
Medieval Southampton by Colin Platt

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

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Filed under Castle, Hundred Years War, Jane Austen, Medieval Buildings, Medieval Kings

A Norman House, Southampton

There are two mainly Norman houses in Southampton. One has been described as “one of the finest examples of Norman domestic architecture existing in England” (Peberdy). The other came second in an argument with a German bomb. Access to the first is via the garden of the Tudor House Museum, which plans to reopen in June. Until then, we’ll have to be satisfied with this photograph of one of the exterior walls (the bit with the windows). This is the romantically-named Blue Anchor Lane, leading to a gate in the fourteenth-century wall.

The lesser of the two buildings is in Porters Lane. It was the house of a merchant, whose name is not known, and was built around 1170 to 1200. It was for some time (and still is occasionally) referred to as Canute’s Palace. Since Cnut died in 1035, this is unlikely, although he might have had some kind of place there or nearby, as he was often in Southampton during his reign. It’s possible that it was from a shore in Southampton that he demonstrated his inability to keep the tide from coming in. The town is famous for its double tides, so it would have been an ideal place to make the point.

When it was built at the end of the twelfth century, there was probably nothing other than a beach between the house and Southampton Water, unseen on the left in the photograph above. In the fourteenth century it lost its sea view when the South Wall was built in front of it.

It’s thought that the ground floor of the building was a warehouse and that the living quarters were on the floor above. There was a hall and at least one smaller private chamber. The ground floor might also have been a shop. It’s hard to know all these centuries later. The house has suffered a great deal of damage over the years, but is still very impressive.

Sources:
Historic Buildings of Southampton by Philip Peberdy
Collected Essays on Southampton edited by J B Morgan and Philip Peberdy
Medieval Southampton by Colin Platt

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB
TheHeirsTale-WEB

Amazon

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Filed under Medieval Buildings