Recently I visited the Medieval Merchant’s House in Southampton again. It’s owned by English Heritage and was built in about 1290 by a wine merchant. Major renovations were carried out in the middle of the fourteenth century. It’s easy to speculate that this was due to damage received when the French raided Southampton in 1338. Over the centuries the origins of the house had been forgotten, until it was damaged by a bomb in the Second World War. Although there wasn’t much of the original house left inside, the walls and floors left plenty of indications of where things were when the house was built and this was used to guide the reconstruction.
The house is in French Street, within the walls of the medieval town. It is not far from two of the gates in the walls through which goods were brought into the town from ships moored at the quays at the foot of the walls.
After the house was restored as closely as possible to how it was in the fourteenth century, it was furnished in a style which would have been familiar to its original owners. You’ll notice that not only that the colours of the furnishing are bright, but that there are many of them.
I’ll have something to say about individual rooms in the future, but today I thought we would look at the geography of the house. The front of the house was entirely reconstructed based on what was known about similar houses in the area. The planking across the bottom of the front window would be lowered to make a counter to serve customers.
The house sits on top of a vaulted cellar. This is where the wine merchant stored his wine. Sadly visitors are not permitted to go down there, but you can see the steps going down to it from the street.
The first thing you see when you enter the front door of is a passage running the length of the house. The first door on the right leads to the shop, where customers would have been served. Today it houses the English Heritage shop.
The next room is the hall. Here the merchant would have eaten his meals and received his visitors. The fireplace with its brick chimney is a later addition. When the house was first built there would have been a fire in the middle of the room.
The house belonged to a wealthy merchant. As indicated by the woven cloth behind the table, he might have been able to afford tapestries to keep him warm. Apologies for the quality of the photograph. It was very dark in the hall, as there is only one, small, window.
The final room on the ground floor is probably where the merchant managed his affairs. It’s the most private room in the house. The walls and floors are thin, however, and a conversation being held at anything much above a whisper can be heard almost anywhere else in the house.
Stairs lead up from the hall to a gallery which joins two bedrooms on the first floor, one at the front of the house and one at the back. Only the one at the front of the house has been set up as a bedroom, with two beds and a cradle.
I used the house as the model for Edward’s house in The Winter Love, although I changed a few things for the sake of the story.