Tag Archives: Medieval Merchant’s House

Medieval Merchant’s House – The Shop

The shop looking out to the street

The final room in the Medieval Merchant’s House is the most important – the shop.  The wine merchant didn’t just live in the house, he also worked there.  The shop was the centre of his business. Today this room is the visitors’ shop run by English Heritage who manage the building. The goods on display above are theirs.

There was almost nothing left of the original building in this room, so this is a complete reconstruction. The window looks out onto French Steet, which was the second most important street in the town for centuries.  English Street (today’s High Street) was the most important. Even today it’s the main shopping street.

Not only did customers come into the shop, but the shop could be extended into the street. The windows of the shop were unglazed and were shuttered by boards which could be let down to make a serving counter. The shutter can be seen in the photograph below, as can the entrance to the undercroft beneath the house.

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The undercroft is not sound enough strucuturally to allow visitors to enter it, but some barrels are visible from the top of the steps, giving an impression of what it used to contain. It runs the length and width of the house, demonstrating the scale of the merchant’s business.

The shop takes up the front room of the ground floor. Its floor is just beaten earth. There would have been no other floor covering.

English heritage wares

At the moment there is an exhibition in the shop of fourteenth-century pottery fragments which were dug up locally.

Exhibition of fourteenth century potter

The Medieval Merchant’s House is at 58 French Street, Southampton, SO1 0AT. Details of opening times are on the English Heritage Website.

 

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The Medieval Merchant’s House – The Bedroom

 

Cradle

The front bedchamber of the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

The tour of the Medieval Merchant’s House in Southampton moves upstairs.

Above the ground floor passage is a gallery. It runs between the two bedchambers on the first floor. Only one, at the front of the house, is furnished.  In The Winter Love this is the room I gave to Eleanor and her friend, Isabelle, while Isabelle’s brother, the merchant, sleeps at the back.

The bedchamber is furnished with two beds, complete with bed hangings, a cradle, a stool and three chests.

 

Gallery

The gallery of the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

The beds each have a canopy, bed hangings and a counterpane.

 

Bed coverings

Bed hangings in the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

The bed hangings provided privacy, both from other occupants of the room and from neighbours. There were no curtains at the unglazed window, although there might have been shutters.

One of the useful things I learned in the bedchamber is that the canopy of a medieval bed did not rest on four posts, as I had imagined (influenced by too many beds from later centuries), but it hung suspended from the ceiling by ropes. I already have some ideas about how such an interesting fact could be used in a future novel.

 

Bed canopy 2

Bed canopy in the bedchamber of the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

The bedchamber was open to the ceiling and did not originally have a fireplace. As well as being decorative and providing some privacy, the bed hangings also helped to keep the occupants of the beds warm.  These have been made using medieval techniques.

The bedroom contains two more garishly decorated chests:

 

Chest in front bedroom

Chest in the bedchamber of the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

 

Other chest in bedroom

Chest in the bedchamber of the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

This pretty little stool is also in the bedchamber.

 

Stool in front bedroom 3

Stool in the bedchamber of the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

 

 

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Medieval Merchant’s House – The Back Room

 

Back room

Back room, the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

Continuing the exploration of the Medieval Merchant’s House in Southampton, we leave the hall and go into the private room which is behind the hall. In The Winter Love ,  which used this house as a model for Edward’s shop and home, this was the room in which Edward kept his money and his books.

As in the other rooms on the ground floor, the floor is made of beaten earth.

The passage runs the length of the house from the front door.  The whitewashed wall in the photograph below is the back of the house. The open door leads out to a small garden. When the house was first built the kitchen and the latrine were out there, physically separated from the house.

 

Bottom half of passage

Ground floor passage, the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

The back room was an important room and was probably where the merchant kept his strongbox and carried out his business. Its importance is shown by the moulded joists, the fireplace and the glazing. Although there was a fireplace in the room originally, the fireplace in the first photograph above dates from the sixteenth century.

 

beam and pottery in back room

Ceiling of back room of the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

As has been done in the other rooms of the house, the back room has been filled with copies of medieval furniture and pottery.

An impressive chest has been placed in the room and it’s easy to imagine the merchant locking up his money and precious objects in it at the end of each day.

 

chest in bcack room

Chest in the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

Next to it is this rather jaunty looking cupboard.

 

Cupboard in back room

Cupboard in the back room of the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

Below is a photograph of a detail of the cupboard decoration, showing a ship at sea confronted by a large fish.

 

Cupboard decoration

Detail of cupboard in back room of the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

On the whole, I think this was probably the most pleasant room in the house when it was first built. It was smaller and, therefore, probably warmer than the hall. The glazed windows would have helped to keep the heat in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Medieval Merchant’s House – The Hall

 

Table in hall 2

The hall of the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

Last week I gave an overview of the Medieval Merchant’s House in Southampton. This week we’ll spend some time in the most important space in the house – the hall.

Even though the house was owned by a wealthy merchant,  the hall is quite small.  The table takes up almost the entire width of the room. As indicated by the objects on the table, this was where the merchant, his family and their visitors would have eaten. They would have sat on one side of the table only and another table would have been put along the wall at right angles to the high table to accommodate any else who was eating with them.

The house has been furnished in fourteenth-century style based on furniture that has survived from that period as well as illustrations from the fourteenth century.  The pottery jugs and pots are copies of vessels found during excavations in a nearby street.

The hall would have displayed the merchant’s wealth, which you can see represented above by the ‘tapestry’ and below by the jugs and pots standing on the cupboard and the chest at the foot of the stairs leading up to the first floor.

 

The Hall from the gallery

Ceramic displays in the hall of the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

The window you can see above, like the rest of the windows in the house, did not originally contain glass. They were closed with shutters.

The man who lived in such a house would have been wealthy enough to have silver vessels. silk, lengths of fine cloth, carpets, feather-beds, chests and expensive, fashionable clothes. All of these were mentioned in a merchant’s will in the middle of the fourteenth century. As much as possible of the merchant’s wealth would have been displayed in the hall.

Another chest stands against the wooden partition separating the hall from the passage.

 

Chest in hall

Chest in the hall of the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

The hall was open to the ceiling.  There would have been a kind of chimney in the roof, since there would have been an open fire on the floor. In the photograph below you can see the gallery which runs between the two first floor bedrooms.

Hall wall and ceiling

Wall and ceiling of the hall, the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton.

This fire was the only form of heating in the house when it was first built. The windows were unglazed and the house would have been cold most of the time. In the winter it would have been very cold.

 

The floor is made of earth. It would have been covered in rushes. This is not a sign of poverty. The floor of most dwellings would have been made of earth, then covered with rushes. Tiles and stone were only for the very wealthy and cathedrals.

 

Earthen floor

Earthen floor, Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

I have included the picture below, despite its quality,  to show how small the hall is. I took it from the bottom of the stairs, with my back against the far wall.

 

Hall 2

Length of the hall, Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

 

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The Medieval Merchant’s House

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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.

 

Chest in hall

Facsimile chest in the hall of the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

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.

 

Steps to the wine vault 2

Steps to the cellar of the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

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.

 

Ground floor passage

Ground floor passage, the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

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.

 

Table in hall 2

Table in the hall, the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

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.

 

Back room

Room at the rear of the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

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.

 

Gallery

Gallery at the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton – looking towards the front of the house

 

 

Cradle

Front bedroom at the Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton

 

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.

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