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.
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.