The wool House is an imposing building at the southern end of the medieval town. It was built during the fourteenth century, although the buttresses at the side are a little later and the front has been altered considerably. The doorway is original.
As the name suggests, it was used as a warehouse for wool. Wool was England’s main export in the Middle Ages and Southampton was one of the main ports through which it passed. I’ve written a post about how important wool was to the economy of fourteenth-century England. From Southampton it went mainly to Flanders in the fourteenth century and to Italy in the fifteenth. In the fourteenth century Genoese carracks arrived in Southampton carrying alum, woad and dyes for the English cloth industry and left carrying wool to Flanders. In the fifteenth century it was Florentine and Venetian galleys that came with luxury goods for the Mediterranean, retuning to Italy with the wool.
It’s not clear who built the warehouse. It might have been Thomas Middleton who became mayor in 1401. He was wealthy enough to build a new quay with a crane at the Watergate, which was very close to the Wool House. Another possibility is that the monks at Beaulieu Abbey built it. Since a very large portion of the sheep in England were owned by monasteries, this is the explanation I prefer.
In the eighteenth century the Wool House was used to hold French and Spanish prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars. Later it reverted to being a warehouse, then it was a shop for a while. In 1966 it became a maritime museum, but more recently it has become the home of a microbrewery and restaurant.
We rarely think of such mundane buildings as being important historically, but the Wool House is probably the only remaining medieval purpose-built warehouse in Europe.
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.