Town life

Urban Housing in Anglo-Norman England

Timber buildingsAt the time of the Conquest streets in the centre of towns like London and York were lined with narrow properties packed with buildings, often two or more deep. Typically, town buildings in the 11th- 12th centuries employed earth-fast posts for their walls and no timber-framed structures of later medieval type are known. Archaeological evidence shows that between the bases of the posts there were beams into which secondary uprights were fitted with simple mortise and tenon joints. The spaces between the uprights were usually filled with wattle and daub or horizontal boards. The character of the roofs is uncertain, but the ground beams were probably matched by a rail at the top of the wall to which either paired rafters or braced trusses were fitted; the roofing material was usually thatch.. Some of these buildings had basements used for secure storage of goods. In the centre of the main room there was a hearth; it was not covered in any way and so it is no wonder that fire was an ever-present menace.

The Jew's House at Lincoln, mid 12th century.  Photo P.OttawayQuayside wall at Southampton  incorporating facdes of Norman housesStone houses were rare in towns until the mid 12th century, but were introduced partly because they offered a wealthy merchant protection for his property against fire and theft, and partly because they demonstrated his superior social status. In London Norman stone houses were concentrated in the main commercial streets and on the Thames waterfront. Accommodation for the owner was usually at first floor level and, in addition to the main hall, a space was partitioned off to give him some privacy, otherwise denied to most town dwellers. On the ground floor there was space for storage, workshops and commercial activities. At Southampton 'King John's House' of about 1150 had a series of large arches facing the quay which gave access to a ground floor warehouse for bulky goods.

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