September 2010

Life in a Medieval Town – September 2010

At The first meeting of the 2010-11 season there were over seventy members and visitors to the popular speaker, Nick Griffiths, who with the help of slides gave a talk on ‘Life in a Medieval Town’.

The speaker pointed out that although London averaged a population of perhaps 100,000, towns more generally had populations of some three or four thousand. The majority of buildings were timber-framed. They were often pre-built in small numbers, moved in sections to the town site where they were re-assembled; identification marks (usually Roman numerals) are often found on the timbers. Streets were narrow and the houses on either side ‘jettied’ at first floor level, so the upper floors were often quite close together, yielding the advantage (or otherwise) of physical contact across the street.

All maner of rubbish was thrown into the street and had to be removed by scavengers at night. Disposal of sewage and the access to clean water was always a problem in these crowded communities but various methods were devised to mitigate these difficulties. For instance, the friars of Southampton, as early as the fourteenth century, provided piped, clean water to various locations in the town through a system of wooden pipes. A small stone building, called the Conduit House, still survives at the top of Commercial Road, nearly opposite the Mayflower.

Life in medieval times was simple and for the majority of people personal possessions were few. This is confirmed by studying the wills of the period which also list the furniture and items of bedding and clothing, etc., which were bequeathed to succeeding generations.

Turning to education, it was rarely available to most people and generally provided by the church which was integral to the life of the community. It was not until the late nineteenth century that education became obligatory.

In the case of justice, this for the most part was administered by local borough or manor courts. Punishments for minor offences ranged from cash fines to periods in the stocks or pillory. The indignity of these physical punishments was often heightened by it being carried out on market day when farmers and small holders from the outlying villages would bring the produce to the towns for sale.

Trades, such as blacksmiths, joiners, carpenters, glaziers, etc., through to silver and goldsmiths developed and expanded during this period and were generally controlled by local guilds. As trade, through exports increased and expanded, the influence of the merchant and financier became increasingly important.

Nick Griffiths’s talk was most interesting and much appreciated.

The next meeting is on Friday, 28 October, 2010, where the AGM, starting at 7.15 pm, will be followed by a talk on the ‘Burrards of Walhampton’ given by Roland Stott.

Please note the date of the November meeting on the ‘Coastal Heritage of the New Forest’, is Friday, 26 November and not the 25th as given in the printed programmes.