Life in a Medieval House


At firstviewing, a Medieval house problem seems like an attractive proposition. Looking at them you would think that they belong on the front a chocolate box with the words “Greetings from Merrie England” on it. The reality of the medievall house is somewhat different as we shall see. Tewkesbury is a medieval town and it has several examples. If you were there in the period, you would see a very different picture. There would certainly not be any Conservatories Tewkesbury now boasts, for example. Which is a shame as if they had the internet I’m sure the local folk would have wanted one and could go to to get one.

The popular image is that of the Tudor Period but before that the predominant themes were wood and thatch roof. In between the wood wattle and daub (the mix of mud, lime and, well poo basically) was used to fill in the frames. Many were starting use dressed stone if they could afford it, and that was very few. The heady combination of wood and thatch meant that fire was a constant problem and they certainly set the tone for al fresco cooking in the summer time as it wasn’t worth the risk. Generally, in the early period this were what we’d called bungalows. All one level with space for the animals to come in. They actually help to keep the place warm with there body heat though they were kept, sectioned off, in a separate area. In fact, that style of house was still being used in this country up to the early 1960’s in the Highlands and Island of Scotland. Called Black houses there are some examples here. All toilets were strictly outside and usual a hole in the ground with a small shack around it.

As the medieval period wore on the manufacture of bricks became more widespread. You still had to be rich to afford them though. This gave rise to the style that we general associate with the period namely a mix of brick on the base and wooden beams and wattle and daub on the upper floor. These bricks giving a bit more solidity to the structure. There was also the use of slate of clay tiles on the roof saving all that tedious and costly mucking about with replacement thatch very year or the annoyance of the wildlife that liked to live in it. Glass too starts to be used for windows, though only small and very likely using lead to strengthen it by crisscrossing the glass. Again, very expensive. Look out for these features in a town and you’ll start to spot some old medieval building or one in its style.

One thing you won’t find is what the vast majority of us lived in namely the peasants houses. This would have been made with whatever was to hand. As that was more wood and thatch none of these have survived. Museums and historians have looked back at painted and written records, so we have a pretty good idea as to what how they were made so there are several models to look at to give you the idea.