Visit to Weald and Downland Museum
On September 5th 2012, the Group made a visit to the Weald and Downland museum in Sussex.
We were shown round four of the Museum’s mediaeval and Tudor houses by Danae Tankard, who lectures on Social History at Chichester University. These notes attempt to extract information relevant to East Meon history.
Danae distinguished three categories of farm workers – yeomen, husbandmen and labourers. Yeomen were freemen and could be relatively prosperous, owning or renting sufficient land not only to feed their own families, but to sell excess produce at market. Husbandmen were free tenants or owners of smaller amounts of land, providing subsistence for their families. Labourers worked for farmers and owned little or nothing. (Aristocrats are not represented at the Museum.)
Yeomen such as the owners of Boarhunt, Bayleaf and Pendean farmed on a commercial basis supplying markets and manufacturers, such as malt to maltsters. Some would have ‘ranched’ cattle, both for their meat and their hides (there was a tannery near Midhurst, where Pendean was located.)
Danae stressed that she is not an Architectural Historian. The four houses showed clearly how the layouts of buildings, and the lifestyles of their occupants, developed across the three centuries.
The Hall from Boarhunt typifies mediaeval hall house – essentially the same for the noble owner (e.g. The Court Hall) as for the more modest yeoman. The two central bays were an open hall, with a fire in the centre (and for the first two centuries, no escape for the smoke); at one or both ends were service room/s and a ‘solar’ (from the Latin ‘Solus’ – where the owner’s family can have privacy).
In all hall houses the entrance from outside was at the opposite end to the high table, which in turn backed onto the parlour or solar. Grand households would have sat at a table raised on a dais – as in The Court Hall. But even yeomen had a form of segregation; the family sat at the ‘top’ table while lesser members of the household would have sat at one or more tables arranged along the side walls. Grand households would have sat at a table raised on a dais – e.g. The Court Hall. But even yeomen had a form of segregation; the family sat at the ‘top’ table while lesser members of the household would have sat at one or more tables arranged along the side walls.
The yeoman’s entire family slept in the one room. Windows were no more than vertical wooden slats – only the richest households had glass.
East Meon’s nearest equivalent to the Hall at Boarhunt is Forge Sound – though its single-aisle layout is different … according to Edward, a style more common in Sussex, whilst Boarhunt is in Hampshire. Bayleaf had upper chambers at both ends (usually known by the name of the room beneath … e.g. ‘buttery chamber’.) (Bayleaf belonged to Thomas Wells, who owned 180 acres which enabled him to farm commercially and belonged to the rural middle class.)
Some cooking took place on the central hearth, but some hall houses had an outhouse where baking, smoking &c took place. A fear of fire, and the belief that bad smells caused bad health, were behind this. Even a yeoman’s family, such as the owners of Boarhunt, would have had servants, usually teenage girls indoors, and young men to work on the farm.
Bayleaf has a privy on the ground floor – contrasted with The Court Hall which had a garde-robe off the upper Solar with a chute to a lower receptacle which was emptied by a servant.
(By the time we get to Pendean, and Poplar Cottage, the upper chambers at each end are joined by a by doors beside the chimney breasts, so that it was no longer necessary to go down one set of stairs and up another.)
The Black Death
Danae pointed out that the Black Death wiped out 30 – 50% of the population of all English towns and villages. The deficiency was made up slowly, mainly by immigration.
It proved easier to insert new rooms into hall houses built after the Black Death; those built before were more often demolished and replaced. (East Meon’s Tudor House is an example – only wall containing the truss beam survived the complete refurbishment by prosperous owners in the late 16th Century.)
As successful yeomen acquired more land, they often let smaller dwellings decay and collapse – a mediaeval form of asset stripping.
Over the centuries, the open hearth fire evolved into the kind of fireplace, with chimney, which we know today. Bayleaf had a gablet in the ceiling through which some smoke could escape.
Finally came fireplaces in the centre of the house, with chimney breasts, exemplified by Pendean. When these were introduced, the fundamental layout of buildings changed, with the main entrance now becoming a lobby, usually with doors to right and left leading to the main hall room and to the service rooms. (When the Tudor House was drastically altered in the sixteenth century, it was built to the same layout, with an entrance lobby from what is now The Cross, the chimney breast rising directly in front of the entrance, and doors to right – the hall room – and to the left, to service rooms.)