The head of the Duke of Suffolk
Remains of the City wall
The shrine of Edward the Confessor
Ghosts in the Tower of London
The Domesday Book
An old City Merchant's Mansion
London's Roman Baths
Wapping High Street
The Bones of Men-kau-Ra
The Baga de Secretis
London's lost King
The fires of Smithfield
Waxworks in the Abbey
A lost invention
Letters from London during the Great Plague
The Bells of St. Clement's
A London household of A.D. 1337
List of Illustrations
The head of the Duke of Suffolk
Bastion of the Roman Wall of London
"The most sanctified Shrine in our land"
The Shrine of the Confessor
Domesday Book: The Large Volume
No. 34 Great Tower Street
Roman Bath in Strand Lane, Strand
Wapping Old Stairs
Wapping's famous High Street
The Bones of Men-kau-Ra
Coffin lid of Men-kau-Ra
King Charles II trampling upon Oliver Cromwell
Smithfield: Site of the Martyrs' Stake
King Charles II in Wax effigy
Belfry Tower of St. Clement Danes, Strand
Map of the City of London
Map - West Part
Map - West Central Part
Map - East Central Part
Map - East Part
A London household of A.D. 1337
LONDON has preserved its archives in an unbroken series for a longer period, probably, than any other city in the world, and there is hardly an incident arising in the lives of citizens long centuries back which is not illustrated in one or other of the vast accumulation of documents at Guildhall. I have picked out two or three to tell from them the brief life story of Hugh le Bevere. The tragedy of it interests me less than the light which the parchments throw upon the domestic surroundings of a humble household close upon six hundred years ago.
Hugh le Bevere might have been one of the many skilled craftsmen of London, labouring long hours at his trade while daylight lasted, and bound to his gild and his master. What that trade was – whether sporier, cutler, glover, pelterer – I had small chance of telling, for he figures only as "felon"; but with such exemplary completeness are the City records kept that I was able to find a will, dated seven years later, of another citizen to whom his tenement passed, and therein Hugh is described as vintner. He was living ten years after King Edward III. had ascended the English throne – the year 1337 – in a house that stood in the ward of Candlewyck Street, which now we call Cannon Street, within the City's encircling wall.
Murder was done there. The neighbours, breaking in, found the wife Alice lying stark and dead upon the floor. A knife was flung into the corner, and Hugh – he was childless, and perhaps but recently married – crouched beside the corpse. He would say nothing, nor would he plead when indicted before the Coroner and the Sheriffs, and why that crime was committed and whether Hugh le Bevere was blood-guilty none to this day can tell. The King's justiciars, finding him still obdurate – "he refused the law of England" – committed him to the gaol of Newgate, there in penance to remain until he should be dead.
Penance, as understood in mediæval days, was close and solitary confinement with an unvarying and insufficient ration of bread and water. Horrible enough, I grant, but it lacks the revolting torture of the press-yard, introduced in a later and what should have been a more refined age, when in that same gaol of Newgate the practice was to place heavy weights upon the body and press to death felons who sought to defeat the course of the law by refusing to plead. I have myself tramped over the press-yard at the demolition of Dance's prison, then still bearing its horrid name.
This crime of murder was committed on the last days of October, 1337, and two months later, on the 27th December, Hugh le Bevere was dead. Meanwhile the Sheriffs had seized his possessions and these they sold, first drawing up an inventory, which sets out with the order of a housekeeper's book the domestic arrangements of this fourteenth-century household. The vintner made good money, for his furniture and clothing were apprised at the value of £12, 18s. 4d., a sum in the then money values far above the competence of any of the poorer workers to amass.
The house consisted of two apartments, one above the other. The lower room, which was kitchen and keeping-room in one, had a part partitioned off for a hall, and this also contained a larder. It had a chimney and a grate. Light came in through the one window, an "oriole" built at the end of the hall – probably a recess with a bay window, the upper part of which alone was glazed, on account of the great expense of glass, the remainder being closed by a wooden shutter. In the room below the window was the high bench (summum scamnum). Before the house was a single step up to the street door, and a porch covering, or penthouse. A door at the back led to the buttery, where stood ranged six casks of wine, the value of each cask being one mark. A tressle table and two chairs, the last valued at fourpence each, were the only furniture, but the kitchen was well supplied with serviceable utensils. There were eight brass pots, not counting one broken, andirons, basins, a washing vessel, a tripod, an iron cooking spit, a frying pan, a plate, and also a small brass plate, a funnel, and two ankers or tubs. Two cellars were excavated beneath the floor, opposite one another, and there was a cesspool with pipes leading to it – let us hope outside the house.
A ladder gave access to the upper room, entered by a space left open in the floor. This was the solar, or sleeping room. Like the rest of the house, it was timber-built, but in compliance with the City's regulations stone walls divided the dwelling from the houses on either side. The room contained a bed, on which was a mattress, and there were three feather beds and two pillows. A great wooden coffer stood against the wall. In this were stored six blankets and one serge, a torn coverlet with shields of cendale (a kind of thin silk), eight linen sheets and four table-cloths. Alice, the newly-made wife, may justifiably have looked with pride upon her well-stored press.
The clothes, for which there were six chests, were in unexpected plenty. I credit Alice with being a careful housewife, for she had kept, rather than throw it away, an old fur, though "almost consumed by moths," which duly figures in the pathetic little inventory of personal effects. There were two robes of perset, or peach-coloured cloth, another of medley, a third of scarlet, all being furred; a coat, then one coat of ray, or striped cloth, and another with a hood of perset; a surcoat, another of worsted, a third with a hood of ray; and a green hood of cendale, with edging. I do not attempt to distinguish the ownership of this finery, male or female. The London vintner, when he walked abroad among his fellow-citizens or attended his gild feast, depend upon it was as finely dressed, and in colours quite as bright, as was his spouse. The lady's alone were the one camise (a light, loosely fitting dress) and eight savenapes, or aprons.
A candlestick "of lattone," an aumbrey (cabinet, or small portable cupboard) and an iron herce, or frame for candles, also went to the furnishing of this simple household, and for luxury they had curtains to hang before the door to keep out the cold, cushions, and even a green carpet, while for the husband's use there was a haketone, or suit of quilted leather armour, and an iron head-piece. The personal treasures – gifts, may be, at the marriage, or perhaps inheritances – were a cup, with a foot and cover of silver, value thirty shillings, a mazar cup, and six silver spoons. Hugh had money, too, for he had lent to Paul de Botiller, a neighbour, one mark, as security for which were given in pledge a surcoat and also a woman's coat.
For winter's warmth Hugh le Bevere had stacked a pile of firewood, and this the City sold for three shillings. Coal, borne by the coasting vessels to London, was then much too costly for any but rich men to burn.
I have taken all from the records, with one small license. I do not know which house in the City ward of Candlewyck Street was Hugh le Bevere's. But a house exactly as has been described was built by Simon of Canterbury, the carpenter, a few years before, and he brought his specifications before the Mayor and Aldermen. The house which he undertook to build from the ground entire, down to the locks, was to be paid for by William de Hanigtone, citizen and pelterer, in cash and in kind; in cash by £9, 5s. 4d., also he was to give half a hundred Eastern martin pelts, fur for a woman's hood of the value of five shillings, and fur likewise for a robe for Simon the carpenter. The pelterers, or skinners, were grouped near about Cannon Street ward, and not unlikely Hugh le Bevere sold his wine largely to men of that trade. Included in the modest sum mentioned for house-building a stable, with solar above, was thrown in.