A closer look at the Row
The A Frame Roof
Built on A shaped roof trusses, in this row of buildings the roof runs, without a break, over the entire row of 23 houses.
At the front is an important feature of urban timber framed buildings. The upper wall jutts out over the wall beneath forming an overhang or jetty. In the case of the Merchant’s House, the ends of the floor joists are exposed to view between the two storeys, the lowest beam of the upper wall simply resting on top of them. A jetty gave you extra floor space without making the street narrower, plus provided protection for the lower part of the house, from the weather.<br>A jetty was a symbol of wealth and status, if you could only afford one jetty you would want it to face the street. In Tudor times rubbish and chamber pots were often emptied from the first floor windows, if the walls were flat it would have run down into the downstairs rooms…probably best avoided.
This row has been continually occupied since it was built in the 15th century. By the mid 1960s many were in a poor condition and were about to be demolished. Happily they were saved and restoration began in 1967, taking over 5 years to complete. Since that time they have been used as private residences (the rents assuring their upkeep), shops, businesses and of course the museums.
Timber Framed Buildings
Until the 17th century, most urban buildings were timber framed, unless there was an abundance of stone available. They were built as a rigid box-like timber frame to which non-load-bearing walls were attached. A timber-framed property is held together by mortice and tenon joints and by wooden pegs. The foundation is a wooden frame, that lies flat on the ground. Uprights at each corner, are connected at the top. The roof is joined onto the frame. Built as blocks, they could then be extended and partitioned depending on the size of the land or the depth of the owner’s pocket. Walls are formed by horizontal rails and vertical studs, filled in with wattle and daub, (hazel twigs plastered with mud and straw).
Unlike our windows, these were constructed as part of the wall. Before 1580, very few houses had glass in their windows, so wooden shutters, fixed to the inside of the room, were used to keep the rain out. These shutters were often sliding rather than hinged and the groves can be seen in the timber near the window in the Merchant’s House. Inside the window were vertical timbers, called mullions.
This row of buildings was built in the 15th century. The houses were built for the use of artisans and so had a shop at the front of each unit. Each shop had an ingenious set of tilting shutters. At night the shop is shut up tight, but in the morning the merchant would tilt the shutters outwards into the street creating his shop window and his counter all in one.
The Steps & Flooding
All the buildings in the row have steps leading up to the front door. This makes sense when you remember that Tewkesbury is prone to flooding. It rarely reaches Church Street, but has occasionally lapped at our doorsteps. The monks that built the row had taken the rivers into account and the steps, back and front, provide a handy barrier to unwanted water.