A closer look at The Merchant’s House

The A Frame Roof

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.

Smoke Void

Smoke Void Brick or stone chimneys did not become features of small timber-framed buildings until the 17th century. At the time when the Merchant’s House was built, various timber structures were used to keep smoke from the central open fire from going everywhere. Here a small bay or void has been sealed off from the upper part of the house as a place for the smoke to circulate and eventually disperse.

Ladies in the Bedchamber

Ladies in the Bedchamber Here we have the lady of the house in her bedchamber. Beside her are two Tudor chamber pots, one shaped just for her and the other for her husband. The liquid contents would often have been emptied from the window into the street. A gong farmer or gongfermor was the Tudor term for a person who removed human excrement from privies and cesspits. Gong farmers were only allowed to work at night and the waste they collected, known as night soil had to be taken outside the city or town boundaries. Some people believed that attendants at public latrines were immune to the plague. Gong farmers could earn a good wage: those employed at Hampton Court, for example, were paid sixpence a day during the time of Elizabeth I. However, gong farmers could only work from 9pm-5am and were only allowed to live in certain areas. Due to the noxious fumes produced by human excrement, coroners' reports exist of gong farmers dying of asphyxiation.

A Lean-To Workshop

A Lean-To Workshop food At the back of the building is the workshop, as originally built for artisans by the monks at Tewkesbury Abbey. This would have been a useful extra space for the merchant to work on his wares before transferring them to the shop at the font.

The stairs

The stairs are solid oak, cut through the diagonal to make a triangular shape. The upper section is still original, for people who had smaller feet than today.

Open Fires & Cooking

Cooking potplatter Cooking was done on an open fire and was a smoky, messy business. A metal tripod would have held a kettle or cooking pot, or a small spit would have been used to roast meat. trencher

Tilting Shutters

At the font of the building is the shop with its ingenious 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.


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.
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.

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