PHYSICAL FABRIC Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval London St. Ives contracts houses construction chimney building materials disputes merchants
Subject: Contracts for house construction
Original source: 1. City of London Archives, Letter Book C, f.96; 2. British Library, Add. Roll 34785, m.3
Transcription in: 1. Henry Thomas Riley, ed. Memorials of London nd London Life in the XIIIth, XIVth, and XVth Centuries, London: Longmans, Green and Co, (1868), 65-66; 2. Charles Gross, ed. Select Cases Concerning the Law Merchant, A.D. 1270-1638, vol.1, Selden Society, vol.23 (1908), 103-04.
Original language: Latin (English translation of item 1 is Riley's)
Location: London, St. Ives
Date: early 14th century


[1. Recognisance of a contract, London, 16 November 1308]

Simon de Canterbury, carpenter, came before the Mayor and Aldermen on the Saturday next after the Feast of St. Martin the Bishop, in the second year of the reign of King Edward, son of King Edward, and acknowledged that he would make at his own proper charges, down to the locks, for William de Hanigtone, pelterer, before the Feast of Easter then next ensuing, a hall and a room with a chimney, and one larder between the said hall and room; and one sollar over the room and larder; also, one oriole at the end of the hall, beyond the high bench, and one step with an oriole, from the ground to the door of the hall aforesaid, outside of that hall; and two enclosures as cellars, opposite to each other, beneath the hall; and one enclosure for a sewer, with two pipes leading to the said sewer; and one stable, [blank] in length, between the said hall and the old kitchen, and twelve feet in width, with a sollar above such stable, and a garret above the sollar aforesaid; and at one end of such sollar, there is to be a kitchen with a chimney; and there is to be an oriole between the said hall and the old chamber, eight feet in width. And if he shall not do so, then he admits etc.

And the said William Hanigtone acknowledged that he was bound to pay to Simon before-mentioned, for the work aforesaid, the sum of 9l.5s.4d. sterling, half a hundred of Eastern marten-skins, fur for a woman's hood, value five shillings, and fur for a robe of him, the said Simon, etc.

[2. Dispute over adherence to contract terms, St. Ives, 18 May 1317]

John de Borham and Simon Bateman were attached to answer Roger de Multon in a plea of contract. In which regard he complains that a contract was made between them on 13 June 1316 whereby John and Simon would build him a house in the town of St. Ives, on the understanding that none of Roger's old timber should be incorporated in the house, but that they should supply everything required from their own timber – and that, of oak. Under the contract, Roger gave them a certain sum of money for building the house on those terms. Subsequently, John and Simon incorporated timber of alder and willow into the house, contrary to the contract, to Roger's damage etc. And for that reason he has brought this action. John and Simon say that they used of their own timber nothing except oak in the house, and have not broken any contract such as he alleges against them. They request an enquiry into the same; and Ralph likewise. Therefore Boys is ordered to have [a jury] assemble etc. The inquisition jury assembles and says that John and Simon broke the contract with him, with damages [set] at two shillings. Therefore judgement is given that Roger may recover etc., and John and Simon are to be amerced 6d.


The London record is the acknowledgement before the city authorities of a building contract, to give the contract force of law in the event of either party breaking it. The purpose of the contract was to construct a substantial extension to an existing property belonging to Hanington, at no small expense. Hanington was a skinner, a trader in furs, who should be thought of more as a merchant than as a craftsman; the skinner's gild at this time was wealthy and dominant in the import of furs into England (most from the Baltic). The gild was not one of the leading gilds of the city, which were primarily the victuallers, but certainly in the second rank. Thus, the house that the prospering William Hanington was having extended represents the type of dwelling in which the middling city merchants would have lived, without going to the expense of building in stone – although at least part of the building may have been faced with stone, as protection from fire. It is difficult to put a total price on the house, since part of the payment was being made in furs, but the price would be within the general range at this period (about £10 to £30) for a merchant's house. The sanitation and the chimney reflect conveniences of that time, which – along with the substantial extension itself – suggest how Hanington's business affairs were prospering.

We do not know where this house was located. But, when he died in 1312/13, perhaps prematurely since his children appear underage, Hanington owned property in the parishes of St. John Walbrook and St. Stephen Walbrook, near the hall of the Skinners (of which craft, he was a member).

The complaint brought before the St. Ives fair court by Roger de Moulton shows the importance of specifying terms in a contract, as medieval builders could be tempted to cut corners, just as modern builders today. St. Ives was a small town that did not obtain borough status during the Middle Ages, but was renowned for its fair, which has left a rich set of records.



Carpenters were the craftsmen principally responsible for house construction at this period.

The hall was the central feature of a medieval merchant's house and used for dining and entertaining; a hearth or brazier would have been the centrepiece. The raised bench is where the family and important guests would have dined; servants ate at floor level in the hall. In this design the hall appears to have been of the large open-to-the-roof style, with a total height equivalent to about two storeys, although the cellars beneath the hall would have been only partially subterranean and may have reduced the hall's height. The cellars would have been used for storing merchandize.

"room with a chimney"
The room with chimney might have been a shop; but since this was an addition to an existing structure likely already with a street-front, the room is more likely to have been added to the rear of the structure and have served as a parlour. How elaborate the "chimney" would have been at that period, is uncertain; probably no more than a tiled fireplace with a flue venting not far above it – full chimneys as we know them required stone or brick (a late 14th century introduction).

The solars would have served as private living quarters for the family.

The term oriel could be used for various kinds of covered extension, such as an upper gallery in one end of a hall, or a porch, or a tall bay window.

"high bench"
I.e. high table.

I.e. partition walls.

Probably means a privy.

Perhaps intended to accommodate servants.

According to Gross, this was an error for Bytham.

"Roger de Multon"
A baker of this name was fined in 1300 for selling underweight bread through the hands of regratresses.

"old timber"
I.e. timber from an existing house, which was evidently to be demolished.

Gilbert Boys, one of the bailiffs.

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Created: August 27, 2004. Last update: June 12, 2016 © Stephen Alsford, 2004-2016