PHYSICAL FABRIC Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval London taverns construction contracts building materials recreation drink
Subject: Plans for building a tavern
Original source: Guildhall Library, London Bridge Estate Deeds, G 16-17
Transcription in: Edith Rickert, Clair Olson and Martin Crow, eds. Chaucer's World. New York: Columbia University Press, (1948), 7-8.
Original language: French (English translation is Rickert's)
Location: London
Date: 1342


[1. Contract for making the cellar]

Indenture, being a covenant of Philip de Cherche, mason, with William le Marbrer, vintner, to dig beneath the place belonging to the said William in Paternoster Row in the parish of St. Michael at Corn[market], an excavation seventeen feet deep and to make at the end thereof, in the corner towards the northwest, beneath the floor, a vault with a garderobe, the same to be built of chalk, and the pipe thereof of stone; the walls of the vault of the cell are to be of good ragstone as high as the first jetty towards the place and tenements of Thomas Leg, and the vault and the arches of freestone and the "parfurnir" [filling] of the vault of chalk and the wall thereof towards the street of ragstone to the height of two feet above the pavement, with few [four] windows overlooking the street; and the steps of the stairs of the same cellar and the jambs of the door to be of ragstone; and another stair of chalk, with steps of rag, to be made between the first floor above the vault of the cellar and the floor of the same cellar; and the steps of the door of the room to be of rag; and two fireplaces to be built, one at either end of the said cellar, and carried up to the height of the jetty in stone; and beneath the aforesaid stairs a vaulted "cawet" [cavity?] with a doorway of stone; and the said Philip to find the materials – stone, chalk, lime, and sand – as well as the labor, and to receive therefor £26 and 13s.4d for a robe.

[2. Contract for building a house to serve as a tavern]

Covenant of Richard de Felstede, carpenter, with William Marbrer, taverner, to build upon the land of the said William in Paternoster Row, between the room beneath the gate of the tavern of Thomas Legge which is held by John de Okebroke, chaplain, on the east and the tenement of the said Thomas on the west and south, a new house with two gabled roofs toward the street, each with two jetties; and above the two stories, beneath the one roof, a garret with puncheons six feet in height, and beneath the other roof, towards Paternoster Row, a room on the highest story, and at one end thereof, towards the north, a buttery and a kitchen; and all the partitions throughout the whole house; and upon the lowest floor above the vault a partitioned room, and on the rest of the same floor thirty seats for the tavern; and a partition extending along the whole length of the said lowest floor; and on the second floor above, thirty seats for the tavern; and in the room a bay window towards the street and on either side thereof a linteled window; and in the bedroom another bay window, with other such linteled windows on either side; and everywhere windows, doors, and steps as they are required; and in the bedroom the canopy over the bed; the said William supplying the timber and "le syer" of timber, and the said Richard receiving for his carpenter's work £12 and a gown worth 20s. or its value in money.


In 1338 draper Hugh le Marbrer (or Marbler), one of the sheriffs of that same year, acquired from the executors of John de Pykenham paternosterer five shops (with solars above) on the north side of Paternoster Row; Hugh had earlier (1331) inherited, from Adam le Marbeler, a mason, presumably specializing in working marble, houses in that same street. The former was the property which William le Marbrer (possibly a nephew of Adam) arranged to be converted into, or replaced by, a tavern. A mason was contracted to dig out a cellar and wall it, and at one end dig out a privy, wall it and incorporate in the wall a pipe leading from the ground floor. The walls of the cellar were, on the street side, to rise to just above pavement level, but on the opposite side to continue up to the first (jettied) floor. This cellar was probably intended to be part of the public area of the tavern, since fireplaces were installed at either end. In a second contract, Marbrer engaged a carpenter to build a three-storey house, fitted out for a tavern on the ground and first floors (including general seating area, and one partitioned room for private parties), with a kitchen and larder on part of the second floor and a garret – probably the bedroom mentioned – in the other part. The contracts appear to have gone ahead, for in 1347 Marbrer is referred to as taverner, though his will refers again to him as vintner; the two roles were often combined. William probably ran the tavern personally, perhaps assisted by a wife and some of the two sons and three daughters mentioned in his will, living in somewhat cramped quarters above the tavern; his will states that he resided in Paternoster Row. After Marbrer's death at the onset of plague in 1349, the tavern came into the hands of the Mockyng family, vintners, and in 1429 is referred to as the "Peter and Paul".

Taverns were an important part of the urban fabric, providing an indoor and therefore year-round location for relaxation after a hard working day, socializing with friends and neighbours, and games for recreation or gambling. Communal gatherings at which ale was drunk, whether at establishments for that purpose or ad hoc drinkings organized for special fundraisings, were an almost essential feature of social life in the towns. Frequenting taverns was perhaps one of the principal reasons why curfew was widely ignored.

Ale was the most commonly drunk beverage in medieval England, and was served in various types of establishment. Inns were large buildings combining the function of accommodation – both for people and their transportation – and meal service; 197 were counted in London in 1384. Taverns might also be multi-room establishments, but were less likely to offer accommodation. Their main function was for imbibing and they might attract all elements of society, some being more respectable than others. To that attraction they added gambling, entertainment – whether minstrelsy or just a communal sing-song – and prostitution. At the lower end of the social scale and size were the alehouses, of which some brewed and occasionally sold their surplus, while others were retail establishments; they were less discriminating about their clientele. One chronicler reckoned that London had, in 1309, 354 taverns and 1,334 brewers (out of a total population now thought to have been about 80,000); this must have included the alewives who ran part-time operations, for the membership of the Brewers Company in 1418 was 234.

Wine was drunk by those who could afford it; it was not sold in alehouses. Some taverns sold wine, some ale, some both. Beer started to become commonly available only in the fifteenth century, after the introduction of hops. Cider and mead were also drunk, but in significant amounts only in the parts of the country where brewed.



"Paternoster Row"
Just to the north-east of St. Paul's.

I.e. a privy; Rickert's translation (which is rather abbreviated from the original, transcribed by Salzman) fails to include the clause stating that the privy was to be seven feet square and as deep as the water-table would allow.

"ragstone" "freestone"
Ragstone was a lesser quality stone than freestone.

"Richard de Felstede"
A carpenter of some experience who, during the 1320s is found working on several castles of the king, and in 1347 contracted with the Earl of Lancaster to construct roofs at Kenilworth castle.

A short, upright timber in the frame of a building.

"le syer"
According to Salzman, this referred to the working (sawing) of the timber into the appropriate sizes.

The original says £24, to be paid in two installments.

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Created: August 27, 2004. Last update: June 25, 2014 © Stephen Alsford, 2004-2014