PHYSICAL FABRIC Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval London shops construction contracts chimney carpenters cathedrals
Subject: Contract to build foundations for a row of shops
Original source: Guildhall Library, St. Paul's MSS. no.1074
Transcription in: L. F. Salzman, Building in England down to 1540: A documentary history, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952, 444.
Original language: French
Location: London
Date: 1370


This indenture, made between the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's in London on the one part and Peter de Webbenham mason of the same city on the other part, witnesses an agreement between Peter and the Dean and Chapter in which the former undertakes to demolish [that part of] a stone wall that is more than a foot above the ground; which wall stands at Paul's Brewery on a plot where rebuilding will take place. Next, Peter will level off the wall so that there can be put on top of it the plates for 18 new shops, of which each shop will be 11 feet wide and 25 feet deep. All the rubble from the old wall that is pulled down he will put to use in the new work. Peter will construct another wall the length of the same shops, with foundations; which wall is to be within [the boundaries of] the above-mentioned plot, is to extend above the ground as far as the joists of the shops, and is to be 2 feet thick. Peter is to make at the south end of that plot the foundation wall going from one side to the other, to enclose the shops; it is to extend one foot above ground-level and suitable to bear the plates of the shops. And in the east side of the plot Peter is to make dividing walls between the cellars underneath the shops, which are to extend up as far as the joists already mentioned. Peter is also to make on the site foundations for the principal posts to be erected for the shops. Peter will make on the site ten stone pits for privies; of which 8 of the pits are to be doubles, and each is to be 10 feet deep, 10 feet long, and 10 feet wide. Peter will also construct within the shops 10 chimneys, of which 8 are to be doubles; the part above the mantle is to be made of Flemish tiles, and the part below of stone and tilesherds; the chimneys are to extend one foot above the roofs of the shops, and each of the chimneys is to be 5½ feet wide between the jambs. For which work the Dean and Chapter shall furnish all the stone, sand, lime, scaffolding, withies, and hurdles, and everything else needed for the mason's work, except the Flemish tiles and plaster for the fireplaces of the chimneys, which Peter will provide at his own cost. For undertaking this work, as described above, Peter will receive from the Dean and Chapter £33.6s.4d in cash, a coat and a hood of the Bishop's livery by 28 December. Of which he will be paid at commencement of the work 40s., plus £6.13s.4d to pay for a cargo of Flemish tiles when the boat arrives; and the remainder when there is need or the work is completed. In testimony to which matter the Dean and Chapter as well as Peter have set their seals on the other's part of the indenture. Drawn up at London on 24 February 1370.


St. Paul's was not one of the more well-endowed cathedrals, although it was medieval England's largest, longer and higher than the present-day replacement. Its estates were mostly in the regions just north of London or in Essex. Some of their produce was brewed into ale or baked into bread for the canons in the St. Paul's brewery and bakery, which are believed to have stood opposite each other in Godliman Street, a north-south street below the churchyard, west of the palace of the Bishop of London; the canons allowance was 21 loaves and 30 gallons of ale a week. The cathedral precinct was a walled area in the east side of the city, large enough so that those entering or leaving the city by its western gates had to circumvent or pass through the precinct.

This medieval equivalent of a shopping mall built near the brewery would have brought St. Paul's valuable annual income in rents. It was not the first initiative of this type by the Dean and Chapter. In 1369 they had contracted with two carpenters for the construction of a row of twenty shops with solars above near the cathedral bakery, facing onto Godliman Street. These shops were each to be about 12 feet wide and were all to have the same appearance. The carpenters would be paid £303 for this work, out of which they had to furnish all the materials. It is hard to imagine that this work and that of 1370 were not both part of the same plan, creating in effect a shopping street – although both rows of shops were so long they appear also to have turned the corner onto an adjacent street and taken an L-shape. The carpenter's contract, to complete the structure above the groundworks that Webbenham would take care of, has not survived to us.

In 1410 a contract between St. Paul's and a timber-merchant and carpenter had the aim of building a row of three houses in Friday Street (a little east of the precinct), each with a ground-floor shop, incorporating counter and a partitioned space (workshop?). In the first half of the fifteenth century however we hear relatively little of rows of shops being built. It was from the early fourteenth century that we find the construction of such complexes, and the same period when "Row" starts to appear in street names; Lady Row in York is an extant example of a string of combination shops and dwellings. In 1373 the Prior of Lewes had two opposing rows of shops built on property he held in Southwark; whether the larger St. Paul's venture was an inspiration cannot be said. Entrepreneurial initiatives to construct new buildings for their rent revenues were common enough that they must have had a significant effect on the redevelopment of many townscapes.



A term used to refer to horizontal timber beams of various kinds; here, groundsills are intended.

"25 feet deep"
This depth suggests a division in the lower floor, with the shop at front and a more private room at back.

"another wall"
It is not clear whether this was the rear wall of the range, or the side wall; Salzman believed the former. This wall was to extend to the height of the first floor, where it would support the joists of that floor.

"principal posts"
These were the main vertical support posts for a timber-framed building, at the four corners and wherever the building was divided into bays.

I.e. double-sized, so that each double served a pair of shops; in the case of the privies, side-by-side, and in the case of the fireplaces, back-to-back.

The term could be used to apply to the whole structure comprising hearth, mantle, flue and chimney (as we would use the term), or to any of its components; here it seems to refer to the fireplace.

"part above the mantle"
I.e. the flue.

"Flemish tiles"

"part below"
I.e. the hearth.

The uprights forming the sides of the fireplace.

Twists of willow or osier, used to lash scaffolding together.

Probably refers to sleds for dragging building materials around the site.

main menu

Created: August 27, 2004. Last update: May 14, 2006 © Stephen Alsford, 2004-2006