It’s been a couple of years since I was last at Tudor House. Last time I was there the place was a building site, part way through a restoration programme. I was an archaeologist then, and I was working with a team of diggers in the gardens. We were basically there to shovel dirt out of the way of the builders. Yet we still found some pretty awesome bits of archaeology including some nice bits of pottery, and one of my colleagues found a rather beautiful stylus. One of my fondest memories is of trying to demolish a little stone wall with a mattock, in the rain. The mattock wasn’t working and every time I hit the wall sparks would fly. In the end I had to use a sledgehammer. It was tough work. But damn it felt good when that wall came down!
Today, I decided it was high time I went back. Mainly because I’ve had nearly three weeks off work due to illness, but also because it’s right on my doorstep. So this afternoon I took myself down there. I stood outside for a moment, in the little square facing this absolutely stunning building and I took it all in. The outside hasn’t changed a bit since I was last there but it never fails to take my breath away. And then, I took myself inside, paid my entry fee and entered the banqueting hall.
The first thing we were treated to was an audio visual tour giving a brief history of Tudor House as well as a short introduction of how Tudor House became a museum. It was held in a very darkened banqueting hall, with a light show in which it seemed as though the candles were flickering, and noises came from the door behind me. I closed my eyes and I have to say, as the audio of creaking footsteps and barking dogs was being played it was somewhat freaky. It was a brilliant introduction to the history of the house, which I shall go into briefly below before I bombard you with all the photographs that I took.
The house itself dates from the fourteenth century, when in around 1348 a man named John Whytegod owned the land. The lane that runs alongside Tudor House, now known as Blue Anchor Lane, was originally known as Whytegod’s lane (I wonder why). Whytegod also owned part of the property nearby known as King John’s Palace, part of which can be seen as you wander around Tudor House. In the fifteenth century, Tudor House passed to Walter and Jane William. Walter William inherited the building from his father, and he was a trader who dealt in the shipment of wool and cloth. William was also involved a plot against King Richard III when, in 1483 he was made Mayor of Southampton. Due to his part in the plot, he was branded a traitor and fled to Beaulieu Abbey where he sought sanctuary and died not long afterwards. When Henry VII became king in 1485 after the Battle of Bosworth, he pardoned Williams fellow traitors and his wife became the wealthy owner of Tudor House. She later married Sir John Dawtrey. Following the wedding, the house came into the hands of the Dawtrey family. Sir John, already overseer of the Port of Southampton also owned many property in St Michael’s Square near Tudor House, and he decided that a man of his status needed a house to befit him. So he commenced work and joined his houses into a bigger house which became very much like the building today. After Sir John died in 1518, the house passed into the hands of Lady Isobel Lyster (Sir John’s widow, who he had married after Jane had died). Lord and Lady Lyster were exceptionally wealthy and conducted huge entertainments at Tudor House. After Isobel’s death, Lord Lyster married again and retired permanently to Southampton in 1528. He was the owner of Tudor House until his own death 1554, and there is a monument to him in the church opposite the House. In the 1600’s the house belonged to wealthy ship owners (evidence of which can be seen in the graffiti dotting the walls of the house), yet in the Georgian era began to decline, when it was made into a series of dwellings and the nearby area was one of the poorest areas of the city. Not long after, in the early 1800’s, the house was made into a museum, yet many changes were made. Doors were added where there had been no doors, a minstrels gallery was added where there was none previously and wood panelling was added to many of the walls in a romanticised version of Tudor building work. However, it is thanks to this work that we still have Tudor House today, and thanks to the work of local historians and archaeologist we now have a history of this fantastic building.
I have to say, even though I spent less than an hour wandering around this beautiful building, I certainly saw more of it than I ever did while I was working here. When I was working in the gardens there was little time to explore the building – even though I did get to see the cellars on my first day. It was an absolute pleasure to wander around and have a look at the displays, and to see the graffiti scrawled on the walls from the 1600’s and beyond. And despite the changes made to the place in the Georgian period, you really can get a sense of what it was like there. Plus, it was really very quiet and exceptionally peaceful, which always helps.
Below are some photographs that I took while I was wandering around.