Tudor House, Southampton

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.

The door on the left originally lead to the Tudor pantry and buttery. The gallery above was added in the Georgian era, as were the oak beams you can see in the wall on the left.
This is apparently a model of Elizabeth I
The beautiful gardens
This corner in the gardens is where I spent most of my time digging. To get rid of spoil we had to hoist buckets over the wall.
Tudor kitchen…apparently
Tudor pottery – we found many examples of this whilst digging
The engraving above could be a “witch mark” – used in medieval and Tudor times to protect against witchcraft (although these are normally two intersecting letter V’s), or an insignia or a merchant who lived here at the time.
Beautiful painted beam
Not a very clear picture, but this wall has graffiti on it dating from the 1600’s
Poor little stuffed spaniel puppy 😦
Greek Amphorae
Ship marks. If you look closely you can see what looks like a boat, and to the right of it and inscription of SCH
And last but not least, the staircase heading towards the exit, decorated with portraits of the family who once lived in Tudor House.
All in all, a fantastic afternoon and well worth the money. If any of you are in Southampton, I urge you all to visit this fantastic little place.

Review: The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau

I was kindly sent a copy of this book by the author Nancy Bilyeau and her publishers after winning a giveaway on English Historical Fiction Authors. It arrived on Thursday, and by Friday evening I had finished it – and now I’m not normally one to coin this phrase but I just couldn’t put it down. Now you guys know me, I’m not normally one to break into historical fiction if I can help it as more often than not it disappoints me – the only exceptions recently have been Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” and Ken Follet’s “Pillars of the Earth” and normally I steer very very clear of Tudor fiction (please see Tired Of The Tudors, and you’ll understand why). “The Crown” is Bilyeau’s debut novel, and I have to say, she has done a very good job. Whilst the book isn’t perfect, with some inaccuracies, the fast paced storyline and exceptionally well developed characters kept me hooked from the first page right until the last. And I have to say it was a much needed break from my heavier non fiction that I’ve been reading lately.

First of all, the story is set within Dartford priory in Kent, which was the only house of Dominican Nuns in England., and the main character is Sister Joanna, or Joanna Stafford. Joanna is part of a much bigger family unit, related to the executed Duke of Buckingham and family ties to the Duke of Norfolk…and thus also a family connection to Henry VIII! But why do we encounter Stafford in a priory as a Novice? Quite simply, she had agreed to the dying Queen/Dowager Princess of Wales Katherine of Aragon, that she would take vows due to a huge sense of kinship, and her own huge religious faith. I found Stafford a hugely interesting character from the get go, she came across as hugely intelligent and incredibly loyal to her friends. The story is set amongst the dissolution of the monasteries in 1537, an exceptionally turbulent time for England, and after being arrested at the public burning of her cousin, Joanna finds herself embroiled in a quest for a lost Anglo-Saxon artifact. And at the same time, as the story unfolds, we get a sense of how the dissolution affected not only those who were losing their homes but normal people too – there was one part of the book where Joanna was making her way out of the priory (and I’ll try not to give away any spoilers) only to be greeted with hostile looks and words. It was incredibly evocative, and I found myself feeling deeply for the characters.

Bilyeau does a fantastic job with her writing too, considering the massive cast of characters in the book and you find herself creating ties to each character for different reasons, even if they are only briefly mentioned. For instance, I found myself particularly to like John the Stable Boy – he was just awesome (and again I won’t go into too much detail of why because spoilers) and even with the characters who were the bad guys as it were, I found myself finding parts of them that I liked. The characters were not inherently good or evil, they were just human. And I liked that characterisation. It helped that the narrative was detailed, conveying a believable view of Tudor England, and hugely evocative visions of the frightening Tower of London; yet not too detailed to spend pages and pages talking about what someones shoe looked like (trust me, I’ve read books like this – and you get bored very quickly!). The story was fast paced and exciting, and it was that as well as the well rounded characters that meant I just could not put it down. Which has to be a good thing right?

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and cannot thank the author and her publishers enough for sending me a copy. I will certainly be keeping an eye out for further work by this promising author. For anyone who likes Tudor fiction then I definitely recommend picking up this book, particularly if you like historical mysteries, and as I described it to my partner last night “It was like a historical Da Vinci Code only written a lot better, much more exciting, and with better characters…and without anything to do with Da Vinci!”. Sums it up nicely I think.