Medieval Shop from Horsham


This building originally stood in Middle Street, Horsham. In 1967 the site was needed for redevelopment but the medieval timbers were rescued from the demolition and given to the Museum.

Very little is known of the history of the building but its construction and plan suggest that it dates from the late 15th century. It formed part of Butchers Row, latterly known as Middle Street, and the last occupiers were Robert Dyas, Ironmongers.

In the early 13th century Horsham was incorporated as a borough and at that time the market place would have covered the whole area from the top of the Causeway to the north end of Carfax. Middle Street cuts across the centre of this area and was probably formed in the 14th century by traders building permanent shops to replace their temporary market stalls. The Museum’s building was built at least a century later and therefore may have been the second or even third building to occupy the site.

Structural evidence showed that the building was originally divided into two semi-detached units, one slightly bigger than the other. The smaller unit (the shop on the right-hand side) appears to have had sole access to the upper floors, via a staircase in the rear part of the building, and this may have been where the owner lived. The larger unit was presumably rented out as a lock-up shop.

Each of the two units had a shop at the front and a small hall or ‘smoke bay’ open to the roof at the back. When the building was dismantled the timbers were heavily sooted, indicating that open fires had been burning over a long period. The fires would have been used for warmth, and possibly also for producing goods for sale — for example, smoked meat, pies or bread.

The building had been dramatically altered during its life and many of the original timbers had been removed. The surviving timbers provided sufficient evidence for the reconstruction, but many of them were not in good enough condition to re-use and have had to be replaced with new oak. On the front elevation none of the ground-floor timbers survived, so we have no evidence for the original shop front. The reconstruction is a copy of a surviving shop front of similar date at Lingfield, near Horsham.

Medieval shopping

In most European cities and market towns, shops became increasingly common from at least the 14th century, either converted from market stalls or built in existing streets. Small shops took a form that can sometimes still be seen today in fishmongers and butchers, and is shown in numerous 15th and 16th century illustrations. Goods were sold over a counter in a wide opening onto the street. The opening was not glazed, but a heavy wooden shutter was used to close up the shop at night. Very often the shopkeeper also used the premises as a small workshop producing or finishing goods, and his wares would be hung out on rails, shelves and hooks — again, like some ironmongers shops still do today.