Housing in Upper Wigford (north of Great Gowt)

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LARA ERA High Medieval
LARA Record Number 9.33


Surprisingly little is known from excavation of the character of housing in the suburb between the 9th and the 14th centuries. Even so some speculative possibilities have been floated and it should be the role of subsequent work here to investigate these paradigms. The first of these speculations relates to the sequence of development of commercial activity on the abandoned Roman peninsula. Development here, it is suggested (eg. Stocker 2000), followed a common model for the development of permanent settlements on islands and on the banks of rivers throughout medieval Europe. First the sloping sandy or gravel shore became a beaching place for boats of riparian traders; then over time, traders' booths were established above the high water mark. Subsequently, it is argued, such a beach market would be replanned with a proper layout of streets, churches and other facilities, and provided with an upright quayside. What little we know of the archaeology of the northern half of Wigford would fit this model comfortably, but it remains a model to be tested through excavation in the future. The 'strands' were clearly mainly on the western side of the suburb, although (with our new understanding of the layout of the port - RAZ 9.5 - we should not lose sight of the likelihood that there were potential landing places on the east side of the peninsula at least as far south as the parish of St Mary-le-Wigford. The model would indicate that the 'strand' phase may have occupied the late 9th through to the mid 10th century and that it was only in the second half of the 10th century that any re-planning took place. At present this judgement is based only on the sudden appearance of graveyards at St Marks (SM76) and St Mary-le-Wigford in the second half of the 10th century, which are laid out along the central street (Stocker 2000), and not on the recovery of domestic buildings. The only other sign of such buildings came in the form of the building slots cut into the surface of Ermine Street at St Mary's Guildhall (SMG82), but although post Roman and pre 12th century, the slots here were essentially undated. Recovery of any such surviving buildings along the Ermine Street frontage must be considered a major priority for future work. The second model, which relates to the development of domestic buildings in Wigford, was also proposed as the result of excavations at St Mary's Guildhall (Stocker 1991, 3-4). It is that, from the 12th century onwards, the suburb became the favoured residence of the urban elite. Certainly we have plenty of evidence for the construction here of important town-houses in the 12th and 13th centuries and also many accounts of the residence here of key citizens. It was argued in 1991 that many of these important figures may have been attracted here by the decision of the King to build his Lincoln house (hospicium) in this part of the city, whether or not St Mary's Guildhall represents the remains of that house (Ibid.). The remains of several of these high-status buildings are known, even if they do not survive (St Andrew's Hall, Sibthorpe House, Scotch Hall) and the positions of others are known through documentary evidence. St Mary's Guildhall does survive of course and has already been the subject of intensive archaeological study (Ibid.), but the other building which might retain fabric of this date, St Andrew's Row, has yet to be studied. Exley and Williamson (1955-6) and Stanley Jones (1990, 145) both suggest that the building reported on this site by Willson had features which would date it to the 12th or 13th century but both presume that all traces of this earlier structure were removed when the range was rebuilt by Mr Peart in 1797. It is possible, however, that much evidence for the original form of this early row-like building survives within the modern fabric and any information about the layout or date of the buildings will be of great importance to our understanding of this little known class of structure. All repair and restoration works here must be carried out under archaeological supervision. These are all large, spacious, houses laid out within ample plots and every opportunity should be taken to investigate them further. Not only will they provide a glimpse of the material wealth of the city in the High Medieval Era, but they should also tell us something about the operation of the successful medieval merchant's business. Most of the patrons and occupants of these greater houses would have been merchants with interests in the city and, recently, there has been considerable interest in the extent to which such mercantile operations were carried out in the merchant's house in the 12th-14th centuries (Harris 1994; ed. Brown 1999; Clark 2000, 78-80). Was a part of these establishments (typically the ground floor of the front range) given over to shops? Or were shops for display of merchandise rented closer to the markets? The answer to this question about merchants' use of their houses offers two divergent views of the character of Upper Wigford in the 12th - 14th century. It could be seen either as a bustling centre of commerce with buyers and sellers using buildings ranged along the street-front, or as a quiet merchant's enclave, with private palaces lined up along the road, which visitors were intended to be impressed by as they entered the city, but from which they were excluded.

LARA Boundaries

The RAZ boundaries have been drawn to include the High Street frontages of Upper Wigford north of Great Gowt. On both sides of the street the properties extended back to the waterfront (RAZ 9.7 and 9.5), but along both sides, it is known that the High Street properties were also incorporated into the quaysides, some of which may have contained communal as well as private structures. The boundaries between RAZ 9.33 and RAZ 9.5 and 9.7 may, therefore, be boundaries of function rather than of ownership.