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Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Selling Wine back in the day - the late 1200s !




A few days ago I was walking up Guildford High Street and came across a salesman from the late 13th century. --- well a model in a museum to be exact.


His smart attire included a coat of local Guildford coarse blue woollen cloth called Kersey. This cloth was traded across all parts of Europe hundreds of years before the machinations of Brexit in the 21st Century! Business Dress was important back then as it is now.


The production of this cloth was a major industry of Guildford with finishing processes of dyeing and fulling whose houses were sited on the banks of the River Wey.

Under a shop at 72-74 Guildford High Street is an undercroft. Distinct from a basement an undercroft has a ceiling which is above street level which affords greater headroom at its entrance. This stone- vaulted semi- basement dates from the end of the 13th century. Measuring by some thirty feet by nineteen, the Undercroft has a rib-vaulted ceiling supported by two central columns. It is entirely built of solid chalk known as ‘clunch’.







 Whoever built it, the high quality stonework testifies to his prosperity. The carving suggests this undercroft was intended to be more than just a cellar or storeroom.
There is nothing that directly links this undercroft with the wool trade.

It is most likely there was some connection either directly with cloth dealing or indirectly with the import of luxury goods. Such as wine attracted by the cloth dealers’ wealth






The small town of Guildford at the time had a population of barely a thousand dominated by a Norman Castle belonging to no lesser personage than the King. It was not big enough to have separate trade guilds and so a single Guild Merchant regulated the borough’s commerce.
On record it is known that the king would order wine from Bordeaux in large quantities each year ( over 5,000 gallons* each year.

From the Eyre Rolls of 1294 are listed 5 wine sellers in Guildford.  





It is suggested that the owner of the undercroft might well have been a merchant.

There is a surviving merchant house in French Street , Southampton which was built in  around 1290. The merchant was named John Fortin who was a wine merchant who traded in Bordeaux. Unlike the doorway in Fortin’s undercroft which is six feet wide - wide enough to allow the tuns ( great barrels) of wine, the narrower entrance of the Guildford undercroft is too narrow for a tun. The experts suggest that wine transported in half-tun casks known as ‘butts’ or quarter-tuns called ‘hogsheads’


*The wine gallon of 231 cubic inches originates from the time of Edward 1. Wine casks were tuns of 252 gallons, pipes of 126, hogsheads of 64, barrels of 32, kilderkins of 16 and firkins of 8. – There were many local variations.


https://www.guildford.gov.uk/undercroft   Definitely worth a visit if you are in Guldford



Source :The Medieval Undercroft – Matthew Alexander  Copyright of Guildford Museum 2015


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