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MEDIEVAL MERCHANTS HOUSE

ALTERNATIVE NAME:  THE BULLS HEAD PUBLIC HOUSE, 58 FRENCH STREET
DESCRIPTION + /

A late 13th century merchants house, one of the earliest surviving medieval merchant's houses in England, and the most complete surviving medieval house in Southampton. The house comprises a vaulted cellar and yard at the rear, above which lies an entrance passage leading to a shop and living accommodation. On the ground floor this comprises the hall and an inner room. On the upper floor are two bedchambers linked by a gallery. The main walls are of limestone, for the most part Bembridge stone, although Purbeck stone was used for 14th century alterations. Part of the north wall and all of the cellar are built of ashlar, but the remainder of the building comprises random rubble set in a mass of mortar. The half bay at the street frontage is timber framed. The roof, originally clad with Cornish slate, is now tiled. On stylistic grounds the house appears to have been built in circa 1290, a date confirmed by tree ring dating. Documentary sources indicate it was built by wine merchant John Fortin, and by 1392 was owned by Thomas Fryke and John Barflet (a descendant of Fortin, and town bailiff in 1402). Throughout the 15th century the property was owned by senior burgesses with strong trading and political connections. A second phase can be seen at the west end, where part of the south wall and the west gable wall were rebuilt after the collapse of the south-west corner of the building. Internal alterations were carried out from the 16th century and in the 17th century it was divided into three cottages. It reverted to a single property in circa 1780 as a lodging house, a beer shop in 1883, and later the 'Bulls Head' public house until 1918. It was then a lodging house and brothel. The house was damaged by a bomb in 1940, and after repairs in 1942, was used as a theatrical store until it passed into Stare care in 1972. Investigations in 1983-5 revealed the extent of the surviving medieval structure and restoration has returned the house to its medieval appearance.

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