Discover A Tudor Merchant's House

99-101 Westgate Street

A Grade 2 listed building from the Tudor period (around 1550)
A traditional timber frame building, half timbered (the term derives from splitting trees in half to make a pair of beams) were constructed from oak.

The walls, floor and roof frames were all jointed and pegged together. The joints used were developed by carpenters over many generations as the best method of jointing beams in any particular part of the frame. No nails or iron ties were necessary. Timber framebuildings are strong and much lighter than the equivalent in brick and stone. They could be made very tall if desired; an advantage on cramped Town sites. Another advantage of timber-frame construction is that once the frame has been completed the roof, walls and floors can all be finished simultaneously. The wall panels were filled with ‘wattle and daub’ and then plastered, while the roof could be tiled, thatched or slated.


Bishop Hooper House

The building has been known for many years as Bishop Hooper House because some people believed that Bishop Hooper stayed here on the night before he was burnt at the stake in 1555. However there is no evidence that this actually happened!
The museum has what is claimed to be part of the burnt stake.

Early History

The building has been dated as around 1500 and after the passage of nearly five centuries it is marvellous that so much survives and in such sound condition. It is impressive now but it originally had three oversailing gables with their carved bargeboards, while the first floor has lost one of its three projecting windows. Finely moulded glazing bars in the wall between the first floor windows show that originally this floor was glazed from end to end, at a time when glass was rare and expensive.
On the ground floor much of the rich carving to the posts has been hacked away to allow insertion of latter shop fronts.
The building comprises a pair of shops with domestic and workshop accommodation above. Behind No 99 is a three storey service block. (Which became the pin factory annexe). The shops were originally unglazed and would have been closed by oak shutters at night. On the east side is a passageway which leads to the gardens and outbuildings.
A wealthy clothier, John Sandford, owned the building by 1548. It is probable that the premises were used for the storing of cloth and the manufacture of garments. The continuous glazing on the first floor would have provided excellent light for needle
work.

Little is known of the history over the next two centuries but during that time a large chimney was built behind No 101 and a two storey brick extension with a further chimney was built in the courtyard.
By 1743 William Cowcher, pinmaker, was the occupier. He probably repaired the buildings and adapted them for pin making by linking No 99 and No 101 and the top floor fireplace in No 99 was converted into an annealing forge. Other changes were made but by the beginning of the 19C a decline of the pin making industry occurred.
With the end of pin making in the building, around 1850, the interior was partitioned to provide domestic accommodation, sitting rooms, bedrooms, and kitchens although some rooms remained as workshops for crafts such as tinsmithing and basket making.
By 1900 the ground floor of No 101 has a large shopfront and two front doors, one for the shop and one for the accommodation. Between 1900 and 1933 No 99 was an undertakers. No 101 was successively a sweetshop, a cobblers and a fishmongers.
In 1933 the building was purchased by the City and restored. Internal partitions were removed to expose the Tudor fabric and a fine reproduction oak staircase was inserted. The Victorian shopfronts were removed and the present ground floor windows placed in the original Tudor openings. Finally, then first floor windows once again received leaded lights.

The Building today

Ground Floor

On the ground floor in front of you as you enter you will find a display from the recent Cotton Motorcycle meeting including two splendid motorcycles. If you turn left at the entrance you will pass through a general display area to the Victorian kitchen display and the stairs to the first floor. If you go straight on you will reach the Café and entrance to the garden area.

First Floor

At the front of the building the floor overhangs the street to form a jetty. This floor with its glazed windows on the Westgate frontage, contained the principle rooms of the house. The chance survival of three panels of wall paintings gives some idea of how the rooms would have looked. The paintings are late 16C and are typical of the renaissance type which came to England from Germany and the low Countries around this time. Fragments of further wall paintings exist on the ground floor but these are simpler, consisting of repeated Tudor rose and fleur-de-lys motifs. 

Second Floor

The floor here is the one most associated with 18C pin making. Many original oak boards survive and some of these have brass debris from the manufacturing process trampled into them. Thousands of pins still lie below the boards, trapped by the plaster ceilings. The fireplace was originally like the one on the floor below but has been converted into an annealing forge. 

It was used to soften the brass wire during pin manufacture. If you would like to see what a pin looked like look at the posts in Westgate street modelled on the pins which show how the brass wire was wrapped around the top.

The Roof

The roof beams are clearly on display and show the Tudor craftsmanship.

No 103 a 17 th C House

This is believed to have been built around 150 years after 99-101 and is only partly timber framed. In 1646 No 103 was sold to Damaris Deighton to Henry Watkins, a maltster. She had inherited the house from her father John Deighton, a surgeon in 1640. The buildings consists of three floors plus attics and cellars. The lower walls are constructed of stone with timber faming on the upper floors.
The plan is to develop this building into a commercial venture of some sort, accommodation or retail outlet.

Pin Factory Annexe

This stands behind 97 Westgate and was originally entirely separated from No 99 by the passageway. By 1548 it was owned by John Sandford in common with 93-107 Westgate. The building was originally a two story Tudor timber framed barn. By 1743 William Cowcher was making pins in 99 Westgate. Around the turn of the 18thC the building was remodelled to accommodate pin making workers. The Tudor roof was removed and an extra brick built storey added on. The walls on the lower floors had already been “infilled” with bricks.
From 1900-1933 the annexe formed part of the undertakers premises which occupied No 99 Westgate Street and was probably where the coffins were made.

Cider House – No 2 Quay Street

This building is shown on an estate map of 1780 and is brick built with a very fine oak roof. From 1825 the premises were owned by Robert Lovesey, a timber merchant and wheelwright. From the mid 19thC until 1963 it was used as a slaughter house by butchers with shops in Westgate Street. A beam with pulleys was fitted high in the roof for the handling of carcases and can still be seen.
The Museum acquired No 2 Quay Street in 1969 and restored it. It now houses a horse driven cider mill (one of the last surviving in the Wets Country) and press.

New Buildings

Land was bought by the Council in the 1960’s to join Westgate and Quay Street. The dairy (now the Café) was opened in 1983, the Ironmongers Shop (which was converted to a sweet shop in recent years) in 1985 together with workshops for the carpenter and wheelwrights.