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Tudor Merchant's House, Tenby, Pembrokeshire

Tenby Harbour by Barbara Ballard The Tudor Merchantís House in the harbour town of Tenby is a late 15th century townhouse. The house belonged to a middle class merchant who lived in it with his family and servants and, at the same time, did trading in the room by the street entrance.

He would have had a counting table where he dealt with bills and payments. Weights and measures were complicated and required a good head for math. Cloth was measured in fardels, butter in kilterkins, coal in chaldrons, herring in corvise and other measurements, cheese in stones, leather in dikers, and so on. The merchant also had to figure who got how much from each cargo as ships were generally owned by partners from the family and business colleagues.

The walls on the ground floor were plastered and white-washed and decorated with coloured paintings of patterns, zigzags, and coats of arms. The ground floor has a great fireplace used for cooking. Wood was the fuel of choice, and the fire was kept going 24 hours a day. Next to the fireplace was the opening from the latrine tower, also used for disposing of the kitchen garbage. At night apple wood was added to the fire and branches of pine and juniper were used for their fragrance and to help mask the unpleasant odors. Other smells pervaded the ground floor, among them cinnamon, ginger, and wine all traded by the merchant. Rush matting rather than straw was used on the floor. Twice a day servants distributed sweet herbs on the matting.

The fire was used for making bread, cooking meat and fish, smoking and drying bacon and other foods and herbs, and cooking the meals. The most important meal of the day was served around 11am and consisted of four or five courses. Breakfast was generally a cold meal of ale and pickled beef eaten around 6am. Other dishes eaten by the middle class at this period in history could be honey and cream flan, bacon soup, gingerbread, and chicken in orange.

Tudor Merchant's House by Barbara Ballard The first floor of the house was the familyís living quarters. Wall hangings, coats of arms, and tapestries decorated the walls. The walls were painted with lime twice a day to help control insects. Herbs were scattered about, not just to mask bad odors, but also to inhibit the plague and the evil eye. The table used for the meal would be covered with a red woollen cloth on top of which were laid two white linen cloths. Visitors were treated to spiced hot wine and a pancake biscuit made from egg, sugar, ground almond, and wine.

Children in the family would be dressed the same as adults and were expected to learn to read, play musical instruments, and know games such as chess or draughts. The merchantís wife helped in his business, ordered food, supervised the children, sewed clothes, and collected wild herbs. Prayers were an important part of family life. People still believed strongly in superstitions, the evil eye, and witches during Tudor times. They believed knives should never be crossed because that would bring on quarrels; eggshells thrown into the fire would cause a storm over the ocean; and candles were not lit from the fire because you would then die a pauper.

On the top floor of the house were the bedrooms. Servants would make do with sleeping on the floor around the kitchen fire.

Visitor Information

Tudor Merchantís House
Bridge Street
Tenby, Pembrokeshire
Tel. 0 1834 842 279
Open: mid Feb-end Feb, daily, 11am-3pm; March and Nov- Dec, weekends only, 11am-3pm; April-3rd week July, Wed-Mon, 11am-5pm; 3rd week July-end Aug, daily, 11am-5pm; Sep-end Oct, Wed-Mon, 11am-5pm
National Trust property; no parking except in the town; no WC

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