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Medieval Period


   The Jolly Miller
Jolly Miller


There are a few surviving fourteenth and fifteenth century medieval buildings still standing in Dartford today, most notably in Bullace Lane (fronting onto the High Street) and at the junction of Overy Street and the foot of East Hill. The large jettied medieval building close to Holy Trinity church at the junction of High Street and Bullace Lane dates from the fifteenth century. The house was owned by John Groveherst. It was originally made up of a principal hall or apartment measuring 25 x 20 feet, the walls of which were hung with tapestries said to be woven by the nuns of Dartford Priory.


Church houses, Overy Street

church_hse_overy.jpg (10551 bytes)

Most surviving medieval town houses were the homes of rich merchants; much evidence for early construction is now hidden by later work. There has been repeated rebuilding and remodelling of these older properties.


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Bullace Lane

Bullace Lane


Town houses in medieval times possessed many similar features to their rural counterparts. The design of the medieval town house was determined largely by lack of space. Land in towns was valuable, and the normal medieval town plot was long and narrow, running back from the street frontage; each property had a long narrow garden or yard at the rear. A careful study of nineteenth and early twentieth century maps of Dartford High Street reveals the existence of clear linear medieval house plots, gardens and courtyards ‘fossilised’ in the urban landscape.


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The usual house plan was rectangular, with a gable end or wing facing on to the street. On the ground floor the front part of the property was often used as a shop or for some other trade purposes. Behind this was the hall or main living area, extending through two storeys. Further back was often the counting house or office, and perhaps stores and warehouses, with additional living accommodation on an upper floor above some or all of these rooms.

The kitchen was often, although not always, a detached structure at the rear, separated from the main house by a courtyard. The upper storey adjoining the street was usually overhanging the street, giving more floor space on the upper storey than at ground floor level. The close proximity of adjacent buildings with their overhanging upper floors added significantly to the risk of fire spreading.


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Most medieval town houses were timber-framed with wattle walls. Stone buildings were constructed for the very rich. In a medieval house the main element was the hall, divided by screens forming a passageway from the pantries and kitchen area. The hall often extended the full height of the building and was used as a general living room for everyone in the house. There was very little privacy. Everyone needed somewhere to keep warm, to enjoy recreation, to eat and to sleep.

A central hearth provided the location for a blazing fire. Smoke escaped through a hole in the roof which was covered by a louvre. Wall fire-places and chimneys became a feature of later medieval houses. In 1465, John Groverste of Dartford obtained permission from the bishop of Rochester to erect a chimney on the side of his house facing the churchyard and to straighten his house wall which was ‘stondyng croked and not lyne ryght.’ This chimney is still standing today.



Rear view, house in Bullace Lane

Bullace Lane, rear

Domestic chambers (solars) or sleeping rooms were located above the passage, and were sometimes fronted by a gallery overloooking the hall. Timber framing continued to be used during the middle ages.

Medieval houses did not have proper sanitation facilities. Privies or garderobes were made in the thickness of the walls of larger town houses, or as projecting jetties. Garderobes dicharged through pipes and gutters into a pit. Chamber pots were used in ordinary dwellings.


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Wilmington bronze key

Wilmington bronze key


Contemporary wills and inventories show that there was little furniture in medieval houses. Typical furnishings might include a table covered with a linen cloth, benches or forms, a chair, stools, chests and small cupboards and shelves housing cups, jugs, pewter, knives and spoons, bowls and plates. Small cupboards were used for the storage of foodstuffs.



Open-hall houses

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Poor townsfolk slept on pallettes, bags filled with dried ferns, rushes or heather. Well-off people slept on very rough wooden bedsteads. Proper beds with curtains and hangings were rare and valuable.



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