Medieval Domesticity: Home, Housing and Household
25th Annual Medieval Studies Conference
Saturday March 12-Sunday March 13, 2005
Home and Household in Later Medieval London (c. 1450-1550)

Vanessa Harding, Birkbeck, University of London

The 'domestic space' in urban societies in the past was physically shaped by a range of factors, including the economics of the property market, demographic characteristics of the family, and the gendered technology and allocation of domestic tasks. This paper seeks to reconstruct at least some of these factors and examine their interaction. It draws on recent and ongoing study of the population and physical environment of Cheapside, commercial centre of the city of London, England's largest city. Records of property-holding allow some very detailed insights into living-quarters and how they evolved, while the wealth and social prominence of the street's major inhabitants ensure that some key records of family survive too. When these are brought together, a richer understanding of spatiality and domesticity emerges. However, it is clear that patterns of development and demographic recovery varied across later medieval London, as did the distribution of occupations and wealth, so the applicability to other areas of conclusions drawn from Cheapside must be carefully examined. Another important variable for this investigation is the extent to which the family was a unit of production as well as consumption. Alice Clark's paradigm has been queried for seventeenth-century London, but its validity for the sixteenth and fifteenth centuries also needs critical examination in a review of the factors shaping home and household.

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