Have you ever wondered what it would be like to step back into the 17th century? Last summer, I had the pleasure of getting a guided tour of the English Civil War era landmarks in Weymouth by local historian, Mark Vine. What was then the twin towns of Weymouth and Melcombe, separated by the quayside and a bridge, today it’s simply Weymouth.
One of the must see haunts is the Tudor House, a beautifully preserved Elizabethan home. It’s situated by Brewers Quay on the harbour, and if you account for the fact that the quayside has been expanded in modern times, in the 17th century, the house would have fronted right onto the harbour.
Tudor House is a three story home built around 1600 and believed to have been a merchant’s house. Today, the Weymouth Civic Society offers tours that allow you to step back into the 17th century to see a glimpse of what live was like back then. Here are some highlights.
On this wooden dresser, some of the favourite games of the time are displayed. Cards were popular by this time along with the inevitable wagering that were integral to the game. The cards had no letters or numbers, only symbols, for not everyone could read, though literacy did improve significantly as the century progressed. One of the favourite card games of the time was a game called Ruff, a trick taking game which became the precursor to the popular 18th century game of whist.
The wooden board with the pegs is another popular game, Fox and Geese. The object of the game is to trap your opponents pieces. One person plays the fox, with one peg, while the other player is the goose with multiple pegs. The geese try to hem in the fox while the fox gobbles up the geese and removes them from play. Fox and Geese is a very old game and a variation of the game was adopted for outdoor play.
We take mirrors for granted, but in the 16th and early 17th century, they were very much a luxury item. It was during the 16th century when Venice took their expertise in glass making and extended it, with some technological advancements, to mirror making. At that time, Venice dominated the market and most mirrors had to be imported, but by the mid-17th century, mirror manufacturing had extended to England.
The above mirror was displayed in one of the bedrooms in the Tudor House. The wooden frame is gilded and hand decorated with roses–perhaps a nod to the Tudor monarchs?
And now for some practical household items. The mallet and wooden dowel-like device was used to tighten the ropes that supported the bed mattress. Over time, without our modern box mattress, the ropes would loosen as people slept on them. A maid would have periodically performed this duty when she was straightening up the bedding. To freshen up the sheets, they often sprinkled dried lavender between the linen.
Besides the bed, another piece of important furniture was the press, or what we would call the wardrobe. 17th century clothing optional. A far cry from our modern walk-in closet, with its cubbies for shoes and purses, but still functional. Not unlike the typical 17th century woman’s wardrobe.
On the main floor you’ll find an interesting collection of household bowls atop a work surface. Pestle and mortar would have been used to grind spices and roots (used in home remedies). The wooden bowl that you see at the far end of the table was made of sycamore for the reason that when separating whey from milk, the sycamore didn’t taint the milk. One of the least pleasant (and most memorable) displays in this room would be the bottle of scents. The museum had vials of different materials to give visitors an idea of what smells they would have expected in a 17th century home: woodsmoke, laced with black tar and high notes of urine. I’m thinking that I’d rather crawl back into the lavender scented sheets in the bedroom.
It’s no exaggeration that the hearth was the heart of the home. The fireplace was source of heat and light, where food was cooked and where people gathered especially during the dark days of winter. The iron backing you see behind the fire was there to protect the wall from being burnt (fires after all represented a huge risk) as well as to reflect the light back in the room. Very clever.
Late at night, when the master and his family were tucked upstairs in their lavender scented sheets, the maid would have banked the fire for the night, just enough to contain the fire, but not enough that she couldn’t coax it to start come the morning.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our brief tour of Weymouth’s Tudor House. If you’re interested in learning more about Weymouth’s history during the English Civil War (and Tudor House would have been in the thick of it), check out Mark Vine’s blog, the Crabchurch Conspiracy.