The Norman House
1180AD - 1180AD
In a city as ancient and rich in heritage as York, the remains of any building that claims to be the oldest of its kind are always impressive. The two surviving walls of York’s oldest house were discovered just behind Stonegate in 1939.
We know that this building used to be a house because the windows were unglazed. Instead, the inhabitants used shutters with a metal bar across for safety. Also, archaeologists found a rare gem on this site- a medieval toilet!
Originally there would have been a large hall on the first floor which would have been used as living quarters. You can see where the floor level was in the line of red stone that remains on the right hand wall. An undercroft below would have been used for storage.
The significance of this site is huge; it is the only remaining example in York of Norman domestic stonework that survives in its original location. This house was built between 1170-1180. In this period, the wealthy were building in stone on a scale unseen before. Stone was at the head of the building material hierarchy, being the most expensive. As it is often said, ‘stone meant status’.
Although construction in stone increased throughout this period, the vast majority of urban dwellings would have still been built in timber, and so considerably sized stone houses such as this would have stood out as grand, impressive buildings belonging to an individual of some status.
The owners of this house were probably always members of the church, at least in the 14th century it was owned by a senior member of the clergy. Its position near the minster and on an important street such as Stonegate also supports this.
The nearest surviving counterpart to the Norman House is that of the so-called ‘Jew’s House’ on The Strait in Lincoln. The surviving window of the Norman House is almost identical to that in Lincoln, and both houses were built at the same time. As with many stone houses that remain, the Lincolnshire house has been linked to Jewish ownership. We have records in York too of such grand houses belonging to the leading Jews Benedict and Joceus at this time.
Other survivals of Norman domestic architecture in York are the remains of a window frame stored in the Hospitium in the Museum Gardens, or the columns standing in the entrance to Grey’s Court.