Clare’s Houses and Trade

Merchant on horsebackMany of our finest buildings were built in the middle ages by local wool merchants when Clare enjoyed the benefits of dealing with the manufacture of broadcloth, England’s greatest export.  At the top of Maltings Lane, Trinders is part of beautiful former Boar & Griffin hostelry.  The lane leads from the Town Centre into the Country Park and towards the Priory.

Nethergate House, Clare
Nethergate House: courtesy of Clare Ancient House Museum

Nearly every important building in Clare had associations with the cloth industry, from the selling of raw wool to the weaving of broadcloth and later bays, sayes and linen, to the houses of wealthy clothiers and mercers.  The wealth of the town is reflected in the impressive size of the 14th and 15th century parish church of St Peter and St Paul.  Buildings were usually given timber or stone foundations, the walls composed of wattle and daub between timber uprights, with thatched or tiled roofs.  There are many such houses in Clare, though timbers were often plastered over; fronts were bricked.  Many interiors have massive timber work, often beautifully carved.  One of the finest is Nethergate House, once owned by the clothiers of the Crosse family.

Hidden from view are cellars.  Streams were diverted through the cellars and were used for ‘fulling the cloth: examples in Callis Street and The Broadway.  In Market Hill, below No 4 there is a 14C crypt with a vaulted roof – a storeroom or a chapel?

There are a number of long-standing businesses in the town centre.  Oldest is probably the Swan public house, called Le Swan in 1498, though it was rebuilt in 1600.  It has what is probably England’s oldest inn sign (in reality, part of an oriel window from the castle celebrating a 1406 wedding).  The swan, its neck circled with a crown and chained, was an emblem of Henry IV.  By 1580. the Green Dragon Inn, now the Bell, was in Market Hill.  Will Kemp jigged past in 1600 on his ‘Nine Daies Wonder to Ipswich.  A butchers has been in the same shop in Market Hill since 1787; it’s now Humphreys continuing the tradition since 1994.  In the High Street, Hudgies is just the latest ironmonger since 1829.

Wikipedia has an article on the medieval wool trade.

All the buildings of Clare are described in Suffolk: West, The Buildings of England, Bettley & Pevsner, Yale 2015. ISBN 978 0 300 19655 9, pp188-197

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