Posted in Activity, Archaeology, Bringing Alive The Past, Event, Exhibition, Fashion History, History, Horticultural History, Maritime History, Museum, Rural Heritage

Happy 100th Birthday Tudor House & Garden, Southampton

Tudor House and Garden, Southampton as it appears today.

On the 29th July this year, Tudor House and Garden, Southampton celebrated its 100th birthday. The museum was officially opened on the afternoon of Monday, 29th July, 1912, by the Mayor of Southampton Henry Bowyer. The attraction gave a much-needed boost to Southampton’s morale following the sinking of R.M.S. Titanic less than four months prior.

Old poster advertising Tudor House Museum.

In 1912, the museum’s opening hours were 10am to 6pm during the summer and 10am to 4pm in winter, with an admission charge of 6d but free on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays. The museum’s first curator, Mr Nicholas, did not receive payment for his role.  Nicholas worked extremely hard to ensure that the museum was ready for its grand opening. He also organised the transformation of a former cabbage patch behind Tudor House to be turned into an old English garden.  In the 1980s the garden was re-planned by landscape designer Dr Sylvia Landsberg. Dr Landsberg wanted the garden to resemble a Tudor knot garden from the 1500s.

The garden at Tudor House that was designed by Dr Sylvia Landsberg.

Nicholas continued as Honorary Curator for over twenty years. During that time, he used his own money to fund trips to source objects for the museum. He worked tirelessly to assemble the museum’s eclectic range of objects. Eventually, the council appointed a professional curatorial team to manage the collection.

Selection of souvenirs sold at Tudor House museum in the last 100 years.
Unusual objects that were on display when the museum first opened in 1912.
Fireman’s helmet from the Napoleonic era. Before the helmet originally went on display in the museum, it was part of William Spranger’s own collection which was housed in a private museum at King John’s Palace, behind Tudor House.

According to A. G. K. Leonard in The Saving of Tudor House, the museum’s first year of opening was a great success:

The people of Southampton evidently appreciated the town’s first museum.  In September, 1913, the Borough Council received the report of its Estates Committee which included an account by R. E. Nicholas of the first year of Tudor House (ST 13 September 1913): this stated that 18,400 people had signed the visitors’ book there and that “probably quite twice that number had visited the house”….It was also reported that £30.10s. had been taken on “pay days” i.e. 1,220 sixpences…Alderman Bance told the council that in the first few months since its publication 1,958 copies of the history of Tudor House, a booklet by F. J. C. Hearnshaw, had been sold, along with 2,870 of the picture postcards of the house published by the Corporation.

(Leonard, A.G.K., 1987, pp. 27-28)

A Tudor gentleman helps celebrate the museum’s 100th birthday.

To commemorate the centenary, the current museum staff organised a wonderful day at Tudor House on Sunday 29th July, with an entrance fee of 6p! Staff also dressed in Edwardian and Tudor costume.

My attempts at making a mosaic coaster.

Grouting my mosaic coaster.
My finished mosaic coaster.

One of the activities organised by the museum as part of the centenary celebrations was a mosaic workshop in nearby Westgate Hall (formerly known as Tudor Merchant’s Hall).

I took this piece of flint along to be appraised by the archaeologist. I have kept it wrapped-up in a box since I was a child. Had I found a prehistoric axe head? Sadly no, just a nice piece of flint. Oh well, at least it puts that mystery to bed.

An Archaeologist was also on hand in the main museum to help identify any finds brought in.

Over the last five hundred years some of Tudor House’s many interesting owners/occupiers have included:

  • Walter and Jane William – Walter inherited Tudor House from his father. Walter was a wealthy merchant who exported wool and cloth and imported salt, wine, leather, oil, fish and woad. When Walter died, Jane inherited the building. Jane married husband number two, Sir John Dawtrey;
  • Sir John Dawtrey – Sir John was Overseer of the Port of Southampton and Collector of the King’s Customs. Following Jane’s death he married Isabel Shirley in 1509 and they had a son, Francis, in 1510. Sir John died in 1518;
  • Lady Isabel Lyster (formerly Dawtrey). Lady Isabel, Dawtrey’s widow, ran Tudor House for ten years. She was a successful businesswoman who traded in millstones for windmills and watermills. She also rented the Cloth Hall in St. Michael’s Square from 1526 to 1531;
  • Sir Richard Lyster (c.1480-1553) – Sir Richard married Lady Isabel in 1528. They became Southampton’s power couple, amassing a huge joint wealth. Sir Richard was a Judge and Lord Chief Justice of England.  He attended Queen Anne Boleyn’s (1501-1536) coronation, riding in the procession beforehand. He also took part in the trial of Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) and was Henry VIII’s (1491-1547) divorce lawyer. During their time in residence at Tudor House, Lord and Lady Lyster had eight servants, a bake house and a dairy. Following Isabel’s death, Sir Richard married Elizabeth Stoke, they had two children, Michael (d. 1551) and Elizabeth;
  • William Lankester (1798-1875) – an iron and brass founder and furnishing ironmonger;

    Photograph of Tudor House in 1880. Notice G. Cawte’s shop on the left and Pope & Co on the right.
  • George Henry Pope – tenant of the northern section of Tudor House and grounds along Blue Anchor Lane from 1868. Pope was a dyer, clothes and furniture cleaner and had a shop at the front of the House. His trade advertisement read: ‘Ladies’ dresses of every description cleaned or dyed. British and foreign shawls, scarfs, & c., cleaned by a process that will ensure the colours being preserved.  Gentlemen’s wearing apparel and servants’ liveries of every description cleaned in a superior style.’ At the height of Queen Victoria’s reign mourning customswere strict. For one year and one day a widow had to wear ‘widow weeds’, the only colour permissible being black. Colour restrictions extended to jewellery and all accessories. After a year and a day she could progress to ‘half mourning’ where she would be permitted to wear a touch of white or grey, then perhaps lavender and after two years full colour could be worn again.  It was customary for a Victorian widow to have her clothing dyed black and after two years re-dyed back to its original colour. Pope offered this popular service to his customers: ‘Articles for mourning dyed on the shortest notice…. The black extracted from silk, satin, Merino, cloth,& Co., and the material dyed to a variety of patterns’;

    A selection of tools used by Cawte’s family bookbinding business.
  • Henry G. Cawte – opened his family bookbinding business at Tudor House (then known as Old Palace House, 9 St. Michael’s Square) in 1859;

    Tools belonging to Eliza Simmonds.
  • Eliza Simmonds – a straw-bonnet maker, milliner and dressmaker who took a tenancy of part of Tudor House from 1869-80.  During the first half of Queen Victoria’s (1819-1901) reign the straw plait industrywas an important trade, supplying the flourishing straw-bonnet industry, particularly in Bedfordshire. Straw-bonnets with decorative flourishes were very fashionable. Straw plaiting, used as a basis for the straw-bonnets, was a popular source of income for women living in rural homesteads and a thriving cottage industry developed. It was always easy to spot a straw plait maker, the corner of her lips would be badly scarred as a result of moistening the splints from the straw bundle. If the straw had already been dyed, then her mouth would also be colour-stained;

    A pretty Victorian straw bonnet by Eliza Simmonds.
  • Josiah George Poole (1818-1897) – Poole had originally lived at Tudor House during the 1850s. He returned again in 1883 to set-up home alongside his business, J. G. Poole & Sons. Poole was an architect and surveyor who worked extensively on local projects including the Masonic Hall in Albion Place and restoration of the south side of the Bargate (1864-5).A. G. K. Leonard writes of the Poole family: ‘….Poole’s large family (he had five children by his first wife and sixteen by his second, although not all survived infancy) gathered for dinner in the Banqueting Hall.’ (Leonard, A.G. K., 1987, p. 4);

    Oil painting by V. C. Batalha Reis Ariba, painted in 1921, of Edward Cooper Poole, son of Josiah George Poole. Edward worked with his father and one of his many commissions was to re-design Southampton Royal Pier which opened in 1930.
Oil painting, by an unknown artist, of Mr Spranger, c. 1915. His portrait hangs in one of the upstairs exhibition rooms so that he can continue to survey all that he has created.

William Francis Gummer Spranger (1848-1917)

Without William Spranger there would be no Tudor House museum. He was a public-spirited man and epitome of the Victorian philanthropist.  Tudor House museum is Spranger’s legacy to the people of Southampton and everyone who is passionate about the city’s history and heritage. He brought the entire freehold property of Tudor House and Norman House from W. G. Lankester for £1,450 in 1886. Spranger was educated at Oxford and during his time living in Southampton (from 1893 until his death), took an active interest in local educational matters.  He was a governor and benefactor of Hartley College (now the University of Southampton), Chairman of the Southampton School of Art, president of the Hampshire Field Club 1904-5, the first chairman of the Southampton Record Society and in 1898 was appointed governor of Taunton’s College (now Richard Taunton Sixth Form College) and King Edward VI School. In true story-book style, Spranger’s last death-bed message was to the boys of the Endowed Schools [Taunton’s and King Edward VI] – “lead good lives and play straight”.  For his funeral at St. Michael’s, the church troop of boy scouts formed a guard of honour and at the cemetery the path to his grave was lined by boys of Taunton’s and King Edward VI Schools. (Leonard, A.G.K., 1987, pp.10-11)

Old photograph showing interior of Tudor House last century.

Tudor House has undergone a number of substantial restorations during its lifetime. The first being in the early sixteenth century, another under Spranger’s watchful eye between 1898 and 1902, some ten years before the museum finally opened.  The last major restoration took place between 2001 and 2011 when the Museum received £3.5 million of Heritage Lottery Fund Grants (for more information on this please see my article of 28th July 2011. CLICK HERE.)

Spranger said of his restoration of Tudor House:

“….the original building had undergone changes in the course of the centuries which he had no knowledge of when the builders’ men were set to work.  Externally, herring-bone brickwork had been covered over with stucco and characteristic timbering of the Tudor period was hidden in many parts.  Inside, some very remarkable discoveries were made.  Lath and plaster ceilings had been fixed below the original ceilings of panelled oak, great chestnut beams had been similarly hidden, windows blocked up, fire-places altered and many of the principal beauties, as now visible, defaced and despoiled. Every new find was a great temptation to go on and I spent so much money having things put as right as possible again that I was compelled to pull myself up.”

(Leonard, A.G.K., 1987, p. 15)

Tudor House and Garden is such a wonderful place to visit, a true gem in the old town of Southampton City. For visitor information please CLICK HERE.

Montage of old photographs showing the interior of Tudor House museum just after it opened in 1912.



Social historian, based in the UK.

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