A brief history of The Wool House, Town Quay, Southampton
The exact date the Wool House was built is not known, but it could be as old as twelfth century.
In the Middle Ages Southampton was a prospering international trading port. One Sunday in 1338 a fleet of fifty galleys carrying French soldiers and Genoese mercenaries came up Southampton Water. Most of the inhabitants of Southampton were in church when they arrived. The soldiers and mercenaries massacred many of the town’s people, buildings were burnt down and the town was looted. The following year King Edward III visited the town and ordered the extending of the defensive walls to entirely enclose the town. When the walls were reinforced and extended, some existing buildings were incorporated into the new walls to keep costs down. The Wool House could have been one of these buildings, or may have been built around the time of the defense improvements.
Illustrations from the award-winning children’s book The Wool-Pack by Cynthia Harnett
According to some sources, the Wool House was built at the orders of the monks at Beaulieu for use as a secure wool store. Wool from all over England was taken to Southampton for transport to Flanders and Italy.
Other accounts attribute the building and financing of the Wool House to Thomas Middleton, a prominent and wealthy merchant.
The export of wool and hides was discouraged in favour of the export of finished cloth made by Huguenot weavers. Eventually the export of wool was banned altogether, and the Wool Store became the Alum Cellar. Alum is an anti bacterial agent that was used in the Middle Ages as a fixative in dying fabric. It was also used in the process of tanning hides.
A new frontage may have been built some time between the late sixteenth century and the mid seventeenth century.
The Wool House was used to house prisoners of war from the War of Spanish Succession in the early eighteenth century. The names Francois Dries and Thomas Lasis and the date 1711 can be seen carved into a stone window surround upstairs. Other names can be seen carved into the wooden beams.
Later in the eighteenth century, and into the nineteenth century the Wool House became known as the French Prison, when prisoners of war from the Napoleonic Wars were held here.
At some time during this period the front of the Wool House was rebuilt and extended.
The building became known as the Bugle Street Store, and was used as a warehouse by John Bennett, corn and seed merchant. John Bennett was a commission agent for the Hanoverian and Hanseatic Consul. This was an international trading network dating back to the thirteenth century.
The Wool House in about 1850
Jeffrey and Lewis, corn merchants, used the Wool House as a corn store. The partnership was in business on the Town Quay until the end of the nineteenth century.
Jeffrey and Lewis in the 1871 Southampton Street Directory.
The Carron Iron foundry.
Carron Iron foundries was an old firm established in Scotland in the eighteenth century. Carron’s had manufactured cannons for war ships in the eighteenth century and by 1904 were making more domestic equipment.
The Carron Company, 1905.
The impressive building on the other side of Bugle Street was built in the mid nineteenth century for the Royal Southern Yacht Club.
From about 1908 to the mid 1920s, the Wool House was a Marine Engineering Company workshop run by Edwin Moon senior.
His son Edwin Rowland Moon was inspired by the early flying adventures of the Wright Brothers in 1903 and built his monoplane, the Moonbeam in the Wool House.
Edwin Moon senior died in 1911 and his widow Katherine married Edward Turner Sims, a prominent local businessman and benefactor.
From the 1913 Southampton trade Directory
Alllen Thomas Ltd, haulage contractors, used the Wool House as a store.
Scott and Co haulage contractors used the Wool House as a store until the 1940s.
In the 1940s and 1950s the building was a warehouse by the Itchen Transport Company.
The Wool House underwent extensive renovation and opened as The Maritime Museum in 1966.
Inside the Wool House before renovation
The Maritime Museum in the 1960s
The Maritime Museum closed.
element arts opened The Wool House Project on 29 June.