Life in a medieval town

Map of medieval town including a blacksmith, castle, peasants' homes and poor sanitation.
  • A medieval town would seek a charter giving it the right to become a borough. The rich merchants would then be allowed to choose a mayor and hold a market.
  • Houses were made of a wooden frame, with the gaps filled with woven strips of wood, known as 'wattle', and covered, or 'daubed', with clay and horse-dung. Most roofs were thatch.
  • Medieval shops were workshops, open to the street for customers, with the craftsman's house above. Because few people could read, shops signs were a huge model showing the craftsman's trade. People of the same trade often worked in the same street.
  • The streets of a medieval town were narrow and busy. They were noisy, with the town crier, church bells, and traders calling out their wares. There were many fast food sellers, selling such things as hot sheep's feet and beef-ribs.
  • Nobody was supposed to carry a weapon or wear a mask.
  • At dusk, a bell rang for curfew, when everyone was supposed to shut up their house. The gates to the town would be closed, and a watch would patrol the streets looking for thieves, and apprentices who had stayed out late.
  • Criminals were put in the stocks or the pillory. These were wooden boards with holes for feet, hands or head. Medieval punishments were cruel, and crimes such as theft were punished by hanging.
  • In November the poor of the town would elect a 'lord of misrule', who would wear a paper crown and get up to mischief. At Christmas poor people would go round town demanding traders give them charity.
  • Holy Days would be marked by colourful processions, as the different guilds competed to make the best display.
  • If a serf ran away from his village to a town and remained free for a year and a day, he could become a 'freeman' of the town.