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Tudor House Museum, Southampton

The history of Tudor House covers more than 800 years, comprising the late 15th century timber-framed house facing St Michael’s Square, together with King John’s Palace, a 12th century Norman building accessible from Tudor House Garden. The house was built by John Dawtrey mayor of Southampton and occupied in early 16th century by judge Sir Richard Lyster, and it is Grade 1 listed. Later in the 16th century it was a merchant’s house used for cloth making and sales; and in the 17th century the house was in the hands of ship owners and may have been lodgings for sailors. A new Georgian wing and other alterations were added in the 18th century while Southampton enjoyed prosperity as a spa town, but in the 19th century the house was divided and parts were leased to several businesses. By the end of the century the area had deteriorated into a slum and Tudor House was scheduled for demolition, but it was bought and restored by WFG Spranger, a local philanthropist, and was opened as a museum in July 1912.

A survey in 1999 discovered major structural problems which led to a programme of redevelopment, funded by SCC, HLF and English Heritage (now Historic England). Between 2002 and 2011the museum was closed for archaeological fieldwork, to allow structural repairs to take place, and for construction of new facilities. During restoration late 16th/early 17th century graffiti was revealed on some of the walls, with images of ships, caricature faces and exotic animals, now displayed in situ.

View of Upper Attic Room   The attic rooms and cellars were found to contain many examples of more modern graffiti, thought to have been made by visitors to the museum.  These mainly consisted of names, sometimes with dates or places, which had never been recorded. At the request of SCC Arts & Heritage staff, volunteers from Southampton Archaeology Society (SAS) surveyed and recorded this graffiti, making seven visits to the museum between June and November 2017
View of upper attic room in Tudor House  

Attic beam with graffiti  

The marks were made by carving, scoring or scratching or written in ink, pencil or chalk, and many of them are superimposed and hard to distinguish. Graffiti are found in the attic rooms on wooden beams; doors, door frames and architraves; sills, window frames and recesses.

Attic windowsill showing overlapping graffiti.  

The wall panelling, and the fragile and deteriorating lathe and plaster walls and sloping ceilings of the upper attic room were also covered with names and occasional images, as seen to the right.   wall panelling   It was noted that some dates recorded were earlier than 1912, so had been made before the museum was open. The oldest example is illustrated (see left) and is dated (1854) to well before the restoration by Spranger. In the cellars graffiti appears on the walls and plaster (see right), and on wooden beams and posts. This consists of names, initials and dates, as well as enigmatic marks possibly left by workmen.   Cellar wall: ‘?Laura H 1819’ (left) and ‘M Day 1917’.

Examples of graffiti were recorded on the outer door to King John’s Palace, from Blue Anchor Lane (both external and internal faces).

Right: Detail of external door to King John’s Palace: ‘MB 1854(top centre) and ‘J.P. 1941’ (top right).

  Outer door of King John's Palace


Seven survey Visits were made between June and November 2017. It is hoped that further research will be carried out to decipher the information which was recorded, and possibly identify individuals from details such as names, dates or place names, thus contributing to our further understanding of the history of Tudor House.

This report was prepared by Sarah Hanna from Southampton Archaeology Society (SAS).

For further information please contact Karen Wardley.