The incongruous sight of a medieval king being carried to his funeral on a motorised cortege shows how the past still impacts on the present. As Richard III’s remains are ferried around Leicestershire 530 years after he was killed in battle, there may still be vestiges of the landscape that he would recognise – but very few. Even rarer would be the buildings that once stood in his kingdom.
Here are 12 buildings that remain in use in Britain today which would have been around when Richard III was on the throne (and before Columbus sailed the ocean blue). In fact, he would have considered many of them to be ancient himself.
1. Saltford Manor House, near Bath, Somerset
Saltford Manor House claims the title of Britain’s oldest continuously occupied home. The house has details, particularly in the ornate windows, which date it to around 1148 – the same completion date of Hereford Cathedral, which has similar Norman features. It is believed that the house originally consisted of a large single room on each floor with a vaulted chamber on the ground floor. Remodelling was carried out in the 17th century. Important features in the house include a rare fragment of a medieval painting and a Norman window in the main bedroom.
2. The Manor, Hemingford Grey, Cambridgeshire
Built in the 1150s, the Manor is also one of the oldest continuously inhabited houses in Britain and much of the original house remains intact despite various changes over the last 900 years. The manor house was started by Payn Osmundson, a tenant of the wealthy de Vere family who were given huge grants of land by William the Conqueror, including the land at Hemingford Grey. The house was modernised in Tudor times and again in the 18th Century. The current owner, Diana Boston, said: “The claim to fame of this house is that it was built as someone’s home, and it has continued to be someone’s home ever since. The feeling of everyone when they come in here is it must be an ecclesiastical building, but of course that is the way the Normans built. They didn’t know how to build any other way.”
3. The Jew’s House, Lincoln
Built around 1150, the Jew’s House is one of the earliest extant town houses in England. It lies on Steep Hill in Lincoln and was associated with the thriving Jewish community in Medieval Lincoln. The Jew’s House was supposedly seized from a Jewish owner during a pogrom stoked up by the case of Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln in 1255. The building originally consisted of a hall at first floor level, with service and storage spaces at ground level. The surviving original façade includes the elaborately carved doorway, the remains of two Romanesque double-arch windows and much of the stonework on the upper storey. The chimney breast rising over the arch above the front door served the fireplace on the upper floor. The building has remained continuously occupied to the present day and is currently used as a restaurant.
4. Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire
Berkeley Castle is the oldest property in Britain to remain in the hands of the same family (except for a brief period of royal ownership by the Tudors). The original fortification, a motte-and-bailey, was begun by William Fitz Osbern in 1067, but the oldest surviving buildings and the occupation by the Berkeley family began in 1150s. The castle keep was built 1153–56, probably on the site of the former motte. Much of the rest of the castle is 14th century. In 1327, when King Edward II was deposed from the throne, he was brought to Berkeley Castle and held prisoner there for 5 months. He was reputedly murdered there, the popular story being that a red hot poker was inserted into his anus to burn out his internal organs without leaving a visible mark on his body. The cell where he is supposed to have been imprisoned and murdered can still be seen (top right).
5. Horton Court, Gloucestershire
Horton, near Chipping Sodbury, is a very old place and was the site of an Iron Age hill fort. Horton Court is built around a former manor house which includes a rare Norman Hall dated to around 1160. The hallway of the main house had been dated to as early as 1482 by analysing tree rings in the timbers.
6. Fyfield Hall, Essex
The dating of tree rings in the timbers used to construct Fyfield Hall established that they had been felled during the period 1167-85, making it the earliest inhabited domestic timber-framed structure in Britain. The manor, near Chipping Ongar, Essex, also features one oak post in the entrance hall that was carbon-dated to between AD 880 and 985 – before the Norman conquest. Current owner Willy White said: “Most of the roof beams were blackened by fire and soot. The building would have been one big hall open to the rafters, with a mud floor, in the middle of which they would have built a bonfire, with the smoke wandering through a hole in the roof. It’s lovely to think that the house was built without planning permission or building regulations and it’s still here 1,000 years on.”
The hall was remodelled between 1391 and 1416, but unusually it was done in the archaic style of the late 1100s rather than in contemporary style. It was probably done by the second Lord Scrope of Masham to lend his an air of antiquity to his baronial manor. The headless body of the third Lord Scrope is buried in the local churchyard. He was beheaded by Henry V in 1415 and the King briefly took possession of the manor.
7. The Old Bell Hotel, Malmesbury, Wiltshire
The Old Bell Hotel is the oldest, continually used hotel in England. Built in 1220, it was originally used as a resting place for visiting pilgrims and scholars to the nearby Malmesbury Abbey. The town of Malmesbury itself also has the distinction of being England’s oldest, continually inhabited borough. There is evidence of a Neolithic fort and an Iron Age fort in the area, and he town was granted a Royal Charter in 880 AD by the Anglo Saxon King of Wessex, Alfred the Great.
8. Icomb Place, Gloucestershire
Icomb Place is a medieval manor house on the edge of the village of Icomb, near Stow on the Wold in Gloucestershire. An original structure was mentioned in the Domesday Book. The oldest parts of the present house date from around 1230 and include the chapel, solar, undercroft and a wing which originally housed the kitchens and servants quarters. The front of the house, including the battlemented gateway and the Great Hall, connecting the original 13th century buildings were added around 1420. The house is unusual in that right angles seem to have been avoided in its construction.
9. 173 High Street, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire
The true age of the shop standing at number 173 in Berkhamsted’s High Street was only recently discovered by chance by local builders who assumed they were renovating a 19th century property. Tree ring dating showed that the building’s structural timbers were felled between 1277 and 1297. On the second floor is a crown post with decorative elements, and there is evidence of where the original first floor projected out over the ground floor. In the back of the shop is a fully functioning well, believed to have been part of a workshop. The building is currently in use by a firm of estate agents, with an apartment above.
10. Three Old Arches, Chester
The ancient Roman walled city of Chester is also home to what purports to be the oldest surviving shop frontage in Britain. It is part of the Chester Rows on Bridge Street, the site of a number of Tudor buildings still in use today. The Three Arches building dates from around 1274. The ground level was originally used as a dwelling for animals, the middle level as a shop and the top layer as a family dwelling. The building today accommodates shops on the first two levels and office space on the top level.
11. 26–28 Cornmarket, Oxford
26–28 Cornmarket, on the corner of Ship Street in Oxford, is the surviving half of a timber-framed building completed around 1386 as the New Inn. It belongs to Jesus College, Oxford and today houses a currency exchange.
12. Provand’s Lordship, Glasgow, Scotland
Although Richard III would only have considered crossing the border from England to Scotland to make war, the historic Provand’s Lordship is one the few remaining buildings in Glasgow to have been in existence when he was on the throne. It was built in 1471 as part of St Nicholas’s Hospital by the Bishop of Glasgow, and was likely to have been used to house clergy and other support staff for Glasgow Cathedral. It later became occupied by the Lord of the Prebend of Barlanark. Today the house is used as a museum.