Monday, February 13, 2017
I regularly give a talk about the history of shops and shopfronts and I’ve taken to using this image to explain what late-Medieval shops could look like and how they sometimes functioned. In the 15th century, glass was still an expensive commodity, restricted mainly to churches and high-status houses, so there were no shop windows like those of today. So, if you had a shop, you had unglazed openings, closed by shutters. This example has pairs of shutters, upper and lower, and in the ‘closed’ position the lower shutter would hinge upwards and the upper one downwards, to seal the opening. During business hours you could open the shutters as shown, or the lower one could be propped with a trestle and act as a counter or stall. The shopkeeper could put goods on it and stand inside.
In this period, of course, a lot of business was not done in shops at all, but on market stalls. But a few trades – those who needed work space, for example, from carpenters to butchers, had workshops and could sell from there. This sort of shutter arrangement worked for them, allowing them to maske things and sell things in the same space, and live above the shop. It’s very unusual to find this kind of shop front today. This one, part of the Guildhall at Lavenham, is notable survivor and a useful visual aid when I'm giving my talk.