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The documents quoted below give good evidence of the style in which the better class of houses was built during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The greater part of the city was built of wood, the houses being roofed with straw, reeds, and similar materials. The frequent fires which took place owing to this manner of building, especially the great fire of 1135 which destroyed a great part of the City, compelled the citizens to take some precautions against the recurrence of such a calamity. Stone was used to a larger extent, and various privileges were conceded to those who used stone in the construction of their houses. This material was made compulsory in the party-walls, but the rest of the buildings might be made of anything, and was usually constructed of wood. The regulations of 1189 did not produce any great or immediate effect on the style of building, and a further ordinance was issued in 1212, after a disastrous fire had destroyed London Bridge and a large number of houses.
(b) A decree made by the counsel of the citizens, for the setting into order of the city and to provide, by God’s help, against fire.
First, they advise that all ale-houses be forbidden, except those which shall be licensed by the common council of the city at Guildhall, excepting those belonging to persons willing to build of stone, that the city may be secure. And that no baker bake, or ale-wife brew, by night, either with reeds or straw or stubble, but with wood only.
They advise also that all the cook-shops on the Thames be whitewashed and plastered within and without, and that all inner chambers and hostelries be wholly removed, so that there remain only the house (hall) and bed-room,
Whosoever wishes to build, let him take care, as he loveth himself and his goods, that he roof not with reed, nor rush, nor with any manner of litter, but with tile only, or shingle, or boards, or, if it may be, with lead, within the city and Port-soken. Also all houses which till now are covered with reed or rush, which can be plastered, let them be plastered within eight days, and let those which shall not be so plastered within the term be demolished by the aldermen and lawful men of the venue.
All wooden houses which are nearest to the stone houses in Cheap, whereby the stone houses in Cheap may be in peril, shall be securely amended by view of the mayor and sheriffs, and good men of the city, or, without exception, to whomsoever they may belong, pulled down.
The watches, and they who watch by night for the custody of 22 the city shall go out by day and return by day, or they by whom they may have been sent forth shall be fined forty shillings by the city. And let old houses in which brewing or baking is done be whitewashed and plastered within and without, that they may be safe against fire.
Let all the aldermen have a proper hook and cord, and let him who shall not have one within the appointed term be amerced by the city. Foreign workmen who come into the city, and refuse to obey the aforesaid decree, shall be arrested until brought before the mayor and good men to hear their judgment. They say also that it is only proper that before every house there should be a tub full of water, either of wood or stone.
1 The Building Ordinance of 1189 is HERE.