The House on Crutches may have started life as a simple single room dwelling some time in the twelfth century, but it certainly grew over the years. There are no certain details about the owners of the house. Whoever they were and whatever they did, they had become very affluent by the 1600s as many of the architectural features reveal.
Like many medieval houses, it was altered extensively to meet changing needs and fortunes. The ‘crutches’ in the house’s name refer to the posts supporting a 17th century upstairs extension, giving more space without encroaching on the cobbled street which still passes underneath.
This entrance area of the museum may have been built as part of a newer structure or addition when the jetty was added in the 1600s. To the right of the present entrance is a flagged corrider which contains several large oak supports, traces of an older wall and a painted door frame. This corridor is possibly the remains of an old ‘outshot’ built to accommodate the original staircase to the upper floor.
Both here and upstairs there is a two-step difference in height between each pair of rooms which would seem to suggest that the lobby and the room above it were indeed additions.
The Large fireplace in this room is probably all that remains of an older kitchen and servants hall.
There is a story about this room being used as a cheese store around 1917, by Gaius Smith’s the grocers on The Square. The two young fellows responsible for carrying cheeses from shop to store, decided one bright morning that it would save time and energy if the cheeses were rolled down the cobbles to the store. The inevitable happened! Several cheeses ended up in pieces, several ended up continuing their journey down the hill, and the young fellows ended up sacked!
The window near the main door was probably inserted when the flying freehold, extending the room over the shut or passageway below, was built. A flying freehold was a way in which home owners extended their homes over public rights of way. Shuts (passages) were gated and closed at night to prevent access to the burgages (garden and land) behind the houses. It was illegal to block these passages during the day as horse drawn vehicles were not allowed to turn in the main street as this was likely to cause traffic jams. Instead they had to use the shuts and back roads to turn. As a result owners had to ‘fly over’ these passages in order to make rooms larger.
The south facing window is possibly the original window - the size and thickness of the glass shows us that it is made from the oldest glass in the building, possibly salvaged from earlier windows. Glass was expensive and was often recycled. Some householders actually removed glass windows to take with them to a new house!
This small room was remodelled in the early nineteenth century to create a more comfortable parlour. The reeding on the cupboard and fireplace is typical of this time, as are the decorative cornice and the dado rail. The larger window with its seat would be a pleasant place to sit on a summer’s evening, and the atmosphere of the room conjures up a scene of quiet concentration and a perfect place in which to address yourself to your sewing.
This well-lit and airy room with its wide fireplace indicates the wealth of the family who extended the house in the 1600s. This may have been the Great Chamber, or Solar, of the extended medieval house, built for the private use of the master and mistress. It emphasised their social status and importance, moving them upstairs and away from the hustle and bustle of the household and the servants below. The original room with its extension over the jetty would probably not have been accessed by the staircase below the small window. It would have been entered by a set of stairs to the rear of the next room. Traces of its banisters can be seen above the modern staircase in the Agriculture Room.
The oak framing for the room was expensive. But the pride of the room would have been the windows, as glass was just as costly. The original room would have contained at least three large windows. The large window in the jetty would have given an unhindered view of the hills and woods beyond the town. The buildings that block this view today are all later 18th century infill. The large window to the left of the jetty looked up the cobbled way, over the Market Place and had a view of the castle. The third window, which had a similar view, may be a new piercing, but is more possibly an eighteenth century replacement, known as a Yorkshire sliding sash
There can only be speculation about the smallest window in the Town Room, and the staircase. This window was only discovered during the restoration of the building in 1985. When it was originally made, and why it was later blocked in, remains a mystery.
If window and staircase are contemporary, then both may have been installed during the Civil War (1642-1645) when this area of South West Shropshire was considerably harassed by both Royalist and Parliamentarian forces. The window may have been created as a convenient outlook for a watchman, the staircase being a later replacement for a ladder.
Around 1665, during the last great outbreak of the plague or Black Death, the window may have been blocked in. The window faces south, and it was believed that the infection was carried on the warm, moist southerly winds.
Whatever happened will probably remain one of the many secrets of this very old house.