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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Meahl

Field Trip: Early Seventeenth-Century Norwich, England (Part I)


The Suckling House
An oriel window (bay) at the Suckling House, Norwich, England. Stained glass is not original.

After waiting through the pandemic, I finally visited England last week. A friend and I met up in London, stayed there a few days, and then I took Brit Rail up to Norwich in a two-hour train ride. The rail car was noticeably clean with views of cows, sheep and spring lambs. So English. Weather was cold and cloudy--classic!

The Suckling House, Norwich, England
The Suckling House, childhood home of Margaret Baret Huntington Stoughton (1595-1665), ancestress of the original Huntington family of America. Presently (2023) it is an arthouse cinema popular with the locals. It serves beer and wine, breakfast and lunch.

I was there to see, at last, the late medieval city in which Margaret lived. Also, to observe the themes of seventeenth-century Norwich daily life: evidence of English textiles, flint-covered churches, garrison-style Tudor buildings, dark oaken interiors, cobblestone streets, etc. It was so cool to just walk the same streets as Margaret, Simon and their kinfolk. As Nathanial Philbrick says: the history is hidden in the landscape.

The Suckling House
Sixteenth-century (or earlier) timber framing of the Suckling House Great Hall--the main room of the Baret household. This is where they would gather and eat with family, guests, and apprentices.

The main show-stopper for me was being in Margaret's house and the family church next door: St. Andrews. To experience her English world and then think about what she would experience in hardscrabble Puritan New England is fascinating.

During Margaret's early life in Norwich, she grew up, married late to Simon Huntington (?-1633), and had five children there--before emigrating to Boston.

Quick mini-chart of Margaret's parents and grandparents.

The Suckling House was named for its most famous resident: Sir Robert Suckling (1520-1589). He was Margaret's step-grandfather. Suckling was the one who made major sixteenth-century renovations to this medieval merchant house.

Margaret's father, Christopher Baret, purchased it in 1595, the year of her birth. She grew up here as a daughter of a wealthy merchant and civic leader. It is possible they moved here from Westhall, Suffolk where the Baret family had lived for two centuries.

The Suckling house undercroft.
The undercroft (storage area) of the Suckling House. This is where the Baret/Huntington goods were stored. They were mercers and grocers dealing in commodities, specializing in textiles.

During the early seventeenth century the house would have had many purposeful rooms. A Great Parlour (or hall), kitchen, buttery, gallery, and garden.

The Suckling House, Norwich, England
Another view of the Great Hall of the Suckling House. Now it is home to an arthouse theater called Cinema City. I had brunch here. Vegan pancakes.

Although the house has had major alterations over the past 500 years (many before Margaret's time), it is a very valued example of medieval architecture and is Grade I listed.


What was so great about my research trip was the ability to get into another medieval merchant household: The "Strangers'" House. Now a museum, it gets its name from its association with the sixteenth-century Dutch immigrants who came to Norwich and probably lived or visited here. They helped the local artisans make better textiles.

The Stranger's House
The Great Hall, set for dinner, at The Strangers' House, Norwich, England. Note the use of some pewter and many wooden trenchers (for lesser folk). Napkins and spoons. They ate meat with their fingers. Christopher Baret's business associate and fellow kinsman, Francis Cock, lived here with his extended family. Two of his daughters (or nieces) would marry Margaret's younger brothers.

Courtyard. Stranger's House, Norwich, England
The inner courtyard of the Strangers' House. Courtyards were de rigueur in this time period. Margaret even had "courts" in her Windsor, CT homestead. They are mentioned in her husband's will.

The Stranger's House, Norwich, England
The street-side courtyard of the Strangers' House and undercroft entry (to the right). The undercroft stored all the merchants goods for sale. The undercrofts of both homes are probably fourteenth century or even earlier!

The Suckling House, Norwich, England
Not the best view of the inner courtyard of The Suckling House.

Stranger's House, Norwich, England
The Strangers' House front door.

The Suckling House front door (maybe) with elaborate porch and carved spandrels.

By the early twentieth century the Suckling House was in disrepair and saved from demolition by preservationists. In 2008, it was repurposed as a very nice art house cinema and restaurant.


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