The building now known as The Merchant’s House is a Grade II Statutorily “Listed” property, situated near the centre of the Designated Conservation Area.
An important historic property, in its original form it would have epitomised the wealth of Colyton’s merchant community, at an important period in the town’s development.
The central location of the Merchant’s House strongly suggests that it is on the site of a much earlier building that stood in the heart of this historic town – originally maybe even a Saxon timber and thatch, single-storey unit. This would have been succeeded, in the early mediaeval period, by a more robust, single-storey building, with thick, stone-built walls, surmounted by cruck frames, supporting a timber and thatch roof. At that time, it is likely that the building would have stood on its own, detached, but close to, other similar buildings.
The property as we see it now, would appear to have been built as one household, probably by a merchant of some wealth; this is demonstrated by the richness of the ceilings in the main front part of the house, which probably date from the latter part of the sixteenth century. The Tea Room adjacent to the Merchant’s House, which was probably the “front parlour”, has heavy moulded timber ceiling beams and the remnants of a once handsome fireplace. This fireplace has the sides and single piece lintel of very robust stone – possibly from Beer Quarry – and there are the remnants of the simple sixteenth century carved moulding. Unfortunately, the right hand part has been crudely cut through to create an entrance to a room behind and the left hand part was even more crudely hacked out, to make way for Colyton’s first telephone exchange! The original stone lintel has fractured and is now supported by a rough brick column.
In the hallway which centrally divides the lower floor from front to back, there is evidence of Tudor period box structure timber walling and excellent oak panelling; many of the doors are also very fine and appear to date from the early seventeenth century.
The front room of the Merchant’s House shows even more evidence of being built and occupied by a wealthy merchant, between the late mediaeval period and the seventeenth century. The fireplace is less grand than the one in the Tea Room, but the wall painting above it is quite remarkable and probably dates to at least the mediaeval period. Work is continuing to discover more information about it. The ceiling, with its deep moulded beams and elegant plasterwork, is also significant, but again belongs to the later period around the beginning of the seventeenth century. However, the half-timber wall, backing onto the hallway, is of an earlier period, probably the late fifteenth century. This is in exceptionally fine condition – apart from the nail holes created by the late Victorian owners when they covered it up! It is thought that the rear room was added in later centuries.
Although the staircase to the upper floor is of a relatively recent date, there is evidence to suggest that there was originally a spiral staircase roughly in the centre of the original dwelling, to the right-hand rear of the large fireplace in the Tea Room. This indicates that an extra storey to this property was probably first added in the early part of the sixteenth century.
Upstairs, there is still a substantial section of an original late sixteenth century half-timbered party wall. There are also peg-jointed cruck trusses which, although of an early character, may have been put in at a later date – around the late eighteenth/early nineteenth period – when the building was re-modelled. They might have been the original trusses of the earlier building and simply relocated as part of the later restructuring. These trusses, which also at one time had a king post truss above, have been cut off in the roof space later in the nineteenth century, when the thatch was removed and the roof rebuilt with pine rafters and then slate clad.
The main front wall of the Tea Room was probably re-modelled in the late eighteenth century, but the present shop window replaced the single window that was present in the mid- to late-nineteenth century.