Life in Viking Age Jorvik (York)

The buildings where people lived and worked

Unlike the Romans, neither the Anglo-Saxons nor the Vikings were noted for building in stone. Only important buildings such as churches or royal residences would be stone-built - or part stone-built - in Viking Age Jorvik. Most dwelling houses, storehouses and workshops would be of timber and wattle-and-daub construction. In Jorvik, some houses had floor levels which were below the ground outside. Reed or straw thatch would be the usual roofing material. There would be openings high up in the gable ends to allow smoke from the hearth to escape, as there were no chimneys. Some smaller, poorer dwellings may have consisted of just one room with a hearth in the centre. Richer houses would have been larger and have several sleeping alcoves furnished with rugs, pillows and furs. There would be sleeping platforms against the side walls, made of raised earth and faced with wooden boards; these would act as benches for sitting on, keeping feet off the stamped-earth floor and out of draughts. Better houses may have had low stools, chairs, a feasting table and benches.. Chests (kists), which would be lockable in the better homes, were a normal means of storing possessions. A nobleman's or wealthy trader's house may have had richly decorated or carved doors, door posts and gable-end 'barge-boards' and the inside walls may have been hung with decorative tapestries.

Outbuildings and lean-tos would have provided some outside storage for a craftsman's raw materials. Interiors would be gloomy, as openings in walls and roofs were kept to a minimum to keep warmth in. Illumination would be by simple oil lamps (generally carved from stone) or tallow candles. Only the wealthy would have used expensive wax candles.

In many houses, an upright weaving loom would be an important feature. Household utensils, and provisions would be kept on shelves and there would be a quern for grinding corn. There would be metal or pottery cooking pots, a frame of metal or wood for hanging cooking vessels over the hearth and - in the better homes - perhaps a spit for roasting. Baskets, buckets and pottery jars would be used for storing foodstuff. Fire would be permanent hazard with so much wood and straw about and open cooking hearths. Sometimes there would be a domed clay oven at one end of the house or perhaps outside.

From the evidence of Jorvik, town houses were likely to be closely-packed together with just a small 'garth' or yard surrounded by a wattle fence. People living close together, cooking, fish-drying, salting, smoking, pickling and other food preserving, free-ranging animals (plus manufacturing processes such as tanning leather, blacksmithing, and scouring and dyeing cloth) would have made Jorvik a very smelly place to live !

If you would like to make a model, to get some idea of what a Viking settlement would have been like, Usborne Books produce a kit to cut out and assemble entitled 'Make This Viking Settlement'. This is on sale in countries where Usborne Books are sold and is suitable for 9 years old and upwards, though the younger children will need some help with cutting out and assembling the various buildings. The cargo boat, and the longship-under-construction, are a bit tricky, too ! The finished model is best mounted on a plywood or chipboard base, about 50 cm x 50 cm.

More about Viking houses

A Viking town house
Et byhus i vikingtiden av samme type som funnet i Jorvik
Husene der folk bodde og virket i Jorvik
The buildings where people lived and worked in Jorvik
The excavations of SebbersundA Viking Network Info-sheet by Henriette Suna Niemann Jensen, Tina Thomsen, Niklas Reymann, Anita Vivi Holt, 1d, Noerresundby Gymnasium og HF-Kursus, Februar 1996
The Longhouse

- 14. august 2004 -