This small but delightful oil painting of the north-east corner of Malton’s market place is one of a set of five generously bequeathed to Malton Museum by the late Nigel Huddleston whose family had local connections. Born in Rillington, he attended Malton Grammar School and is the author of ‘History of Malton and Norton’. The artist is unknown but the pictures date to the 19th century. Whilst vehicles and costume are different, the buildings have changed little today.
Indeed it is likely that a time traveller, even from the 12th century, would not be lost in the town centre. Although 12th-century buildings would have looked different, the street layout was mainly the same. Malton – or ‘New Malton’ as it was known – was founded as a new town in the late 12th century on a site to the west of the medieval castle. This involved setting out new streets and then dividing up the land that lay between them into properties. These 12th-century streets still exist today, including Castlegate, Old Maltongate, Wheelgate and Yorkersgate, and it is likely that many of the properties which were set out at the same time also survive, at least in part.
Archaeological excavations in York and other medieval towns show that property boundaries change very little, if at all, even over hundreds of years. This is especially the case on the street frontages which are jealously preserved by their owners against encroachment from neighbours. Originally the properties were very carefully measured out because their dimensions were related to the rent that the new citizens who would occupy them paid to the landowner.
Recently small groups of people with tape measures have been working on these streets. They are volunteers from Malton Museum who are measuring the width of the frontages of the buildings and of the alleys between them. Taking these measurements is part of a community research project, sponsored by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which is studying the townscape of medieval Malton.
By taking measurements along the street frontages as they exist today we hope to begin to discover and reconstruct the original layout of medieval Malton. We also hope to discover if the town’s medieval surveyors used a particular ‘modular’ unit of measurement – such as the perch of 16 feet six inches, commonly used elsewhere in medieval England.
The greatest changes to medieval Malton have taken place over the last century and a half but, by studying the old maps alongside our measurements, we will be able to set these aside and get back to a townscape more similar to that of medieval times. The earliest map to show Malton’s streets and properties in any detail dates to 1730 and can be seen in the museum.
When the project is complete there will be an exhibition in Malton Museum to show visitors the results. Do come and see it but in the meantime please ask the team how they are getting on!
l Malton Museum is open Thursday-Saturday each week until the end of October. For details of exhibitions and other events see www.maltonmuseum.co.uk website.