A Re-assessment of the Use of Building Accounts for the Study of Medieval Urban Houses
By Jayne Rimmer
Paper given at the Second International Congress on Construction History, Queens’ College, Cambridge (2006)
Introduction: This paper will evaluate the use of building accounts as a source for medieval construction. It considers how architectural and documentary historians have used these records principally for the study of high-status buildings. In contrast, lower-status urban buildings tend to be studied by archaeologists through excavation. However, the main aim of this paper is to show that building accounts are an equally valuable source for the study of small and lower-status medieval urban buildings. It proposes that the analysis of building accounts can provide further detailed information about the construction of this type of medieval structure, in addition to the excavated and standing evidence.
A building account is a record of expenditure kept during a building operation by the institution in charge. Building accounts are a valuable source of information for building costs, hire of labour, quantity of materials and sources of supply. Unlike building contracts, they rarely provide details about dimensions and it has been argued that they are sometimes difficult to interpret unless something is known about the building structure from other sources. Moreover, the strength of a building account lies in its ability to expose information about original building processes, especially management practices and building sequences. However, although it is possible to analyse all these details, they have not been the main focus of traditional studies of building accounts.