King John’s Palace is one of the finest surviving examples of Norman architecture in the country.
By the 1180s, when the original house was built, Southampton was already an important port. The house was on the quayside where ships loaded and unloaded their cargoes.
It was owned by wealthy merchant and Mayor John Wytegod in the 1300s. Following a French raid in 1338, the town’s sea defences were strengthened by order of King Edward III. The door and windows in the front of the house were blocked with stone or converted into gun slits, and it became part of the town’s defensive wall.
Wytegod also owned other property in nearby St Michael’s Square. In the 1300s, Blue Anchor Lane – which runs alongside Tudor House and Garden – was called Wytegod’s Lane. The house now called King John’s Palace had two storeys, with the living quarters with large windows and a fireplace on the first floor. The ground floor was used to store casks of wine he imported from France, which were unloaded from ships tied up at the quayside at the front of the house. The windows in this part of the building are very small to prevent thieves from gaining access and stealing the wine.
In the 1700s the building used as a coach house and stables and in the 1800s, it was a coal merchant’s business. In the 1900s, it housed Mr Spranger’s private museum. Now, it is a shell – the roof having been removed as late as the early 20th Century.
Historians originally mistakenly believed that King John stayed in the building in the early 1300s – hence the name.