Hereford, England, has several 5 Compass attractions in addition to its fine cathedral with its chained library and Mappa Mundi. One of the better ones is the Black & White House, one of this country’s best preserved Jacobean buildings. This dwelling still looks like it did when it was built in 1621 with black beams and whitewashed walls. The interior has kept its 17th century appearance while much of the furniture is now from other Hereford homes. All looks authentically of an earlier period. The house has been ungraded to 21st century standards without changing its character. Every time the house is improved in any way, it seems that historians find unknown decorative items, like the wall painting of a man dressed in red now standing near the welcome desk. Possibly depicting a biblical scene, it was uncovered during a building upgrade and is the only wall painting in this house still in it original location. Joseph presenting his father Jacob to the Egyptian Pharaoh is another, but it has been moved.
There isn’t much about this house that isn’t known. For example, its 1st residents were John Jones, a butcher, and his wife and 3 children. The info about this family noted that John’s wife Mary was “a colourful character often in trouble with the law”. There is no further explanation of her behavior, which would have been interesting. This house was also home to other butchers and a saddler. Those who lived here often used part of the 1st floor for a shop, but it almost always seemed to also contain the resident family’s formal dining area with bedrooms upstairs. Its final business before becoming the Black & White House Museum that promises “History lives here” was a bank on the busiest shopping street in Hereford.
The curators of the Black & White House Museum have done an especially good job of placing items in such a way as to make history come alive. I especially liked the explanation of how a home like this provided interior lighting after dark. The demonstration used rushlight holders and common candles. Both beeswax and sheep fat candles were made with cotton wicks. Both types smoked. I also liked the display that focused on the harsh lives of children. There were 2 quarter jacks displayed in this building. I didn’t know what a quarter jack was until I saw them. They were mechanical humans that stood in front of market hall and rotated to strike bells every quarter hour. The explanation about them noted their angel-like characteristics, pot bellies, and rounded faces.
Further down the busy pedestrian shopping street that the excellent Black & White House is on are 2 unusual local phenomena: some Polish shops serving a large immigrant community and a combination church and restaurant. There are weekend religious services when the church is not allowing a restaurant to serve excellent meals to enthusiastic patrons during the week. We ate there twice. I also noticed an excessive number of barbers and hair stylists in this town.