Poplar Cottage, originally from Washington in West Sussex, is thought to have been built between 1630 and 1650. It has two rooms downstairs and two upstairs. The roof is hipped at one end and gabled at the other, the gabled end containing a smoke bay providing one heated downstairs room.
Poplar was a landless cottage built as an encroachment on the edge of Washington Common. We do not know who the occupants were in the early 17th century, but evidence for the social status of other cottagers suggests that they were most likely to have been poorer husbandmen, trade or craftsmen, part of the social group that 17th century social commentators called the ‘meaner’ or the ‘poorer’ sort. Members of this social group were economically resourceful – hiring themselves out as day labour, selling surplus produce from their gardens and carrying out small-scale trade or craft activities. The ability to exploit common land – by using it to pasture livestock or to gather fuel and wild foods – was vital to their household economies. Women and children were also able to contribute to the household income by spinning and knitting. No household was entirely self-sufficient and cottagers with little or no land were especially reliant on the market for household consumables as well as household goods and clothing.
Although it is most likely that Poplar’s earliest inhabitants were husbandmen, we have chosen to interpret this building as a shoemaker’s cottage as it might have been around 1630. Most villages had at least one shoemaker, they typically worked alone within the home and they are of the right social status for a cottage like Poplar.