SOUTHAMPTON’S fine medieval Wool House is a unique and vital part of the city’s heritage, and it is no exaggeration to say it is a building which did much to shape the city’s destiny.

Now it seems 21st century economics will mean these ancient stones and timber beams, which once echoed to the babel of foreign traders, and, at one time, held the enemies of the state, is to be consigned to a very different future.

A future, which looks likely to be defined, more by cups of frothy coffee, and pints of lager, rather than its historical importance.

Southampton City Council wants to lease out this Grade I listed building, which can trace its roots back as far as 1415, so it can be transformed into a café, a pub, restaurant, or offices.

Originally built by monks as a storehouse, the Wool House, the only surviving, free-standing medieval structure of its type in the city, is on the open market with a minimum 20- year, council lease.

But there are already concerns amongst members of local groups, which safeguard Southampton’s heritage and buildings.

Ian Ferguson from the City of Southampton Society has already said: “It is important that the Wool House is used and maintained but most importantly that it is respected.”

At present used as the city’s Maritime Museum, the Wool House has a long and chequered history.

The Wool House was, in fact, the main building connected with the wool trade, which, with the import of wine, established Southampton as one of the country’s main trading centres in past centuries.

From Norman times onwards wool was brought here from the Hampshire downlands and from as far afield as Wiltshire and the Cotswolds.

Exports of wool left Southampton in the reign of Edward I, and, as time went on, the regular visits of Genoese and Venetian ships brought great prosperity to the medieval port.

This lively atmosphere sometimes became rowdy as one history book of the time records: “There was occasionally some chiding to be done about their behaviour and they were admonished not to bawl and scold one with another.’’ Later, during the European wars of the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Wool House as “The Spanish Prison’’ and “The French Prison.’’ Evidence of the building’s use as a jail was discovered on the thick beams when inscriptions were discovered.

The names, “Francois Dries and Thomas Lasis’’ and a the date, “1711’’ had been carved into the wood.

In 1904 the Carron Iron Company rented the structure.

After this the Wool House was closely associated with the Moon family, who used the building as a base for its boat-building business.

The Moonbeam Engineering Company built motor launches and later expanded to include the sale of wrought iron propellers and marine engines for export around the world.

Edwin Moon, possibly inspired by the 1903 Wright brothers flight, took a corner of the workshop to realise his dream of constructing and flying an aircraft of his own design.

He tested his first aircraft, Moonbeam I, at Websters Field, near Calshot and at Moulands Field, Regents Park. Following these experimental “hops’’, he built a second machine, Moonbeam II, a monoplane.

In 1910, the plane was conveyed to the meadows belonging to North Stoneham farm, the site of today’s Southampton Airport, from where he made his first successful flight.

A postcard from more than 80 years shows at one time the building was used by Scott and Co, warehouse and haulage contractors.

By the 1950s the Wool House was used as a flour store, and then as a base for the Itchen Transport Company, but by the mid-1960s work began on transforming the building into the city’s Maritime Museum.

When it was opened in June, 1966, the museum attracted almost 1,500 visitors during the first two days.