Here are my scribbled notes from last night’s episode of Tudor Monastery Farm…
It is now July at the farm and the team are over half way through their time there. The pea crop is in flower and should produce a good harvest, the barley is thriving and so are the sheep and pigs.
Farming was not the only way that monastic land was used. Professor James Clarke, an expert in monastic life, explains to Peter and Tom that there were other opportunities to make use of the natural resources of the landscape, such as lead mining. The Church imposed itself on the landscape, with its abbeys, monasteries and churches. Lead was vital to the construction of these buildings, and other buildings, as it was used for roofing, guttering and windows. Lead was, therefore, in high demand. Lead was mined in the Pennines, Derbyshire and Shropshire, and Tom and Peter met Colin Richards and Neil Southwick in Shropshire to re-open an old lead mine which had not operated for over 130 years. The boys have to dig it out to enter.
Monasteries granted leases to those who wanted to mine on their land. Farmers who branched out into lead mining could sell all the lead that they could extract and they could earn an extra £4 in income in a summer, the equivalent of buying 80 extra sheep. Peter and Tom find silver specks in the rock down the mine which show them that there is a concentration of lead ore there. Miners worked in pairs; one would hold a chisel while the other hammered it. Tom and Peter find it hard work but they manage to dig out a lump of lead ore. They need to pick up the pace though as miners would need to fill 50 barrow loads a day to make it worthwhile. Whole families often worked together down the mines, facing the dangers of flooding and inhaling lead dust.
After the lead ore was taken to the surface, it needed to be smelted to separate the lead from the rock. Around 80% of the lead ore was lead. It was separated by heating it to around 600 degrees Fahrenheit in a kiln. To get a kiln to this temperature and to help it maintain this temperature, white coal was used. The boys make white coal from drying out chopped pieces of oak for four hours in a kiln made out of rocks with the gaps in the rocks filled with clay. Heating the wood like this removed impurities and moisture. When the wood is ready, Colin makes a bole fire kiln on a windy hillside. He makes a clay hearth at the bottom, where the melted lead will collect, and then piles firewood on top. The kiln is then finished with the hot white coal and the lead ore, which has been smashed into small pieces to help the lead melt quickly, is placed inside the white coal, with more being piled around it. Farmers relied on the landscape for their tools and cotton grass and moss were used for tinder. They boys light their kiln with cotton grass and the whole thing becomes a huge inferno. At one point, it looks like the smelting will fail because the wind makes the furnace tilt so that it is hotter on one side and is burning faster, but the boys manage to rescue it by propping it up. They leave it to burn overnight. Hopefully, the molten lead will trickle down to the clay hearth and collect there.
In 1500, England was producing 500 tonnes of lead per year. When Peter and Tom return to the kiln, it is now just a pile of ash with lots of lead at the bottom. They wrap the cooled lead in cloth to take it away for refining. Colin has made a refining “black work oven” in the woods, in a sheltered area where the temperature can be controlled. The lead will be melted once again in this “oven” to remove impurities such as sulphur. Moulds are made for the lead ingots by digging out ingot shapes in wet sand. The boys use bellows to get the furnace going and then the molten lead is collected in an iron crucible and poured into the moulds. The sand moulds give the finished ingots a slightly rough texture. The weight of lead was measured in “fothers”.
The monasteries were one of the kingdom’s largest landowners and owned many waterways. There was a high demand for fish at the time because meat could not be eaten on certain days and at certain times of year due to religious fasting. Monasteries leased out the fishing rights to their rivers. Ruth has decided to try and catch eels with eel traps. Eels were a staple food in monasteries with rivers on their land, but were a luxury for everyone else. Fishermen were expected to give a portion of their catch to the monasteries, but could keep the rest. Simon Cooper, a basket maker, helps her to make eel traps from willow, which grew by rivers, using the “twinning” technique to weave the willow around staves. The eel trap is made from two woven cones slotted inside each other. These traps date back over 1000 years and are even mentioned in the Magna Carta. It was best to set traps in the evening and to place them in shady places parallel to the river bank. Ruth puts smelly, dead fish at the bottom of the traps to attract the eels, plugs the top with grass to stop them escaping and then weights them down so they sit on the bottom. She explains that there were different regional names for the traps and that they also differed in shape, depending on who had made them.
Lead was one of the most important building materials and was an integral part of stained glass windows. Light symbolized God’s power, so churches need to be filled with light. Ruth learns now to make stained glass windows from Richard Still, a glazier. A design was drawn on to glass using charcoal and then scored out with flint, using cross-hatching at the edges to help with the cutting. Ruth uses a grozing iron to cut the glass, carefully “nibbling” away at cross-hatched parts. Glass was expensive, so it was essential to do it carefully. Pieces of stained glass were held together by lead. Lead ingots were melted over reeds and then once it had cooled the reeds were removed leaving a flexible strip of lead with channels in it to fit the glass. Ruth describes the lead as being like marzipan. After she has fitted the lead strips over the glass, she uses nails to hold it in place and then solders the joints together, first applying tallow to the joints to form a layer between the lead and the air. These joints need to be done properly because they hold the stained glass window together.
The monasteries held around 20,000 fothers of lead in their buildings and in the dissolution of the monasteries the lead was ripped out, melted and then sold.
Inns were an important part of Tudor society. Travellers would stop at them on long journeys. Monks saw it as their duty to provide for travellers and monasteries also saw inns as a money-making scheme and so ran inns. Inns were busy places and preachers could capture an audience at them. Ruth explains that the design of inns, with communal areas where people could listen to a preacher or speaker, informed the architecture of theatres for years to come. People could also hire rooms at inns for business meetings and for parties (weddings, christenings), and they were convenient places because they tended to be on major routes. They were also places to have fun and people would play drinking games like the “puzzle cup” where the aim was to drink from a cup with numerous holes and spouts without spilling any drink. Accommodation ranged from communal rooms to private suites. A single male traveller would expect to share a bed with another man, so Peter and Tom share a bed with Ruth having a separate bed in the same room.
It is now late July and it’s time to keep an eye on the crops, think about haymaking, do some weeding and check on young animals. The piglets have been enjoying foraging in the woodland (pannage is the practice of releasing piglets in common woodland to forage) and when Peter checks on them he finds that they have successfully cleared undergrowth, which allows young trees to thrive, and that their diet of acorns and roots has fattened them up nicely, although they still need to get a bit fatter. Pork was in great demand because it was a good meat to eat and because it could be easily preserved. The Book of Husbandry talked about how pigs were good for farmers because they could get the most amount of profit from the least cost. Pigs needed to be slaughtered before winter so that the meat could be dried, smoked and cured to get the farmer and his family through the winter. Pork was widely eaten, from the top to the bottom of Tudor society, and the fat was used for candle making, in cooking, and even for shoe shining. A sow was usually introduced to a boar when she was about a year old. A Tudor farmer could check if a sow was pregnant by putting his weight on her hindquarters and seeing her reaction, she would stand still if she was pregnant. She also would not be interested in mating with the boar if she was already pregnant.
The farmhouse wasn’t just a home, it was also a business centre. Appearances were important, so farmers would try to emulate the wealthy. Ruth explains that the most expensive show of wealth was to own tapestries, so farmers would try to imitate tapestries by getting a stainer to make them hangings. The stainer used materials sourced from his surroundings, e.g. red ochre from clay, lead white from lead and vinegar, and these pigments were mixed with a glue (size or distemper) which was made from animal fat. The scenes depicted in tapestries and imitation tapestries tended to be from mythology and folklore. Ruth chooses George and the Dragon for hers. They were like cartoons and were brightly coloured. In the 1500s, portraiture was moving away from stylised caricatures to the Renaissance style where artists tried to be more realistic. Painting had been viewed as a craft, rather than an art, but this started to change as more and more artists travelled to England from the Continent. Artists began trying to show the soul in their paintings, to capture God in nature and God in man.
Tom is sitting for an artist who uses the camera obscura to capture Tom’s image. Daylight bounces off Tom and on to a lens and an upside down image of him is created for the artist to use as a rough stencil. With the camera obscura lenses were adopted for the first time and these made images brighter and clearer. It is not known how much the camera obscura was used at that time, but the artist Tom spoke to commented on how she felt that Holbein used it because him paintings featured large heads and smaller shoulders, features which point to the use of the camera obscura as a starting point.
Ruth is in the farm’s kitchen garden. She explains that Tudor farmers let weeds thrive in the garden because they had their uses. Cleavers, for example, could be eaten and was also useful for filtering or sieving things in the dairy and for brewing. Weeds could be left growing amongst the vegetables because they were important for food when the vegetables weren’t ready yet. Land cress and fat hen could be used in salads. The garden was only weeded when there was an established vegetable crop.
Ruth’s eel traps were successful so she takes her eels home to cook. She removes the slime from them using a salt rub and water. These will be a treat for the team and the workers because freshwater fish were hard to come by if you didn’t live near a river, and you would normally have to use salt cod or pickled herrings. Ruth makes a brewet, using parsley, breadcrumbs and beer to make a sauce for the eel, which she cooks separately. She adds the stock from the eels to the sauce. Ruth serves this luxury dish at the 5pm supper, which would normally be pottage, and the team enjoy the wall hangings and the portrait of Tom.
In the next episode, the team will go to work for the monastery, restoring accommodation, washing linens and learning the art of monastic hospitality.
You can see the episode at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0QzOKo-c9M&feature=share
Remember to check out The Anne Boleyn Files Advent Calendar.