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Hang Out the Washing…

Until fairly recently washing was a difficult and physically demanding job. In the Medieval and Tudor periods outer garments belonging to the wealthy could not be successfully cleaned, only brushed and aired for freshness.  The fine fabrics; silks, brocades and velvets, would not stand up to the harsh alkaline soaps available. As changing fashions demanded slashed, embroidered and padded garments which were sometimes stuffed with bran or card these were worn until they were either too unsavoury or too unfashionable.  They were then discarded after anything reusable like trims had been removed and they then entered an active second hand clothes market.  At a time when every item of clothing was hand made from beginning to end clothing was a valuable commodity and the poor had few scruples about stripping bodies or stealing clothes let alone buying used clothing.

The fabric used next to the skin was usually linen.  Read more…

A Superficial Saunter Through Silk

Silk is one of the most expensive and versatile fabrics in the world. It is a natural material produced from the cocoon of the silk moth (bombyx mori) which feeds on the leaves of the mulberry tree. Each cocoon can produce a single thread of approximately 2 miles but this is destroyed if the emerging moth is allowed to eat through the cocoon, thus breaking the thread, before hatching normally. Read more…

Beetroot Pancakes

This is another unusual recipe from the redoubtable Mrs Raffald and is an example of the way fruit and vegetables were used more imaginatively than today. There are numerous Georgian recipes that involve parsnips,  potatoes, beetroot and other sweet root vegetables mashed and combined with flavourings which partner their natural sweetness. Yet again it’s an easy recipe today as kitchen gadgets do most of the work. However, you do need a heavy based pan or old fashioned griddle (girdle) which will hold the heat without burning, and you cannot take your eyes off the pancakes while they are cooking as they will burn in a trice. Read more…

Elizabeth Raffald’s Chocolate Puffs

Elizabeth Raffald deserves to be much better known than she is today. She crammed  so much activity into her 50 or so years of life (the average life span in the eighteenth century). Quite apart from having 16 daughters in the course of 18 years, which must be some sort of record, she was the housekeeper in various large houses, gave cookery lessons, was involved with a local newspaper, spoke French and most importantly, established the first Servants’ Agency in Manchester where she was living at the time. A northern lady, she was born in Doncaster, died in Stockport and in between lived in Salford and Manchester. Her ‘Experienced English Housekeeper’ was published 12 years before her sudden death.  The chocolate puffs are an example of a Georgian recipe which is really easy to make today but would have involved hours of patient effort back then

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Food in the Eighteenth Century

A display charting changes in eighteenth century tastesAs in other centuries, life was tough to impossible in the Eighteenth Century if you were poor and was made worse with the successive Enclosure Acts which removed vast areas of common grazing. ‘Drunk for a penny, dead drunk for twopence’ was as common in  this century as in the respectable Victorian times to come, and the misery of the poor is well illustrated by Hogarth, which makes a visit to the Sir John Soane Museum* in Lincoln’s Inn Fields well worth a visit. However, if you’ve stayed with me this far, that’s enough about misery. The Eighteenth Century is a fascinating and magical place for food inspiration as well. Read more…

Medieval Merriment at Rochester

Rochester is well known for its Dickens festival and Victorian celebrations which have grown year on year. However, a new period is sneaking up on these established events. During the first weekend in September the public have been welcomed to the castle grounds in order to travel back to the Middle Ages. Read more…

Ink

When I was a child I was fascinated by an ancient Victorian  book called “Enquire Within”. It covered everything from the correct way to hire servants through to mundane things about using up leftovers and had a number of recipes for making ink. For interest, I will include Dr. Ure’s recipe now: Read more…

Pensthorpe Medieval 2010 – truly a Spectacular

early morning at Pensthorpe

early morning at Pensthorpe

The title for the fun and games at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve last August weekend was “Medieval Spectacular” and it delivered in every way. Returning visitors, who now have up to 6 of these events under their belts, say it just gets better and better. Each year builds on the previous one, with a range of skills, crafts and talents on display. On sale there was the usual unexpected and varied range of traditional goods: silver and gold jewellery all faithfully copied from surviving pieces, rare incense, longbows and swords ( both children’s and the real thing for adults), pottery, glassware and so on. There was a timetable of events that ran throughout the day and ranged from medieval music from knowledgeable musicians who were happy to explain their instruments, to stunning displays of co operation between the falconer and his birds Read more…

Butter'd Grains

Fast food is nothing new. Throughout the ages people have wanted something quick, filling and easy. Firmity or frumenty was eaten as a sort of porridge in medieval times, with additional spices or fruit according to the consumer’s status and pocket. In the eighteenth century this was still available on the streets of London. The itinerant vendors could preboil a large pot of the whole grains, usually pearl barley, the night before in their home. Then carrying a portable brazier or chaffing dish it was an easy job to reheat and serve individual portions, adding the butter, sugar and nutmeg on the spot. Read more…

20th August. This day in the past

Precisely 100 years ago today at midday mourners in their hundreds filed into St Paul’s Cathedral in London to mourn and commemorate the death of Florence Nightingale. Nowadays opinion is divided about her contribution to the Crimean War, and many people would emphasise the contribution of Mary Seacole who was instrumental in increasing ward hygiene. However, Florence Nightingale is still known as The Lady with the Lamp and most importantly, she highlighted to the public the poor standard of care being received by soldiers and the need for funds and improvement. She went on to become most influential in the development of nursing standards and training.

At 3.52pm in Whitehall, 70 years on exactly, one of Sir Winston Churchill’s most famous wartime speeches will be reprised by Robert Hardy. 70 years ago, between July and October, the RAF were engaged in the Battle of Britain. This aerial engagement, and the men who died defending the UK, were instrumental in preventing a successful invasion.

“Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few..”