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Friday, 30 September 2011

Livestock and a few terms and sayings surrounding them

Everything you never wanted to know about sheep.

Sheep are not just sheep.
That is to say, there is a wide range of terminology connected with sheep according to their age and gender [including the gender ‘gelding’] before you even get to technical terms in shearing.
There are some excellent shearing videos on YouTube so I’m not going there.  Here however is a table of  the names given to sheep at various ages.
Generic name
Until weaned
Up to first shearing
After first shearing
After 2nd shearing
Two-year tup
After 3rd shearing

In addition, when a ewe is past breeding age she is said to be a draft-ewe.
The Bellwether of the flock was a steady creature who wore a bell to attract the attentions of the other members of the flock to lead them home; in the Middle Ages and after it was also a jocose but deprecating name given to a man of decided opinions and tendency to try to lead the opinions of others.
Another term with implications attached if used descriptively was free-martin; this referred to an ewe who displayed masculine behaviour and generally lacked functioning ovaries.

The fleece of a hogget at its first shearing could yield 15lb of wool; the average weight of wool from an ewe was 4-5 lb though this varied from species to species and long staple sheep gave more.

Ah yes, staple – this refers to the length of the wool.  Long staple wool was in demand for weaving the warp of a bolt of cloth and the often very fine short staple wool for the weft.  This is a simplification!

Another Medieval term that might be used in a derogatory sense to describe appearance was to say that someone had dag-locks.  The dag-locks were the matted and soiled locks of wool around the sheep’s rear end.  Dag-wool was refuse wool

What have sheep in common with sherry?
Up to the 15th century the wool of the merino sheep was rather coarse, and not much prized.  It came under the attentions of Spanish monks who produced the forerunner of the breed as we know it today, with long lustrous wool that is of good fineness.
The Spanish monks were very good at selective breeding; as well as the merino they also developed the famous Andalusian horse and the grapes for the wine of Xerez, otherwise known as sherry.

Little boy blue come blow up your horn
The sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn
Where is the boy that looks after the sheep
He’s under a haystack fast asleep
MAY be a satire on Thomas Wolsey, little boy blue [blue being heraldically associated with his home town of Ipswich] and referring to him being the son of a grazier [and butcher], and doubtless expected to care for the animals in his youth.   If it was meant as a satire on him, it would be suggesting that he abrogated his responsibilities as Lord Chancellor by ignoring the needs of the people in putting the wishes of the king and his own ambitions first. 

I am not about to go into breeds but an excellent article is the PDF available online by AK Copus ‘Changing Markets and the development of Sheep Breeds in Southern England 1750 – 1900.

Everything you never wanted to know about swine

Generic name
Under a year

gilt [before first litter]

3 years old

Note that pig iron was so called because it ran into ‘pigs’ bars of iron side by side coming off the stream of melt because it was said to represent pigs suckling a  sow.  The term pig was in use for a young hog well into the early years of the 19th century.

A Tantony Pig is a corruption of ‘St Anthony’s pig’.  A tantony pig is one of the terms of the runt of the litter [the other being cab pig as devotees of 101 Dalmations will know].  St Anthony is patron saint of pigs and runt pigs were given to the monks hospitallers of St Anthony, to be reared as free range pigs. They were free to roam and would follow anyone who looked likely to give them a choice morsel, hence the term ‘to follow someone around like a tantony pig’.  As the swine wore small bells to identify them, a tantony also came to refer to a small ring of bells.

A pig in a poke – in the middle ages sucking pigs were sold in sacks, or pokes.  The unscrupulous would sell a sack in which was a cat or dog not the pig that was expected.  It is a warning against purchasing without checking the goods first.

Tom, Tom the piper’s son, he stole a pig and away did run
The pig was eat, and Tom was beat, and he went roaring down the street
This nursery rhyme is often illustrated with Tom carrying an actual piglet under one arm, but actually referred to a confectionary not as large as a pie and containing apple or dried fruit.

Everything you never wanted to know about cattle AKA kine

Generic name
Young [under three years]

Heifer [or before first calving]

The word cattle is a corruption of the Saxon catel, which also gives us the word chattel, or property.
Ox [plural oxen] are generally geldings used as draught beasts.
Young cattle may also be referred to as veals if destined to become veal meat, even as meat cattle are sometimes called beeves.
An old term for a bovine is a neat, which survives only in neatsfoot jelly and neatsfoot oil made from the hooves and lower legs of cattle.
The term free-marten is used for cows as well, typically of females born as twins to males, and which are always infertile.
Cattle of course come in two varieties, beef and dairy, and what is food for one is generally less good for the other.  Dairy cattle needing fine grassland led to the rise in prices of dairy produce during and immediately following the Napoleonic war owing to the need to turn over more land to arable farming, initially to have enough bread for domestic consumption and subsequently as a result of the Corn Laws which forbade the importing of cheap foreign grains. 

Everything you never wanted to know about horses

Generic name
Under a year
One to two years
Two to four years
Over 4

The Heavy Horse for draught work appeared in several different places in Europe around the beginning of the sixteenth century, the first recorded Suffolk Punch being in 1511.  It has been postulated that as knights in armour became obsolete the destrier was bred into the general stock which increased the strength and size of working horses.  The main reason for the change from oxen to horses as draught beasts was more to do with improved agricultural practices than with anything else, because horses could be sustained on improved fodder since a horse costs more to keep than an ox [an ox costs about 70% the cost of a horse to feed].  Horses tend to live longer than oxen, but the main advantage is their versatility and ability to perform more than one basic task; they also do not churn up the land as much with their feet. Oxen tended to be used in the north of England where fodder was less rich and where too the heavy lands needed their superior stamina.  Horses were used in the south west as early as the fourteenth century.  The advent of the heavy horse brought a superior stamina to the farm.
[for greater detail on the economics of horses versus cattle in depth see John Langdon ‘The economics of horses and oxen in medieval England’ available online as a PDF]

May I just add, as a matter of general livestock interest,  a link to Mike Rendell's blog 'The Musings of Richard Hall'  where the activities of Mr Robert Bakewell of Dishley are chronicled and his ground-breaking selective breeding.
There's a link there to the New Dishley Society and I've put it on my list of favourite places too

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Renaissance Food Terminology, a few odd terms

Renaissance Food Terms
'All the King's Cooks' Peter Brears
'Food and Feast in Medieval England' Peter Hammond
'Food and Feast in Tudor England'  Alison Sim 

Let’s be honest, most of these terms are Medieval but these are some of the things with which Felicia and Robin would be familiar. 
Here you will find Manchet Bread, Cheat Bread, Maslin Bread, Coney,Verjuice, Girout, Frumenty, Herbolace, Poor Knights of Windsor/Payne Perdew, Pie/Coffin, Mortrews, Collops, Aloes, Risshews, Skuets. Million Pie, Macrows and Possets/Caudles. 
My apologies that I haven't  yet worked out how to put in an internal link to jump directly to them all

Manchet bread – the finest, whitest bread, only eaten by the richest, ground very finely, no bits at all to wear the teeth.  This is the bread the prioress in the Canterbury tales fed her dog, the point being that she gave her pet food that most of the populace could not afford. At that, as a white bread it is not as white as we would expect white bread to be, not being as finely milled and bleached as modern tastes call for. 

Cheat or Chat bread – the next grade of bread.  Everyday fare for most people would eat.  Wholemeal.

Maslin bread – a coarse, dark bread made from a mix of rye and other grains.  Maslin was a rye mix usually sown for animal feed but the poorest made do with bread  made from it. 

Why Rabbit is Coney
In this period rabbit refers only to the young animal, under a year old; the adult is a coney. Henry VIII liked rabbit served with sauce of parsley, boiled butter, and verjuice [see below] served with salt and pepper and thickened with breadcrumbs. Rabbits for great houses were reared in warrens which might be huge affairs a mile across, or a smaller warren mound, stemming from the time when the Normans introduced them and they were sufficiently delicate to have trouble surviving the English climate.  Wild rabbits and hares were also in season September-March. Rabbits were more profitable than sheep on poor soil as besides the meat, the skins  could be sold to to tailors, glovers and hatters.
Also it is a meat that is available in winter, valuable in a time when most meat animals were slaughtered.  Pigeons in a dovecot were similarly available.
Up to a few months old, rabbit was designated as not counting as meat so monks could eat them on fast days.  (young)Rabbit meat fried with spinach. 
Coney derives from Latin cuniculus. Apicus, the famous gourmet of  the1st Century praised rabbit meatballs.  [Never got around to making them myself.]

For Henry VIII this was crabapple juice, but any tart juice could be called Verjuice; indeed it was common to make it from the pressings of grapes that did not ripen as was common enough in England [I have a vine and it’s only ripened fully to black three times that I know of; 1976, 2008 and 2009].

Meat stew served to William the Bastard on his coronation day – Christmas day – and served at every coronation since up to George V.
By  the 16th Century prunes and spices added, and it was called Christmas broth, porridge or pottage. Gradually more spices added and it became Christmas pudding

Served with venison or on its own, this is essentially boiled, cracked wheat, the name deriving from the Latin frumentum, grain. It may also be called fermenty, furmity or a number of different incarnations of the name.  Some recipes call for the cooking to be done in milk  or broth, and may include egg. Also to this may be added saffron, dried fruit, sugar, almonds, almond milk, spices, such as cinnamon, and orange flower water. You may be sure that Henry VIII had the richest variety.
It was a traditional Christmas dish, and also eaten on Mothering Sunday [American readers, please note that the English Mothering Sunday was during Lent and was a time to visit the Mother Church, nothing to do with one’s female parental unit; the permitted use of egg in frumenty was a welcome Lenten departure from fast].

Baked egg with cheese and herbs, a fore-runner of the omelette

Poor Knights of Windsor AKA Payn Perdew AKA Poor Knights’ Pudding
Bread cut into sticks, soaked in beaten egg [and possibly sherry], scattered with sugar and cinnamon and fried. This is a way of using up stale bread.  The name Payn Perdew is from Pain Perdu which is French for lost bread, because the bread is covered in the batter.

Just a note that this is a word that is short for magpie, leading also to the word pied [as in pied piper] meaning two coloured.  In the terms of foodstuff it refers to the habit magpies have of collecting an eclectic selection of stuff. Pie is a dish made of any old thing in other words….. Medieval pies were big with a thick ‘coffin’ of pastry made of flour, butter, broth and an egg or two.  Melton Mowbray pie is the earliest recipe for pork pies in 14th C and includes plenty of raisins and currants in the coffin. Coffin was the term generally used for the crust.

Described as a  pottage of pounded pork or chicken, flavoured with minced onion and stuffed with egg yolks and breadcrumbs sufficient ‘that it be standing’: which is to say, not so much a pottage really as a form of meat loaf.  This is a medieval dish still extant. 
One might also have a mortews of fish.

Monday prior to Ash Wednesday is called collop Monday in the north of England.  The last meat is eaten then, of collops, or slices of meat or bacon lightly fried then stewed in gravy.  In south, collops are cut from bacon or ham.  In north and Scotland venison sometimes used, or more often steak or lamb

Aloes or Olives of Beef or Veal
Aloe is a corruption of the Old French for Lark which this dish is supposed to resemble.  This dish appears in the Middle Ages and consists of meat slices wrapped around a herb stuffing and baked.

 We would call them rissoles, cakes made of ground meat which might contain herbs and vegetables,  baked or fried.

Medieval kebabs…. skewers of pork, veal or lamb. Used in the  middle ages, given flamboyance by Richard II whose cooks served dainty titbits of meat on silver skewers.  Parboil onion, use bacon and lamb rubbed with salt and pepper, mace, clove or ginger.  Also mushroom.  Dip threaded skuets in melted butter and spoon it over while cooking on spit-grill.

Million Pie
A Norfolk dish made of the million, mullion, or melon, or as we know it today, the pumpkin.  This was the local dish that was the forerunner of the Pilgrim Fathers’ well know pumpkin pie.

Macaroni; a 14th Century name for it. 

Possets and caudles
These are mentioned as early as 12th Century.
The name may change but essentially it is a thickened milk drink, curdled with ale or wine.  The thickener can be oatmeal, breadcrumbs or egg.  Drunk in medieval period for breakfast or supper. It could be as mean as a drink made with whey or buttermilk  and ale with stale breadcrumbs, or as rich as one made with heavy sherry wine and cream with eggs.  Generally it would be given as a bever, a half drink, half meal workmen would take between meals to keep them going.  Nowadays we have egg-nogg.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Silver Threads among the......lead. Yet another Felicia and Robin prequel

Silver threads among the….lead.

When your client drops dead during the time that he is resting from having a sitting it is extremely disconcerting to say the least.
Signor d’Agnolo was a nice old man who had asked for a painting of himself for posterity since his silversmithing business had done extremely well; he provided threads of silver to the Arte della Seta, the guild of silkworkers to weave them, as they do gold threads, in their brocades and tissues, and for the Arte della Lana, the guild of woollen manufacturers who used such threads in cloth-of-silver, often woven in with threads dyed that richest of blues, Alessandrine to produce an effect like moonlight on a lake at night.
My master and I had been glad to do the portrait because we were low on funds – my master had but recently been maintaining a very expensive mistress whom I disliked more than usual – and having the chance to live in at Signor d’Agnolo’s country villa meant we did not have to pay the bills for day to day living.  He set a good table too, so we were eating better than we did even when we were in funds, and though my master teases me for my fondness for my food, he should recall that I am growing and must needs fuel the growth.
We were told of the death when Signor d’Agnolo’s man, Bartolomeo, came howling through the house like the angel of death himself, tearing at his clothes and hair.
My master reached surreptitiously for a pen-cil and I stood on his foot.  The poor fellow did not deserve to turn up in a painting as one of the afflicted whose devils were cast into the Gaderine swine. 
“Censorious little shrew” said my master without rancour.
Perhaps it would be a good point at which to describe the other members of Signor d’Agnolo’s household.
The Signora d’Agnolo was a recent acquisition and I use the term advisedly.  Tancia d’Agnolo was definitely of the class of fogattini, the small-hatted ones which is to say the insignificant; being the child of a shoemaker.  Her husband had not only waived a dowry to possess such a beautiful, if not very clever, bride as his second wife, but had settled a considerable sum on her father.  Tancia was happy enough with the bargain, which being so there is not a shoemaker in the land who would not jump at such a suggestion, for everyone knows that shoemakers are always having to live on credit, since nobody ever pays his shoemaker unless he has to. 
I will say that it is one of the more attractive things about my master that he pays in advance and in full any sum owed to our shoemaker who considers my master little short of the angel he would resemble if one did not take the aquiline nose into account.
Tancia was not of course held in high regard by Signor d’Agnolo’s two sons, Giovanni and Leonardo.  They were twins whose birth together with the third son who had died had cost the life of their mother, and each as different to the other as two beings could be, belying the idea that twins were always as alike in personality as in looks.  Giovanni was apparently the older by some half an hour, and was the good looking one, with smouldering eyes that a lot of girls found irresistible.  I thought he looked sulky myself but then I am not really old enough to get stupid about young men. He liked being wealthy and spent the allowance his father made him as soon as it was in his hands; and he was not so good a worker in his father’s workshops that he was like to earn a bonus ever either; though his flights of imagination in the matter of making decorative beads and spangles for clothing pleased his father mightily.  Leonardo on the other hand was a hard working young man, diligent and patient and without a single spark of originality or imagination in his body.  He put in twice as much effort in the workshop as Giovanni and gave his father all that he could.  Both youths were seventeen and might expect to have their papers of release from apprenticeship within the next year when they might choose to leave their father to set up on their own or seek work with another master.


Naturally we had not stayed frozen, bar my master’s desire to sketch, when Bartolomeo spread the news of his master’s sudden death.  We ran to Signor d’Agnolo’s room where he lay in horrid evidence of the truth.
Some servants are prone to exaggeration after all.
Signor d’Agnolo had voided himself and vomited horribly and his eyes started from his head in an expression of seeming horror, but more likely from the efforts of his extreme purging.  The little red spots in his eyes and on his face spoke of how he had gasped frantically for breath.  I had seen this before on a drowning victim whose body my master had managed to acquire.
It is not legal but how is an artist to understand anatomy if we have not studied how the body works at first hand?  Bribing a sexton is one of the little expenses one has to accept.
Tancia set up a screech which was hardly surprising for her husband of but a few weeks was a rather horrid sight.
“Dear God!” cried Leonardo “It must be lead poisoning – see his pewter goblet!  Have I not warned him often and often that the acid in wine will leach out the lead into his drink?”
“Funny” said my master “I saw no signs of memory loss or headache, and he has not complained once of stomach ache when we have dined here.”
“What do you mean?” demanded Giovanni quickly “You know about poisoning, Signor Robertini?”
“Of course I do” said my master.  “I use poisons as a matter of course; many of my pigments are poison, and I have been refreshing my mind as I teach Felicia to prepare them safely.  Salt of Saturn  I use every day, the soluble form of lead.”
It is part of his secret formula that permits his paints to dry more quickly than those of many other artists but of course he would not mention that.
I went forward to the pewter goblet; it stood still on the table and had not been upset and a good third remained in it.
I sipped cautiously.
“Felicia!” my master paled.  He does care for my wellbeing.
“It is bitter master; there is no sweetness at all” I said.  “The name most people give to Salt of Saturn is Sugar of Lead because it makes things taste sweet.  This wine has something horrid in the bottom of it.”
“Permit me to enlighten you my child” said my master grimly “With so sudden and violent a death with just these symptoms.  They are similar to death by lead poisoning but I have never heard of lead poisoning coming on so fast.  It is a slower death than – arsenic.  Which tastes bitter.”
I pulled a face; I could not help it.
“With so little amount you will take no harm, child, but you should not have taken the risk!” my master chided me. “But it is clear that this is no case of accidental lead poisoning but deliberate murder.”
“Who would murder our father?” demanded Giovanni.
“You for one, brother” said Leonardo “Were you not in trouble for being in debt yet again?  And is it not a fact that you watch Tancia with lustful eyes that dwell on her perfect face and white globes that you long to touch with your lewd fingers?”
Giovanni gave an angry bark of laughter.
“Not I, brother; she is not fiery enough for me.  I should prefer the artist maid when she is old enough to have a figure as well as a temper.  See?” he added as I bit my thumb at him.  “Delightful!”
“Oh my poor husband!” wailed Tancia “Who will care for me now he is gone? Will my step sons see that I have a handsome dowry to remarry?”
“Pretty Tancia, to get rid of you to another as foolish as our father, anything” said Giovanni “But only if you stop this screeching.  I would listen to the Artist and his brown shrew.”
“Who carried the wine to him?” I asked. I looked to Signor d’Agnolo’s man Bartolomeo for an answer.  He had his own hysterics under control and was weeping.
“The maid Lucia” said Bartolomeo.  “She is my lady’s maid but she said that she would carry it to the master.”
“Send for her” said my master.
It is wonderful how he can take charge by sheer personality; we had of course no standing in the household at all but Bartolomeo obeyed without question.


The little maid came and gasped in horror at the sight of her dead master.
“Dear God!” she cried “Surely this is a nightmare!” she turned to look at the brothers “The powder cannot have done this!”
Leonardo let out a howl.
“You have murdered my father on the orders of your lover, my brother!” he cried “I will kill you and him!” and he launched himself towards her drawing his knife as he did so.
My master’s own knife was out of the scabbard before anyone could blink, blocking and parrying the blade and in one smooth movement wrenching it from Leonardo’s hand.
“I would prefer to hear about this powder you know” he said calmly, kicking Leonardo’s feet from under him.
“It was Signor Leonardo who gave it to you, wasn’t it?” I said to the girl.
“Yes Signorina!” she said “He said it would enhance the master’s performance to please my mistress the more!”
“Madness!” howled Leonardo from the floor “Why would I kill my father?”
“Yes, why would he?” asked Giovanni “He is the good boy not the wastrel.”
“Because,” I said, “However good he was, however hard he worked, he could never please your father as well as you.  You were the one with brilliance and flair who pleased your father with your designs even though you vexed him with your spendthrift habits.  He knew you would settle down in time.  Perhaps he was wild as a youth himself.  But Signor Leonardo was jealous that for all his diligence you were favoured – even as Cain was favoured over Abel by their father.  Abel was a fraudster but your brother decided to go further.  Moreover from the way he speaks of the fair Signora Tancia d’Agnolo, it is he who lusts for his stepmother and perhaps hoped to possess her if your father were out of the way.”
“It is a SIN!” cried Tancia.
I knew she was not very clever but if she had not noticed that murder was more of a sin than technical incest then she was dimmer even than I thought.
Giovanni nodded.
“I see” he said shortly.  “Thank you Signor Robertini, Signorina Felicia.  You will present your arguments to the Gonfalonier?”
We acquiesced of course.
Giovanni had grown up and laid aside that wild youth in the shock of the death of his father. A hard way to have to come fully to manhood’s estate.


“So what started you suspecting Leonardo?” asked my master.
“It was he who was keen to suggest accidental death and to insist that he had warned his father about the dangers of drinking from a pewter goblet” I said “And then when he saw that he could not pass it off as such with our testimony to the contrary he was ready to lay it onto Giovanni.  And to kill the girl before she could speak.”
My master nodded.
“Your reasoning as ever is good” he said.  “Well, at least we are to get paid to finish the painting from our sketches for Giovanni; and then we shall eat well, hmmm?”
“Until you spend all our funds on something frivolous” I said tartly.
He laughed and cuffed me lightly.
He does at least acknowledge his many faults.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Thomas Wolsey, Catlover. Oh, and he was Lord Chancellor too.

In a period when cats and cat lovers could, by a papal ordinance of 1484 be burned, Thomas Wolsey was a notable cat lover. 

The name Wolsey comes from Wulfsig, or ‘Wolf victory’; wolves are canines, but on the other hand they have the same capacity for independence that cats do; a cat will stay because it wants to.
Some cats are attached to places, others to people; but there are those people with whom cats will happily stay, regardless of their movements.  Wolsey was apparently one of those people as he travelled about in the king’s train and on the king’s business generally taking at least two of his cats with him.  One indeed was said to attend mass with him and sit quietly and with all apparent piety throughout.

Tom Wolsey was born in Ipswich, the son of a small land owner who owned and raised cattle of various kinds.  He was educated at Felawe’s school, now the Ipswich School and still going strong, and at Oxford University.  He was almoner first and very briefly to Henry VII and then to Henry VIII, and had a running rivalry with Henry VII’s mother Margaret Beaufort [perhaps she was an ailurophobe; she was certainly dictatorial and there is not a single dictator I know of who liked cats].
In the period of my Robin and Felicia books Wolsey has not yet risen to cardinal, let alone Lord Chancellor.  I give him a number of fictional cats which are whimsically named as, by my reading of his character through looking at as many accounts of him as I can, I fancy he might have done. 
I have Felicia describe him in many ways as essentially feline; neat and economical of movement, sleek, and with the eye of a mouser. Her first impressions are not favourable:

      “He seemed most affable.”  I said.  “Indeed, he seemeth like the very fireside cat that hath but late licked the cream off his whiskers; distaining overmuch the work of hunting rats but rather dispatching the common cats to do the same.  Yet withal, I fancy, it sometimes taketh his whimsy to pursue a choice mouse, playing with it before deciding whether to bite it in the neck or let it go.  Be wary, my master, lest you become the churchman’s mouse to scurry hither and thither at the wave of his velvet gloved paws.”
From 'The Mary Rose Mystery'
Felicia acquires a more positive view of Tom Wolsey as she gets to know him, but she continues to refer to him as 'Tom Mouser' especially when his position of Royal Spymaster [an invention of mine in the biography of Thomas Wolsey but not, I think, unreasonable] involves her and Robin in dangerous adventures.

Wolsey rose in the church, becoming Bishop of Lincoln in 1512, Archbishop of York in 1514, Cardinal in 1515 and rose in a secular fashion too, to become  Lord Chancellor in 1515. 

Ipswich has this year honoured her famous son with a statue near the house reputed to be the one where he was born, and David Annand of Fife was commissioned to cast it in bronze.  He has included a cat, which is very appropriate.  Thank you David Annand!

For an excellent history see The King’s Cardinal by Peter Gwyn

By the way I have a cat blog too now at

Friday, 23 September 2011

Time is not measured by Rollex in previous eras

Time Generally

      Time for most people was measured by the Church.  The year was governed by a combination of religious festivals and farming expediency; the religious festivals usually coinciding with farming needs. Calendars were just being introduced but the idea of most people dating anything ‘the umpteenth of whatever’ was totally alien.  Dating was by festivals and saints’ days. It is possible to find a saint for every day, but most did not go in for quite so sad a depth of hagiography; but might date a letter, say, ‘Wednesday following the day of St Wilfrid’.  Major saints had a vigil held before their feast, which was a fast day; there are complex rules governing how these move if they fall on Sunday or another major feast.  (Anyone who is interested should look up Father John Wooley online for a comprehensive discussion. Note; the vigil ran to sundown, which was when the next day started: even as Sabbath started at sundown on Saturday.

The days were divided according to the church offices and the prayers that were said at the following times – themselves dependant on time of year in some cases:

Matins midnight
Lauds sunrise
Prime 6-30 am
Terce 9-00 am
Sext noon
Nones 3-00 pm
Vespers sunset or 6-00 pm ish
Compline 9-00 pm ish aka bedtime

The farmworker’s day was determined as it always has been by the time of year; he worked from dawn until dusk. The hardest work of the year was during harvest, when the day was very long too; in winter there were less tasks to do on the land save marling it but the few animals that were not slaughtered still had to be cared for, and there was repair to tools and fences.

The year was divided into quarters as I have mentioned in the section on finances in the Renaissance, concerning pay by the quarter. 
Quarter days:
Lady Day, 25th March, held as New Year’s day until 1751 and the reason for the superstition of cleaning the grate completely on New Year’s eve [it makes sense at the end of spring to be without a fire where it does not do so in the middle of winter]
Midsummer Day 24th June St John’s feast day
Michaelmas Day 29th September
Christmas Day 25th December

Country folk were still calculating by the quarter day up to the second world war in some places.

Even in the Regency time was not as all-important as it is now.  Time nowadays is measured in nanoseconds and consumes all our lives.  Then the nearest quarter hour was good enough – and likely to be different in every village or at every church steeple by which gentlemen set their watches.  Accurate chronometers for the use of sailors had been invented in 1750 for the purposes of calculating longitude at sea, but pocket watches were not of that degree of accuracy, and nor did this particularly matter.  Especially as the time from one place to the next might be anything up to an hour different.
Country wide timekeeping only became important with the widespread use of railways; when ‘railway time’ was adhered to as the standard.
No Regency buck is going to look at his watch and say ‘it is three seventeen’; for one thing that means of expressing the time is modern, and for another it would not occur to him to be that accurate – unless he was trying to break a record driving from London to Brighton, when he would probably start on the hour or half hour in any case.  He would for every day purposes say either ‘it’s about quarter past three’ or if he was trying to hurry up the females in his life ‘hurry up, it’s coming up twenty past three already’.

Moon phases as they relate to time of rising and setting.

Nothing irritates me much more than to read things like ‘the sickle moon was just rising as they went to Almack’s’
The rising and setting times of the moon are determined by the phases and though that may vary by some hours in general the following is true.

The New Moon or dark of the moon rises very early in the morning, between the late early hours and early morning and sets in the early evening.  This is only really noticeable when there is the first sliver of new moon visible.

First Quarter  rises quite early in the morning and sets sometime at or after midnight.

Full Moon rises early evening, sets very, very early in the morning

Third Quarter rises after midnight and sets  during the first part of the morning

During each of these phases of course the time shifts slightly each day. 

The Jordanian astronomical society have a calculator which will calculate times of rising and setting any month of any year you want for total accuracy; it is called Accurate Time and there are a number of versions that can be downloaded. 

What's going on with the books....

'Poison for a Poison Tongue' is wrapped and ready to go just as soon as I have a US tax code to log me as a person at Create Space [doing the paperwork to explain that I shall be paying any taxes in Britain not to the US government is a whole new ballgame to join right after that]. So, I await the wheels of bureacracy on that.

'Death of a Fop' proof copy is winging its way towards me in the mail.

'William Price and the 'Thrush'' is still in the pipeline.  However as I know what it's going to look like, here's a view of all of them.

This is all very exciting, and I'm hoping to get my tax code soon so I can get going. 
To anyone who has read 'Death of a Fop' and the first William Price novella online, these are revised, extended somewhat, and -I fondly hope - improved.Thanks for the input that has enabled me to do so.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Laundry the old way


I was fortunate perhaps to be raised in a time and place by an old fashioned family when learning to hand wash was considered an essential as well as having a twin tub.  If this was out of commission however water was heated either on the range or in the copper.
We  had an electric copper – essentially a big zinc barrel on three legs with a heating element and a tap – but I was made familiar by tales with the copper in the shared wash house that was a big vat over an enclosed fire, built of brick but otherwise not unlike the stoke hole of a steam train. 
There was no ‘delicates’ setting in a vat of boiling water so learning to dip off water and what temperature was required for each garment was just a part of life. 
So I learned first hand the skills with which Jane Austen would have been equally familiar and probably hated just as much.
In the pantry was a bar of green soap much the same as the bars of soap sold in the Regency; it was a pre-war piece of kit, and as there were in my youth bars sold as bars it had just got left there, a foot or so of soap off which it had once been customary to saw a bar as one needed it.   We also had Reckitt’s blue bag [incidentally containing the same ingredients as are nowadays included in washing powders that wash whiter than white] which imparted a blue lustre to the wash and counteracted yellow stains of sweat.  This was however a modern piece of kit that had not made its first appearance until 1850.   However the use of a blueing agent to disguise yellow stains was known of at least as early as the 18th century, called stone blue.  [Amelia Chambers, The ladies best companion; or, a golden treasure for the fair sex (1775)]

 washboard, washing tub and dolly

Washing involved wetting the soap and rubbing up a lather; we lived at first in an area of soft water and had no need to add a splash of vinegar to the water to get a lather up as we had to once we had moved.  The most heavily soiled areas of the washing were thoroughly rubbed with soap; some of these may have been already soaking to lift stains, plain water for most stains, cold water with salt for blood.   Soap had been  grated into the hot water of the wash tub and beaten to a lather with the washing stick [I was very glad to use soap flakes when we moved to a big town and could get them easily] and into this the soaped washing went.  Then it was a question of rubbing the fabric against itself and for those stubborn stains up and down on the washing board. After this it must be wrung out – it’s a knack to twist with the wrists to wring efficiently, some people never get it however strong their wrists are – and set in the big butler sink to have the pump worked vigorously to rinse it well.  We missed the pump in town.  Also in the area of hard water the final rinse had to have vinegar in or the hard water inhibited softness in the garments.  Then wrung out again and pegged on the line to dry.
We never had a washing dolly – an implement like a small three-legged stool on a pole to pound the washing with – but my great-great grandmother, who took in washing  between acting as local midwife had had one, and I learned about it by word of mouth.  She also kept the ‘whites bag’: spare nightdresses, a sheet or two and baby clothes for those families too poor for the mother to have a second nightgown or pair of sheets  when they had been soiled by her lying in or to have clothes for a new baby.
They were a rough bunch some of those to whom my GGgrandmother gave her services; my great grandmother used to assist her mother – before she grew up and married a Master Baker – and when she was thirteen a man came in to find his wife in the throes of birth and unable to give him his marital rights so he said to my great gran ‘you’ll do’ and started undoing his trousers.
My great gran, who subsequently reared suffragettes, promptly bit the offending article. 
Not perhaps entirely germane to the business of laundry; and yet perhaps indicative of country attitudes to the level in society of a washerwoman whose daughter was definitely not considered inviolate, when that girl’s father was permanently disabled from the exigencies of his harsh life as a fisherman.

Note; even in the Regency, washing was generally dried by being laid on the grass outside rather than pegged on a washing line. No such thing as a clothes peg until at least the 1830’s…….

Right, down to the nitty gritty.
Frankly most of these notes are going to be as germane to the Medieval, Renaissance or Regency period and all points in between; right up to the invention of washing machines and modern washing powders, and actually if you have real silk garments, eschewing the modern conveniences and using a few tips below is going to lengthen the life of those garments.
 So let’s start with the luxury fabrics that are too expensive to spoil in the wash. 
This covers velvet before the era of velveteen/ velveret etc and brocades and some damasks.
Silk is an animal fibre and so is susceptible to rotting by strong alkali substances – like most lyes or soaps.  Wool survives if well rinsed but silk is more tender. Oh and by the way another strong alkali substance is sweat so be aware armpits are going to rot if not properly treated.  This is the major reason that linen chemises were worn – to soak up the sweat and protect expensive overgarments which were frankly laundered as little as possible.  Visible stains were dealt with and otherwise, unless the clothes stood up and begged they were left severely alone.
Small stains might be rubbed with fuller’s earth moistened with lye to lift them.

How do you launder silk though, I hear you ask?  Easy actually, if fiddlesome and potentially expensive.  Soak the stained area – and this works very well on sweat stains – overnight in warmed white wine or white wine vinegar.  The acid of the vinegar or wine counteracts the alkaline sweat if anyone is interested.  It is then sponged off with a damp sponge or cloth.  Stubborn stains could be rubbed gently using soapwort which is nothing like as harsh as lye based soap and washed out in cold water.
Why cold?  Because some of the dyes were likely to run and this was more likely in
warm or hot water.  Satin stains with water marking so dealing with a stain in a place that showed was a drastic business indeed, because either the whole garment had to be wetted – potentially a problem for having colours run into each other – or one had to put up with a line where the wetting extended to.
And then of course it would need ironing and silk burns at a low temperature, not forgetting that velvet must be ironed face to face with other velvet so as not to lose the pile. 
Wearing anything made of silk became a statement ‘I am so rich I have servants to do everything, I don’t need to get dirty’.
Even so, seriously stained garments were ‘turned’ if there was no other way to hide a stain, where damask obviously was more economical than brocade, since a damask has the reverse pattern on its back, and brocade has the floating wefts.  When brocades and cloth of tissue with metal threads in could not be made over any more they were burned to recover the metal in Renaissance times; by the Regency the occupation of ‘drizzling’ or shredding gold braid or brocade had come into use as a means for an indifferent needlewoman to occupy her hands in reclaiming the gold threads.

Wool is another animal fibre and is equally susceptible to sweat and strong lyes as silk; though being a harder-wearing fibre it can take a lye-based soap because it will take being ruthlessly beaten, whacked, rubbed, rinsed out and wrung.   Some wools are finer and need more gentle treatment than others of course.  Wool cannot be washed at a high temperature as it will degrade and shrink so this is something a laundress must be aware of.  The custom in the Renaissance was to use cold or tepid water.   Mrs Rundell [1806] recommends for the preservation of flannel and to prevent shrinkage to pour on boiling water the first time of washing and let it cool on its own but I confess to being dubious of this.
A high quality wool should have been through so many processes of being shrunk and stretched in being well fulled that it ought not to deform unless ill treated. It is however susceptible to pulling out of shape when wet and by the time we get to the Regency those form-fitting coats by Weston or Scott need to be treated with care.

Linen is a vegetable fibre and can survive boiling water; those chemises and drawers – drawers were worn off and on throughout history -  could be ruthlessly boiled to regain their whiteness. 
Mrs Rundell gives some examples of how to get stains out of Linen.

"Acid stains wet the part, and lay it on some salt of wormwood.  Then rub it without diluting it with more water. Another way: let the cloth imbibe a little water without dipping, and hold the part over a lighted match [NOT what we would think of as a match]: the spot will be removed by the sulphurous gasses. Another way: tie up in the stained part some pearl-ash[potash baked in a kiln]; then scrape some soap into cold soft water to make a lather and boil the linen till the stain disappears.
Wine, fruit etc after they have been long in the linen. Rub the part on each side with yellow soap.  Then lay on a mixture of starch in cold water, very thick; rub it well in and expose the linen to the sun and air till the stain comes out.  If not removed in three or four days, rub that off, and renew the process.  When dry, it may be sprinkled with a little water. 
Many other stains may be taken out by dipping the linen in sour buttermilk and drying in a hot sun.  Then wash it in cold water and dry it, two or three times a day.
For Iron Moulds [rust stains] Iron moulds should be wetted; then laid on a hot water-plate and a little essential salt of lemons[citric acid] put on the part.  If the linen becomes dry, wet it and renew the process; observing that the plate is kept boiling hot."
Mrs Rundell adds a warning about false advertising:
"Note; Much of the powder sold under the name of salt of lemons is a spurious preparation; and therefore it is necessary to dip the linen in a good deal of water and wash it as soon as the stain is removed to prevent the part from being worn into holes by the acid.
For Mildew Mix soft soap with starch, powdered, half as much salt, and the juice of a lemon; lay it on the part of both sides with a painter’s brush.  Let it lie on the grass day and night, till the stain comes out"

 Muslins can be washed fairly hot, unless they have delicate embroidery on them when they need to be treated with more delicacy.  However the trick in keeping muslins looking nice is in the starching.  Starch can spoil the look of a delicate cloth by clogging it, so it is important to mix up a thick solution of starch and starch the muslins in it while it is still quite hot, and then with much skill clap the fabric between the hands to release the starch from between the threads.  This can damage fine lace so placing the muslin between sheets of linen to remove the excess starch and leaving it rolled within that for an hour or two until ready to iron.

Muslins of course are only to be found later on: though cotton was known about in the period of the Renaissance it was not widely used, at least not in England.  And the linen lawns would not have been starched; starch was not discovered until the middle of the 16th Century.  It enabled the very silly fashion of outsized ruffs which also necessitated the invention of the goffering iron to crimp them.

To store, brush pelts with fine oils and store in chests or between presses of cypress wood with a layer of bay leaves or pine needles. 
If wet and stiff, oil with grease, remove oil with fuller’s earth.
Remove ordinary dirt by putting in fuller’s earth or chalk or similar and beating.

I notice none of the books say anything about blood – presumably it was too indelicate a subject to mention but every woman was expected to just know how to deal with blood stains.  Now being allergic to biological washing powder I’m glad to have had that knowledge passed on: soak the stained garment overnight in cold water to which should be added a good shake of salt.  By morning the stain should have gone, though if it had dried in it might need a second treatment, or to be treated with citric acid like rust stains.


Irons were flat irons or sad irons that were heated in fire or oven [if the former needing to be wiped free of cinders] and used until they cooled down.  Naturally they must not be too hot for the fabric; silk requires a much lower temperature than wool, which is lower yet than cotton or linen. A skilled laundress could tell the temperature either by spitting onto the face of the iron and seeing how it subliminated, or by holding the plate near the back of her hand [my preferred method].
By the Regency, the idea had occurred of heating a block of stone or metal in the fire that slid inside a hollow iron.  Some had closing doors, some did not.  

There were also specialist irons for different tasks; the long narrow ‘goose’ or tailor’s iron for pressing out seams, the long narrow sleeve iron, the hatter’s iron for finishing the brim of a beaver, miniature irons for small spaces, the puff or egg iron for odd shaped, curved pieces of fabric, and the goffering iron for small pleats.  A rocking iron with a crinkled surface that pressed onto a counterpart crinkled surface introduced pleats too.