What A Difference A Year Makes!

So, almost a year since I bothered posting anything here, I suppose I should put some effort in eh?!

Well as I sit here on enforced sick leave I’ve got some time to think and write, which makes a nice change. First things first, and for the inquisitive…you know when you go into hospital for a procedure and they tell you there’s a xx% success rate, well earlier this year I fell into the other percentage and a septoplasty I had needed more corrective surgery which I got last week, leaving me high and dry away from work until after Xmas…though looking ever so stylish.

Rocking the attractive, yet ever so practical, nose nappy

The second thing that makes a nice change, I think, is Xmas. We’re now less than a week away and the usual stress and panic about the forthcoming week of cookery in the Kitchens at Hampton Court is completely absent, mostly because the week of cookery is completely absent this year!! Yes, for the first time since 1991, when Christmas festivities were started at Hampton Court, there’ll be no cookery over the course of the week between Christmas and New Year and we all get the same Christmas you all normally get. Now to put that in some perspective, this is the first Christmas since 1992 that I won’t be with my friends at Hampton Court on Boxing Day, New Years Eve or New Year’s Day…it will be the first complete Boxing Day, New Years Eve and New Year’s Day I’ll have ever spent with my family… it’s quite a big deal; but why is it happening and why no cookery?

If you visit the official HRP website you’ll find full details here if you scroll down, but the important bits are…

Henry VIII’s Tudor Kitchens

Electrical upgrades, re-decoration and re-presentation works.

Henry VIII’s Tudor Kitchens and surrounding cloisters are now subject to major work as we lay down new electrical cables to power our palace in the years to come. Archaeologists are also using this opportunity to help us better understand the history of the Tudor Kitchens and passageways.

The existing electrical system is almost 70 years old, and the work will allow the palace to continue operating into the future – as well as giving a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study buried archaeology in this part of the palace.

Unfortunately, this work will impact on what visitors to Hampton Court Palace can see in and around the Tudor Kitchen area. There will be no fire in the Tudor Kitchens for the duration of the works.

None shall pass! North Cloister is closed for the duration

The long and the short of it is that access in and out of the main Kitchen building where we work and roast is extremely restricted due to the electrical upgrade, with the main Kitchen building having become a cul-de-sac because of the necessary closures and it’s simply safer to not try to cram hundreds of visitors into a space they wouldn’t be easily be able to leave if there was an emergency; so the painful decision was taken to cancel the Christmas cookery this year, but plan to bring it back bigger, brighter and bolder next year.
Just because there’s no cookery, doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to see and do over the festive period at Hampton Court though, and the HRP website details all there is for you to enjoy here.

Elizabethan Christmas at Hampton Court Palace

Special shout out to my colleague Hannah who now has the full weight of worry and stress about the Elizabethan Christmas event to see her through this week of technical rehearsals and soft openings and then through the Christmas festivities…I feel for you, and in a weird way, kind of miss the sleepless nights and panic….not!  😈

On the up side, the excavations to allow the new electrical cabling have turned up some interesting features..possibly a hearth feature from an earlier phase (Wolsey or possibly even pre-Wolsey when discussions were had during my visit to the site) of the building

Serving Place excavation at Hampton Court Palace 2017
Trust me, there’s a “feature” in there…honest

Now all we have to do is wait for the dig report to see what else they found.

The electrical upgrade work is scheduled to last up until just before Easter 2018 and that’s the next time you’ll be able to see live cookery in the Kitchens at Hampton Court. This will also be the last time you’ll get to see the Kitchens as they currently appear as, another thing that’s taken up huge chunks of this year, we’re in the middle of planning an updated interpretation scheme for the Kitchens and Service areas…indoors and out…which will refresh the Kitchens for the next decade of visitors (the last refresh and re-interpretation was done for 2006 and is now showing its age and looking tired)…but more on that and the wonders it all holds in a future post…possibly next week once I’m back at work and can catch up on all the latest comings and goings and photograph some of the new stuff we’re having made.

Probably the biggest change over this year, and the main reason there’s been nothing much posted…even on Twitter, where I’m virtually attached at the hip, is that I’ve had a change to my job…a big change!
Previously, I planned and organised most of the nitty-gritty, day-to-day, on the shop floor details for the Kitchens Interpretation Team, but reported to a manager who dealt with the higher level things like budget responsibility, training, “how does this all fit into the big picture” sort of stuff, you know, all that grown up management sort of stuff. That left me time to do some research, do some work in the Kitchens with my friends, keep up with the idea of doing a blog again, Tweet interesting stuff…and well, do fun stuff. Well in April all that changed when we had a small department shuffle and I became the line manager for the Kitchen Team and went from a frantic, pushed to the limit, part-time position to full time…theoretically to ease the burden a little and smooth out the management.
Well that didn’t really work as hoped and the extra days of work a week were instantly  taken up with the new work required as a manager…budget, team management, training, pastoral care etc, etc, and the work I hadn’t had the time to fit in beforehand still doesn’t get the time, and what’s had to give is all of the “fun” stuff…research, blog, Twitter etc…yes I still Tweet, but the quality, such that it was, has taken a bit of a nosedive!

So, is this the end of all this witter…not just this post, but me online in general? No, safe to say it’s not, it just might be that the sporadic nature of posting over the last year will be the norm for the future…believe me when I say I have lots of good intention, but little energy at the end of a day now.

There’s plans afoot

As I said above, I’ll post an update on plans for the Kitchen as well as a likely update on plans for interpretation of live cookery into the future at a later date, possibly the week after Christmas when I’m back at work…and with no cookery to worry about it should be nice and quiet in the office. Work also continues on all the previous research I’ve posted about into fires and roasting, along with some interesting work that Barry has been doing on apotropaic marks in the main Kitchen building and he and I have been looking into drains and water too…all fascinating stuff that hopefully we’ll get time to work on and write-up this coming year.

Well, that’s about it for now as I’ve run out of steam and am struggling to write stuff that makes any sense…thank God for the ability to edit is all I can say.

TTFN

 

Plainly Plaster

If you’re interested in some more historic details regarding plaster of Paris, albeit a little later in history than the Tudors, then you should take a look at this blog post on plaster of Paris which is part of the ever excellent Recipes Project. 

Enjoy that and I’ll furnish you with the next part of our confectionery capers early next week.

A Quick Christmas Update – good news for Dr Who fans

Just to let you know that some degree of concern has been assuaged today as I’ve heard from Adrian that the wooden former he was supposed to be making does indeed exist….hooray!

Unfortunately the wording of his text message read thus:

She’s looking more like ‘Davros’

So goodbye sugar Elizabeth…
…and hello sugar Davros?

Don’t be surprised to find that we may gravitate towards making the potentially more lucrative sugar Davros figures rather than the sugar woman…I’ll just have to square things with the boss and we’ll be good to go! ;o)

Log Slog!

When I last looked at the subject of firewood I said that one of the next things to do was look at the fireplaces around the Palace and see how big they were….well I had some time this past week to do that as well as some other log related work.

First on the agenda was simulated logs! I wanted some life sized stand ins for no.1 size talshides (based on the details in the Arnolds Chronicle descriptions, so 4ft long and 20 inches in circumference).  Why simulated logs rather than just getting some real logs you may ask…and you wouldn’t be alone in asking. Well there are a number of reasons why…ease of availability, weight, cost and not running the risk of introducing pests such as woodworm or other insect life into the Palace; but I must say that the weight was the principle reason. The simulated logs are intended to enable discussions regarding the size and transportation of the logs within the building, not their weight, and having lightweight simulations will allow children to safely handle them, something that would be much less the case if they were actual four foot long billets of timber!
So how did I make them? Simple…we had a very large roll of large cell bubble packing material (Fun* fact…BubbleWrap, as we ALL call this

2" parcel tape
2″ parcel tape
Large cell bubble packing
Large cell bubble packing

stuff is actually a trademarked brand…and most of the wrap we all use isn’t actually BubbleWrap at all, it’s another plastic cell wrapping material that isn’t allowed to be called BubbleWrap…yet we still do!     *not really fun, but hey, I used to work for a packging company, got to use that experience now and again 😉  ) and a roll of 2″ brown parcel tape.  Roll the wrap into a cylinder that was 20 inches in circumference, then cut to 4 foot long and wrap with tape…lots of tape, the result…

Two no.1 talshide simulators
Two no.1 talshide simulators

Eventually I think I’d like to make a few more so that there are enough to

For some contextual scale, the no.1 talshides against an "average" Barry.
For some contextual scale, the no.1 talshides against an “average” Barry.

allow the laying of a “fire” so that people can get a better idea of the size it seems likely that the fires would have been, but for now two will suffice. I’m not sure what it is, but when you talk to people about talshides being four foot long, they nod sagely with that look of acknowledgement that says “I hear what you’re saying but that size really doesn’t mean much to me in this abstract form”…hand them a four foot roll and say, that’s how big we’re talking about and things take on quite a dramatic change and the response changes to “wow! That big?!?”; so for now, they’re proving very useful.

Mock logs aside, I’ve spent a fair time looking through the architectural plans and the brick typology of the building to pinpoint any and all of the surviving Tudor fireplaces dotted around the Palace (not including the roasting fireplaces in the Kitchen). Currently I’ve looked at  all (I think) of those in areas that are easily accessible which leaves around 6 or 7 to find in various offices and stores at some time in the future. I’m interested to see if they would have been able to accommodate a standard length talshide (4 foot) or not…if so, then the firewood listed under Bouche of Court in the ordinances could have been standard, assize sized logs.

Bouche for Officers of the household, again with firewood included although in smaller quantities
Bouche for Officers of the household, again with firewood included although in smaller quantities
Bouche of Court for a Duke or Duchess, including talshides of firewood
Bouche of Court for a Duke or Duchess, including talshides of firewood

If not, then like the Northumberland household account I mentioned in the previous post on the subject, firewood of a differing size would have been required.

Fireplace Location Date Width (in inches)
Gt Kitchen office 1514-29 60
Buttery/AV room 1529-47 51
Pages Chamber 1529-47 60
Wolsey Closet 1514-29 54
Baroque Story display off clock court 1514-29 59
Young Henry exhibition (Wolsey rooms)1 1514-29 84
ditto 2 1514-29 71
ditto 3 1514-29 60
ditto 4 1514-29 60
Base Court school lunch room no.1 1529-47 60
Kitchen Shop (Wine Cellar) 1514-29 60

So it looks like 60 inches, or very close to it, is the commonest size for the domestic fireplaces used to heat rooms within the Palace (and over half of the ones I’ve yet to see in the flesh are around that size too according to the architectural plans), meaning they could all utilise an assize length talshide with inches (or feet in some cases) to spare…the first image of the fireplace within the Kitchen Office includes one of the aforementioned talshide simulators (and before you ask, no I did not carry them through the Palace to test fit them in all the fireplaces, I used a tape measure) to give you an idea of the scale and to show how easily they would fit.

Did they use the standard assize length for firewood is the next question to try to find an answer for. Why might they not use the standard assize length talshides? Well it’s possible that the 3 foot talshides the Northumberland Household used were related to the available timber, that dividing the trees into 3 foot not 4 foot lengths was more efficient for the trees at hand and the same might have been true for the Court. Likewise it could be a cost related reason, that shorter lengths cost less because they could get more from any given tree, or it could be a rudimentary anti-theft mechanism; with pilfered logs being unable to be sold on the open market as they would clearly be too short to be legal under the general assize and would stand out like the proverbial sore thumb. For now all I can say is that the officers of the Woodland were expected to see “the full measures of Coales and the Assize of Wood”

woodyard addendawhether or not that was the national assize or a specific Court one will have to form the next steps in this investigation.

 

Log Jam!

One of the questions we get asked a lot is “so what wood are you burning?” and the usual answer is something on the lines of “tree wood!” Yes it sound facetious, but it’s often the most accurate answer as the timber that we burn in the kitchens today is a hotch potch mix of whatever is in stock with our supplier at the time. We’ve had all sorts over the years from oak, beech and ash all the way to yew, some stunning box that was appropriated from the flames to make knife handles and a bowling ball…yes it was that thick!…and some eucalyptus that refused to be chopped into smaller pieces and simply wouldn’t burn it was that green…we were convinced that it you could have wrung it like a sponge it would have dripped everywhere. But the one thing almost all of it has in common is that it comes in short lengths, a bit like you see for sale all over the place for people with a fashionable log burner to buy, but perhaps a little chunkier.

So we know what we burn, but how much do we burn is a little more interesting. Until we embarked on five months of daily roasting last year, the State Apartment Warders that set and tend the fire each day would use up around 4m3 of wood each week; the fire is after all burning every day, whether we’re using it to roast or not. With the daily roasting that increased slightly to 6m3 a week, so over the five months around 130m3 of timber was burned…give or take! Now that might sound like a lot, especially as we were only cooking one 6Kg joint of beef a day, but can we put that in any form of context and compare it to how much wood was used by the Tudors? Possibly…with a LOT of caveats and approximation.

British Library Add. M.S. 24098 f18v, The Golf Hours
British Library Add. M.S. 24098 f18v, The Golf Hours

So first off, what does 130m3 of wood look like? Well according to thetree Forestry Commission timber calculator, if you can imagine a tree 2ft in diameter that’s 50ft tall….and then imagine 25 more of them…that’s what it looks like (though presumably that’s the main trunk only and not the smaller branches). Now how does that compare to the amounts that the Tudor court burned?

First stop

First stop has to be the Eltham Ordinances of which the version published in A collection of ordinances and regulations for the government of the royal household, made in divers reigns : from King Edward III to King William and Queen Mary, also receipts in ancient cookery, by the Society of Antiquaries in 1790 is most convenient to work with (even though it is prone to errors and is a mash-up of numerous sources). The ordinances defined the operating procedures for the court and give us many clues as to the operation of the household departments; though remember, the instructions given were for the court wherever it was located and not just at Hampton Court. We must not let the fact that Hampton Court survives for us to work in, cloud and confuse the textual information that we have simply because the building as we see it doesn’t always fit with the Ordinances as written. Unfortunately, the evidence that the Eltham Ordinances present us is vague to say the least! Apart from the Bouche of Court references which includes among the daily ration of bread, beer/wine and lighting, the allowance of fuel various court members were to receive as part of their membership at Court, the only useful references which may also include the fuel burned within the kitchen departments are found within the estimation of the expenses of the various departments within the household over and above those costs listed within the diets. These include the costs for Wood for Furnage of Bread and the costs for the Woodyard at £40 and £440 over and above the cost for Bouche of Court. I’ll ignore the bakery fuel for the moment as that’s clearly just for baking bread and not related to the other fires within the court, and instead concentrate on the woodyard expenses.

woodyard

The question is, how much firewood would £440 get you and for that we need to look elsewhere to find useable figures. So far I have only come across 4 sets of figures where a specific quantity of wood for a specific cost is given, it’s much more common to find expenses simply for “firewood” with no quantity; and of these 4 figures, one is slightly anomalous as the cost per unit works out to be nearly 10 times greater than the other examples…I’ve still got more work to do to see if there’s a reason for that so for now am happier to stick with the lower cost per unit rather than include this much higher figure….I did say it was going to get sketchy  😎

So what are those figures? For the meeting at Guisnes wood was purchased at a cost of  178l. 9s. 5¾d for 691,400 tallwood and billet. In the same accounts, the Bishop of Durham paid 6l. 8s. 4d for 27,000 billets and finally  17s. 8d was paid for 2,500 billets for wheel wrights to make tug-pins from in 1515, a figure which usefully points out to us that these talwood and billets may not have just been for fuel. If we take these costs and divide them by the amount of wood then a figure of 0.06d per unit is arrived at meaning that the £440 spent by the woodyard would have been able to buy around 1,760,000 talshide and billet for use by the court!

But what were talshides and billets?

The sale of fuel wood was controlled by the Assize of Fuel which set the size that certain types of fuel was to be sold at. An assize set in the 34th year of Henry VIII’s reign, and according to the details in the Edward VI assize was the same as issued under Edward IV, is known to have existed but it seems that no copy survives for us to study today. The next version that does exist was set under Edward VI and then reinforced and clarified by Elizabeth. There is also a surviving Assize for the City of London which can be found in The Customs of London, otherwis known as Arnold’s Chronicle which presumably dates from the end of the fifteenth century given that the chronicle was originally published in 1503.

Pierpoint Morgan Library, Morgan ms M 157 f 3r, http://ica.themorgan.org/manuscript/page/2/77035
Pierpoint Morgan Library, Morgan ms M 157 f 3r, http://ica.themorgan.org/manuscript/page/2/77035

All of these versions of  the assize  define the size in both length and circumference that certain units of timber should be sold at; these units are talshides, defined from a no.1 to no.5, and billets, which come in three differing sizes. The assize also covers faggots but these were probably only used within the bakehouse at Hampton Court and thus form part of a completely different subject to the one at hand! The 7 Edw.VI cVII assize defines the five sizes of Talshides as follows:

Talshide no.

Circumference at middle in inches

1

16

2

23

3

28

4

33

5

38

All are four foot long, not including the carf (cut) at the end of the log, and should be of the statute diameter within a foot of the middle of the log. The assize of 43 Eliz. cXIV added half and quarter cut versions for the talshides, but in a move to protect consumers stated that should a log fall between two sizes it should be considered to be the smaller of the two so that the customer effectively got the difference in size free.

Talshide no.

Circumference at middle in inches – full

Circumference at middle in inches – half

Circumference at middle in inches – quarter

1

16

19

18.5

2

23

27

26

3

28

33

32

4

33

39

38

5

38

44

43

Compare these to the figures found in Arnold’s Chronicle here:

Talshide no.

Circumference at middle

1

20

2

26

3

32

4

38

5

44

and we can see that there was a marked reduction in the size of talshides destined for sale. According to the opening statement of the Edward VI assize, this was due to a scarcity of firewood through the previous sixty years and the “Greatness” of the previous assizes…a “Greatness” of approximate 1/3 of a cubit foot (0.009m3) difference between the previous version and the Edward VI assize (presuming the assize detailed in Arnold’s Chronicle is the same as set under Edward IV); which if one considers the 1,760,000 talshides previously mentioned, would equate to 15,840m3. So the Edward VI assize would have intended quite a saving in fuel use, over 3100 of those trees I mentioned earlier in this example, though to what extent changing the unit of fuel would have impacted actual fuel use is another matter.

After talshides, billets were categorized as either single, billets called cast or billets called two cast. All were three foot four inches in length, but unlike the talshide, the carf (cut) was to be included in the length…no free fuel here, unlike the talshides. The Edward VI sizes are given as:

Billet name

Circumference in inches

Single

7.5

Cast

10

Two cast

14

whereas the Elizabethan ones, which were again separated into full round, half round and quarter round, were :

Billet name

Full round in inches

Half round in inches

Quarter Round in inches

Single

7.5

Na

Na

Cast

11

13

12

Two Cast

16

19

18.5

though single billets were only sold as fully round. The Arnold’s Chronicle figures are..complicated and are something I currently am not quite sure about. Billets are specified as :

The Customs of London, Otherwise Called Arnold’s Chronicle. London: Printed for F. C. and J. Rivington [etc.], 1811. p98
The Customs of London, Otherwise Called Arnold’s Chronicle. London: Printed for F. C. and J. Rivington [etc.], 1811. p98
and I am yet to get my head around how large “of resonable proporcio[n] and gretnes after the nombre of shyde that it be tolde fore” actually was.

Now I can only suggest that you get a tape measure out to get a sense of how large some of those logs were…until I did that they were just numbers on the page and you get a better understanding when you see what they actually looked like. To help with that, I did a quick recce through the woodpile in the Kitchens at work to see how close some of the logs we have waiting to be burnt actually are to the assize sizes. None come close to the length required, with the biggest ones we have coming in at around the 2ft 6 inch mark, but I was surprised at how many were pretty close to assize in circumference. To put that measurement in context I took some photos of three logs I pulled out at random that matched the circumferences from each of the different assizes above….I’ve used the internationally recognised standard measurement unit of the post-it note (not having a football field, London taxi or Olympic swimming pool to hand!) to give the scale as the ruler I had wasn’t particularly clear in the images. FYI the post-it note is 76mm x 76mm. (click on the images to enlarge them)

Once you start to be able to picture these sizes of timber, all of the surviving mediaeval images of firewood start to make sense…regular sizes, cut to regular lengths, and even if the images aren’t English and aren’t showing firewood of English assize dimensions, this uniformity of fuel makes perfect sense. In an age where timber forms a key part of so many facets of life, proper preparation, even in the growing, makes perfect sense. Why cut and split large trees down to size when you can just harvest them when they’re at the correct size? Yes we see images of wood being split down, but it’s not large trunk logs as we’d expect to be the case today, it’s much thinner, assize sized ones.

Wood cutter from Das Hausbuch der Mendelschen Zwölfbrüderstiftung in Nürnberg Amb. 317.2 ° Folio 26 recto (Mendel I)
Wood cutter from Das Hausbuch der Mendelschen Zwölfbrüderstiftung in Nürnberg Amb. 317.2 ° Folio 26 recto (Mendel I)
detail from The Hague, KB, 133 D 11 fol 3r
detail from The Hague, KB, 133 D 11 fol 3r

 

 

 

 

 

Now all this information regarding assize sized timber is all well and good, but it is also entirely possible that the talsides used within Henry VIII’s court were of a completely different size and specification set just for the Court, as was the case for the Household of the Duke of Northumberland :

Specifications for shide sizes from The regulations and establishment of the household of Henry Algernon Percy, the fifth Earl of Northumberland, at his castles of Wresill and Lekinfield in Yorkshire, begun anno domini M.D.XII
Specifications for shide sizes from The regulations and establishment of the household of Henry Algernon Percy, the fifth Earl of Northumberland, at his castles of Wresill and Lekinfield in Yorkshire, begun anno domini M.D.XII

Here, shides are specified as being split down to three foot in length by a span (around 8-9 inches) thick, which would correspond to a statute #2 or #3 talshide. But what is important is to understand that the fuel used by the court was of regular, standardised dimensions and not the random assortment of timenr we have to burn today.

Next steps

So where next? Well one task is to look at all the surviving sixteenth century fireplaces in Hampton Court and see if they’re big enough for a 4ft

Will assize length logs fit widthways within the fireplaces at Hampton Court? Fireplace model (c) Cealpup on Sketchup Make 2016
Will assize length logs fit widthways within the fireplaces at Hampton Court?
Fireplace model (c) Cealpup on Sketchup Make 2016

long log to fit into…so far, the first two I’ve looked at are certainly wide enough for a 4ft talshide to be burned lengthwise across the fireplace without needing to be cut into shorter lengths; only time and further measuring will tell with the rest. As for the kitchen fireplaces, well they’re easily large enough for statute talshides to be placed in a multitude of orientations so we aim to look at different arrangements of setting the fire through the year to see if we can learn anything from practical experimentation…though obviously the first requirements for this will be to talk to our firewood supplier to see if it’s possible to get wood supplied to statute sizes at all, and if not then we’ll have to progress purely on paper.

Header image: The Pierpoint Morgan Library, MS M.452 fol. 3r, http://ica.themorgan.org/manuscript/page/3/76930