In 2016 I visited the Museum of London to take a look at their iron roasting spit, item no. 84.314/10. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of detail listed for the item, and before I visited there was even less…one of the quid pro quo’s for having the item taken off display (it normally lives on public display in the medieval gallery ) was to provide detailed measurements to add to the catalogue description and I thought some of you might be interested in them.
Although it’s catalogued as late 15th/early 16th century in date, if my memory of the conversation is correct, it was a river find from the Thames so is speculatively dated and more likely to come from the latter end of that range, if not the early seventeenth century.
The spit is made from flat iron bar which has been forged to a point at one end and shaped into a crank handle at the other, leaving the working blade section in the middle.
The crank consists of a slightly barrel shaped axle, a vertical rectangular section and a cylindrical handle.
The 75mm long axle has been created where the bar has been forged down from rectangular bar to a roughly round section 12mm diameter at the junction with the main spit blade, 14mm diameter at the mid point and 10mm diameter at the junction with the vertical bar.
The vertical section of handle has been left rectangular, though slightly narrower than the main blade of the spit, and is approximately 18mm x 8mm x 70mm. This flat bar has been bent at right angles to the axle but shows signs of a fracture at the radius of the bend as if the bar was bent past 90 degrees whilst hot but straightened up when the metal was too cool to work efficiently
The last 90mm-110mm of the handle end of the bar has been forged down to a cylindrical shape approximately 15mm in diameter and then bent at right angles to the flat bar to create the hand grip.
The point end has been shaped in a similar fashion to the handle, with the bar being forged to a conical shape, 12mm in diameter at the junction with the main blade and approximately 7mm in diameter at the point. The last 15mm of the point have been left faceted rather than fully round.
The blade of the spit tapers in width and thickness along its length changing from 24mm x 8mm at the crank end to 16mm x 7mm at the point. This taper, though slight, has been seen in later period spits and from a practical standpoint assists with removing roasted joints of meat from the spit at the end of cooking. The item as a whole is in very good condition with only minimal nicks and damage.
The blade length of 950mm (around 3ft 1″) tallies quite nicely with the size of a statute billet (as I discussed back here ), especially as the 3ft 4″ length of each billet would include the carf or cut point meaning that most of the usable wood would be much shorter than the statute length…hopefully this appalling sketch will clarify that somewhat (though i really do doubt it!)
The gallery below includes all the halfway usable images that I took…typically the one thing I completely forgot to take was my camera so I had to rely on my mobile phone to do the job. Finally a huge thank you to Hazel Forsyth at the Museum of London for arranging to have the spit taken off display for me to view.
In our last exciting instalment of all things knot garden, we left the team with Robin working on the base/tank for his sugar version of the Diana fountain design from the garden of Nonsuch Palace. This would form the centre of the knot garden that was being worked on and he wanted it to look pretty special. As such, he planned to include water and swimming fish in the final design…yes, I thought he was mad!
Just to show us that he meant business, Robin whipped up a tiny test fish in short order….though luck wasn’t on his side and the fish was filleted by an overexcited young helper…back to the drawing board then!
Meanwhile, on the other side of the table… Jeremiah was making a new plinth for an obelisk, egged on it seems by Robert. Most of the obelisks all looked the same, as they should, being cast from the same moulds
but this one was different…though vaguely familiar
Jeremiah and Robert said I was imagining things….nothing to see…move along…and besides, none of the visitors had said anything so clearly there was nothing odd going on…I wasn’t convinced!
By now, work was really cracking on and everyone had really got into their stride. Marchpane hedging was springing up left, right and centre and sugar architectural pieces were filling the work table, as well as every spare surface in the team break room and preparation kitchen. Adrian was working on combining a load of these into a classical temple…lots of columns and some domes that explained why he’d been looking for small bowls all morning the previous day.
Taking a base of wood and sugar, a stoneware drinking jug, the sugar columns, the dome, a bowl of thin sugar paste to use as glue, and not quite enough fingers and hands…he was off. The columns were glued to the base with the jug in the middle to act as a support. While the “glue” was still flexible, small wedges of sugar were inserted to spread the columns apart so they were wide enough to hold the domed roof.
Clearly the dome couldn’t go on now, it wouldn’t fit with the jug there, so I left him to it went to make a coffee! Now for clarity I should point out that my office (the whole of the Daily Programmes team office really, it just makes me feel better calling it my office 🤣) isn’t where the Kitchens Team are based. When I’m in the office I’m away from the Kitchen and divorced from the work that they’re doing in there. The kitchen for the office is upstairs, and while I was finishing making my coffee I could hear the door downstairs open. It was half term, most people were busy elsewhere and I knew the only other person in that day was definitely downstairs when I came up to boil the kettle…it could *only* be one of the Kitchen Team…would it be good news, or bad?
I came down the stairs, cup in hand, and entered the office to find Marc waiting…”QUICK, bring your camera,…you’ll want to see this” he said and then shot off towards the historic Kitchen. Still none the wiser as to good or bad, I put the coffee down and followed him back to the Kitchen to find
What had been a mould and a few test pieces the day before had turned from that, via some deft colouring to a self supporting feature.
but hang on a minute…what’s that in the background?? JEREMIAH!!
I suppose that’s the trouble when you employ fans and give them creative free reign! On the up side, nobody said anything, so we might just have gotten away with it. As well as the arbour, sat on the side was the temple…the finished temple, roof and all columns fixed in place and pretty solidly dry!
I have absolutely no idea how it all happened in such a short space of time? Perhaps they’d managed something with the TARDIS?? Returning to my now tepid coffee, I left them to finish the rest of the day off making more of all of it, nothing specific, just lots of parts being made and by the close of the day on Friday there were two quadrants virtually finished, or at least it was obvious what they would look like when finished, and a pile of pieces ready for the final push over the weekend.
Saturday was, for me, quite relaxing. Not at work, doing the usual weekend sort of things like shopping and visiting family, but in the back of my mind was the nagging thought that I really should go in on Sunday to see how they ended up and take images of the final result. I also couldn’t help but wonder how the fountain was getting on, as Robin had become a touch obsessed with it by the end of the week.
He had a kit of pieces on the Friday afternoon and mocked up some of it so I could see what he was planning
He was still talking about fish and water, but I wasn’t convinced it would come to much as I thought he’d run out of time…I was wrong, oh so wrong, and late on Saturday afternoon a message popped into my inbox containing a picture
Blimey! Well that sealed it for me, I had to go in on Sunday to see what else had materialised over the Saturday…I would not be dissapointed.
When I walked into the Kitchen on the final Sunday,I found a slightly saddened Robin…the moisture in the room had ruined the ‘water’ in the fountain and it now looked more like a fountain of chicken soup than water…there’ll be a reason the original confectionery was in the rooms above the pastry department and their ovens, where it would be nice and warm and dry
What had been hedges laid onto paper to create the quadrants, now had the paper covered with sheets of marchpane that Jeremiah was decorating and painting with a woad coloured syrup to resemble pantiles
Where the plan had been to create decorative poles from pulled sugar for the garden, time had gotten the better of them and paper straws had to make do. The intention had been to use the recipe from Harley MS 2378 for Penydes contained in f157v and 158r
This recipe is essentially for making pulled sugar rods that you cut up with shears into the desired lengths. The intention had been to create coloured rods and thus use almost every technique available to Tudor confectioners to make the knot garden. Alas, it was not to be and we’ll have to add that to the next project.
Time ticked on through Sunday and gravel paths started to cover joints between quadrants. A third quadrant had materialise since Friday and was now having the finishing flourishes added to it
The fourth quadrant was always planned to be unfinished in order to show the working and what was underneath. There had been hopes that visitors could have driven the design of this 4th space to really make this a truly collaborative project, but I think the team were so wrapped up in the rest of the work that this laudable plan fell by the wayside. As with the pulled sugar, next time perhaps!?
Then suddenly it was 3.30. I had told the team that they had to finish by now so that they and the visitors could see the final object in isolation. They cleared away all the work tools and ingredients and cleaned the table around the garden. The last touches were added and stray comfit gravel raked into neat paths…voila! The finished knot garden.
The finished garden was all that was planned for and more. 3 completed quadrants and a forth showing the process. Statues, obelisks, temple and fountain…there was even a viewing stump complete with spiral pathway!
I’ll even cut them some slack for the TARDIS as it looked pretty damn good with its woad blue colouring!
They did a fantastic job. They worked like troopers to get this completed from drawing to finished garden in 9 days and it looked like a single finished product, not a collection of separate items posed next to each other. It met the brief and was suitably sized for the room and visually impressive. It showcased the various skills available, not only to Tudor confectioners and cooks, but of the team themselves and they should all be justifiably proud of what they achieved. I doff my cap to them all, Marc, Robert, Robin, Jeremiah, Zak, Adrian, David and Barry.
So what happened to it afterwards I hear you ask. As much as this might have been amusing…
it wasn’t destroyed in some Godzilla re-enactment; it was however not long for this world. About 4 minutes after I took my last photograph it was gone; dismantled, stored and reclaimed. The architectural pieces are now in store in case they are useful in the future, the gravel and ‘flowers’ were bagged up along with the spare comfits and await a use in the next project. The paper plats have been stored with the rest of the project paperwork and plans while the rest was eaten, taken or binned depending on how many little hands had been all over it. Why didn’t we keep it all as it was? Several reasons really. First, we just don’t have the space to store it. Second, the longer it’s stored the more ‘tired’ it starts to look unless it’s carefully wrapped or covered. Third, in the main subtelties like this weren’t designed to last; they were designed to be created, admired and consumed. Finally, and most importantly, if we don’t get rid of the things we make, we’re less inclined to have the incentive to progress and improve…we’d find excuses to do new and completely different things because we’d have “done” sugar subtelties. By destroying what’s been made, we never have the actual object to rest our laurels on.
So that’s the sugar knot garden done and dusted. Hopefully that’s given some idea of the work that went into it (despite all the bits I’m bound to have forgotten thanks to taking a fortnight to finish writing this up!)
Waaaaay back in 2015, the Kitchens at Hampton Court Palace saw the Kitchen Team try to make a sugar knot garden that may or may not have gone according to plan…well, ok, it didn’t, we ended up with some very impressive jam tarts but not the sugar and almond garden that was planned. So with the February half term school holiday 2020 upon us, and the last of 6 months of Elizabethan interpretation drawing to an end, I thought it was high time that redemption was sought and I tasked the team with planning and preparing to make a sugar knot garden once again.
Clearly sugar models of gardens are a popular subject; the inestimable Ivan Day has recently created one for the outstanding Feast & Fast exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge
(if you’re reading this before April 26 2020 and have the chance to go and see it…GO, you won’t be disappointed). Ivan chose to model a sugar version of the banqueting house from Melford Hall as his centre piece, with the knot garden itself a much more two dimensional affair (you can just about make it out in the image above, there’s a golden tree/bush in the middle of part of it), surrounded by a multitude of other sugar delights and beautiful serving dishes. For our version, the intention was always to repeat the plan from 2015…go large, go 3-D, concentrate on the hedges and paths and add period architectural details such as obelisks and posts as would have been found in a late Tudor period garden at a high status property, while using techniques found in confectionery and cookery texts of the time. Inspiration was to be drawn from surviving and replanted gardens at stately properties across the UK as well as details from lost gardens such as those at Hampton Court itself, along with the garden at Nonsuch Palace, many details of which survive…
This was to be an interactive affair, with as many things as possible for visitors to help with or shape with their thoughts and opinions, but most of all it should be fun and interesting…So with that in mind, the plan that the team came up with was this:
Rough sketch design for the HCP sugar knot garden 2020
Each quadrant of the design would be based on suggested garden designs contained within the 1577 Gardeners Labyrinth and would look something like one of these sketches
The design would possibly repeat…or maybe stay the same in 3 of the 4 quadrants, with the design of the 4th one being created by visitors over the course of the 9 days of cookery. The designs would, as with 2015, be sketched onto replica medieval paper using oak gall ink and quill, and would form guides upon which almond marchpane, and sugar paste “hedges” would be created. The gravel in between the knots would be made of sugar comfits and the pillars, posts and perhaps a banquet house, would be made of various forms of sugar…either pulled or moulded into shape, all coloured with period food colourants.
That was the plan…how’d that work out??
As I write this, it’s day two of the 9 day event and so far, so good! Everyone is on the same page and progress is coming along at a pace…in fact, much quicker than I’d expected to be honest. Jeremiah has been transferring the original sketches onto paper that can be used out in the kitchen (rather sneakily working in the warm of the office next to a radiator while Storm Dennis ravages the UK)
When he’s not been doing that, he’s been blanching almonds like a man possessed as they’re going to need an awful lot of them to make all the marchpane that they’ll need.
Robert has been busy testing out the moulds that he’s created for some of the architectural details…he’s making these details from a mouldable sugar paste that is very similar the the modelling sugar used to make decorative flowers and such like for wedding cakes. This is then pressed into the moulds to shape it before it’s turned out and left to dry and set hard; the kit of parts is then stuck together with more paste to create some (fingers crossed) impressive pieces for the garden.
One of the new sugar moulds
The first test of the mould
With all this activity this morning, seeing the first quadrant change from this:
To this, in such a short space of time
was a bit of a shock! The plan is to create all of the hedging and then “paint” it green with a parsley juice based colouring. This was the second method tried back in 2015 (if you’ve not gone a read that post…slackers) and while it doesn’t produce as solid a green paste, it does mean you aren’t held up waiting for the green to be made before you can get on and model the marchpane.
You’ll notice that there’s a texture to the marchpane, and at first I thought it was just roughly made, but how wrong I was. Adrian wanted to make it look like it was actual box hedging, so started to stipple the surfaces with the point of his knife but found that took too long…
cue some quick thinking and a broken stick, and suddenly you have a tool for making box hedging
Obviously, on top of all this confectionery construction, there’s the usual roasting of beef taking place. That’s a staple within the kitchens as it’s the primary function that the surviving spaces were designed for. It’s also great on a cold, wet and blustery day like today when it becomes the single most popular place in the kitchen if not the Palace!
There’s still 7 more days of the knot garden construction to go, the last day is Sunday February 23 2020, so hopefully time for a few updates between now and then, if not here then certainly on Twitter. Fingers crossed it all ends up as impressive as these first steps look like they might lead to.
When Henry VIII and Francis I met for the treaty negotiations now known as the meeting at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520, little did they realise than almost 500 years later, someone would have the reasonably insane idea of recreating part of that meeting in three dimensions out of sugar. Well of course they wouldn’t realise that, it would be stupid to think so, and even more stupid to consider making a sugar version as an idea; which possibly tells you more about me than anything else, as it was the first idea that sprang to my mind when my colleague Suzanne asked for ideas to link the family “make and do” activity planned for this summer with the work that the Historic Kitchens Team would be doing in the Kitchens at Hampton Court Palace.
Her intention was to have something that any visitors to the Palace could participate in, that built in scale over the course of the event, was a genuine community effort but also allowed people to try real historic techniques and methods out…the only problem was that she didn’t have any idea what it could be as she didn’t want to suggest anything that the Kitchens Team wouldn’t be happy with…what did I think it could be?
Now, those of you that have followed the exploits in the Kitchens over the last quarter of a century (dear God has it really been that long!?!) might recall that the team have been responsible for a lot of sugar models in the past…I touched on some of them when we were talking about the making of the sugar knot garden a couple of years ago (HERE). You also might know that I’ve never been a great fan of this work, not because I don’t appreciate the immense skill that my friends and colleagues have in order to turn powdered sugar into stunning models, but rather that it is work that was never done in the room we have to work in and so by making confectionery models and such like we run the risk of giving a false impression of how the spaces were used in the past. That being said, sugar work can be ideal as a public interactive activity because if using the later sixteenth century recipes for sugar plate, as for example was published in the Second Book of the Good Huswifes Jewell by Thomas Dawson in 1597, then you’re essentially working with edible modelling clay…ideal for kids of all ages to play around with.
So setting aside my reservations, I suggested sugar work to Suzanne and we were then merely faced with working out what this would be used to make.
In fact it didn’t take long, she mentioned that we could use the Field of the Cloth of Gold painting (held by the Royal Collection and displayed at Hampton Court Palace in the Young Henry exhibition) as a subject and I did the rest. As there would be a finite number of days that the build would take place over, we really needed a subject that couldn’t be finished…nothing worse than saying you’ll be building XXX over a month only to be so busy with helpers that you finish on day 2! That meant that the obvious candidate, the main temporary Palace in the foreground was out, yes we could have added lots of decoration, but how interesting is it to ask people to make a tiny brick or tile? Much better to be able to make lots of something, where numbers weren’t important…and what are there lots of in the image and what were there lots of at the actual meeting?? People and tents. All that was needed was a bit more focus and we’d have an idea to work from.
If you look in the top middle of the painting, you’ll see a large golden tent…no, not the fancy double ended one, just above that, the round one with the two kings in front of it all surrounded by a circle of tents in the Tudor colours of green and white. That was what we’d make, and if we had too much help then more tents or more figures could be made to bulk it all out. On the days that the guys in the Kitchens were making the “real” thing, people could also work in one of our other Palace rooms and help make more of the image in paper and card, that way everyone had the chance to try historic and modern methods of model making all to create a giant 3D version of as much of the painting as we could get done.
So with the flimsiest of ideas to work from, I dropped the news on the team that starting in just over a week, they’d have two and a half weeks to make as much of the image as they could, and that on 6 of those days they’d have as much help as they could coerce visitors into giving them…you can imagine how popular I was that day! They might have been fuming, but I was pretty confident in their skills and abilities and was sure that by the due date (21 August) there’d be something pretty spectacular to see. I walked back to my office to leave them to cogitate and come up with a plan and within a very short time, Adrian and Robin came up with a blinder.
Construct a large sugar central tent, possibly on top of a paste board framework to support it, and gild that. Make a Henry VIII and Francis I out of a combination of sugar plate and marchpane (almond and sugar paste) and paint them with natural food colours. Make a mould to construct sugar figures and press them out to make an army and the crowning glory of an idea, break the green and white striped tents down into individual stripes, make the white from sugar plate and the green from coloured or painted marchpane then when each “stripe” was sat next to the others you would build up a tent; all you needed was a “straight” piece and a wedge piece to make the curved tents (a bit like an [insert name brand here] chocolate orange)
All they would need to do would be to have people churn out stripes and wedges like there was no tomorrow along with a few dozen soldiers, while the team concentrated on the marchpane monarchs and the massive gold tent…easy! Well I say easy, because for me it has been…pop in to the Kitchen once in a while to see how things are progressing, take a few pictures in anticipation of this blog post, order sugar and almonds…a lot of sugar and almonds…then at the last minute, buy a load of gold leaf and go on leave for a few days leaving the guys to it for the final big push to the finish. For them, it’s not been as easy, but it’s been a genuine revelation in some respects.
Firstly there’s Jeremiah…who knew the hidden talents the man had?! We got our first inkling when he wanted to try his hand at sugarwork in the first planning week, so “had a go” at making a sugar playing card:
the man’s a demon with a brush…turns out he’s none too shabby when it comes to freehand modelling too as his marchpane Henry and Francis heads showed:
Robin once again demonstrated that for a man with what he describes as “builders hands”, the detail and finesse with which he can make things is astounding, from the bone modelling tools that the whole team used, to an alabaster mould for making tiny sugar figures
He also proved more than capable when it came to modelling marchpane
too…something that for years he’d never tried to do…perhaps we should have pushed him earlier?!
These are just some of the stand out examples in a sea of skills that have genuinely shone over the last few weeks of work.
Zak working wonders with kids and families alike, convincing them that making loads of identical tent pieces was something they should aspire to, and without that coercion and cooperation, there really would be so much less for you to see here. He was also responsible for finishing off the sugar part of the golden tent and helped add the gold leaf with Dave…when Dave wasn’t busy gilding children’s fingernails or noses to order!? [note to self…discuss profligate use of gold leaf with Dave 😎 ]
and all ably assisted by Robert and Liam who when not explaining what the others were doing, were providing the other daily cookery for visitors or helping them turn out tent sections, soldiers and a host of other sugary delights.
So, enough smoke blowing, how did they actually go about making the model I hear you cry?
Well the segmented green and white tents were ‘easy’, just pressed out in the moulds that Adrian and David whittled out of wood from the firewood pile in the Kitchen. Sugar plate was made following the Dawson recipe you can look at above (as with all the images, clicking on them should expand them to full size…or at least a larger size more conducive to viewing), and this was used like edible play dough. the marchpane was made by grinding almonds in a mortar and pestle…very ‘hands on’ for visitors…with a little rose-water and then powdered sugar was added and the whole pounded into a paste. You can see from the two images of the heads above that Jerry was a little less fussed about how fine his marchpane was ground compared to Robin, but either way the result is the same, a pliable almond modelling paste that can be coloured with natural colouring just like the sugar can.
Colours were made up from parsley juice for the green, cochineal for the reds (ideally we’d use kermes for this, but time and tide meant that the more readily available cochineal would have to suffice), woad powder for blue, oak gall ink for blacks and saffron for yellows. These were applied with brushes made from assorted hairs, furs and feathers, bound together to make tips and held onto wooden hafts with goose quills.
The main golden tent was always intended to be made of sugar, but this was highly unlikely to be strong enough to be self supporting, so Adrian got the first few groups of visitors helping with the project to make some paste board with him. This was easily made from our archival paper glued together with a flour, water and alum glue then pressed until dried and hard. This was then cut to shape and stuck together to form a board base upon which to place the sugar.
Initially Adrian had made moulds that included integral decoration so that a raised foliate design would be cast into the tent walls, but it turned out that the carving wasn’t quite deep enough to consistently guarantee that a panel would turn out with decoration on it…it was a fine line between not quite deep enough and too deep to easily come off the mould, so erring on the side of caution was probably the best thing he could have done.
Once turned out and set aside to dry, the panels were placed onto the pasteboard former and then a thin ‘mortar’ of liquid sugar plate was used to bond the panels together…and to the board it appears as Zak was quite generous with how much he used! When this was all complete and dried, the whole tent was painted with a saffron based paint, principally to act as a base to put the gold onto, but also as a fail safe in case I forgot to order the gold leaf (oh ye of little faith!!). Apparently the guys had planned for the painting to take at least a day, if not longer so that plenty of visitors could get a chance to help. Turns out that on that day all our visitors were budding painters as they covered the whole thing in a couple of hours or so…perhaps finer brushes to slow them down next time?
I think it was around the start of the painting phase that Jerry noticed that the tent in the original painting had a figure as a finial, so he knocked one up out of marchpane, but all I can see when I look at it is the
old magic robot game from the 1970’s….I still keep expecting it to spin round and point at things 😀
The final things to make were the wrestling monarchs which Adrian had intended to be made from sugar and marchpane and probably would have been about the same size as an Action Man figure, but Jerry ended up taking the reigns and they turned out a little more in scale with the tent…and waltzing we think rather than wrestling.
Meanwhile, Dave started to gild the tent and when he wasn’t doing it Zak took over; together they plastered about 6 books of leaf onto the tent (about 150 leaves of gold)…less what Dave put on children or blew into the air to show how light gold can be when it’s very, very thin.
Finally all that was left to do was put all the pieces together to form the diorama…
So that’s that then. One roller coaster ride of a month, tens of kilos of sugar and almonds, innumerable bunches of parsley, 6 books of gold, the blood, sweat and tears of all the team, the help of hundreds of visitors all to make something that was designed to be ephemeral…displayed for a short time to show the skills of all concerned, then broken up and eaten….I think it was worth it.