A collection of photographs and bits of information about everyday life (especially on the move) in pre-industrial times, gathered on a 'field trip' to a Living History Mediaeval Pageant.



Two general views of the camp site, showing the forest of guy ropes.

On the table are various wooden plates and a leather bottle lined with pitch (the object that looks like a little cat). I asked whether pitch made the drink taste. The woman said no: you can taste wood and metal, but not pitch!



In some places the tents had been grouped together and wooden hurdles used to stop people entering the private areas.

Wooden hurdlespacer


The canvas tents came in various sizes but were generally oval in plan, consisting of a rectangular central section and two rounded ends. The ends were typically curtained off to form separate rooms. Some of the tents were dyed in bright colours, but one of the women told me that mediaeval dyes were not light-fast so tents were also painted. The canvas is heavy and, when packed up, the tents are quite bulky—about the size and weight of a woman!—so a cart would have been required to transport them.

The interior of one of the poorer tents. The wall is stained with damp (I saw quite a lot of mould). The floor is covered with sacking, rush matting and furs. The furniture consists mainly of chests of various sizes, which are used for storage and also as tables and work surfaces. The tiny chest of drawers at the centre of the picture contains incense, which was burned to ward off evil. The tables come apart for transporting. The jug and ewer (standing on the table) are used for washing.



Another view of the same tent, showing the painted curtain that forms the bedroom. The spherical object is a lantern. The owner told me that lighting the candles at dusk keeps the damp out of the tent.



The bedroom of a richer tent. The tiny white objects on the bed posts are pegs. These pull out so that the bed frame can be taken apart for carrying. The base of the bed consisted of wooden slats, and there seemed to be no mattress!

Camp bedspacer


Tent poles. I was told that no one knows exactly how the tents were constructed. This cartwheel arrangement is commonly used today. The small spherical object in the centre is an incense burner; the objects hanging at the sides are lanterns. The one on the left is made from thin slices of (translucent) cow horn. (Lanthorn).

Tent framespacer


Two views of a very rich tent, showing wall hangings of a thick woollen fabric, woven in a pattern of red and gold. The hangings form a double wall, like double glazing. A row of chests, made from fine woods, stands along the back of the tent and various household objects—candles, small chests, pots, plates and knives—are arranged on top. I asked if that was authentic and the owner said he didn't know, but it was practical...

Rich tentspacer


This tent belonged to the Captain of a Regiment of soldiers (and his wife). The bed was in the room to the right of the main area. The room to the left was arranged as a study.



Another tent, showing the back of a writing slope (the low box in the centre, below the two jugs). The owner showed me two paper weights (pieces of flat, carved stone that hang from cords down the surface of the slope to hold sheets of parchment in place), a quill pen and a long, narrow-bladed pen knife for cutting nibs. The gabled chest to the left is a reliquary, which would have contained religious items (somebody described it to me as a portable altar). I'm not sure if it would have contained a Bible at this time—perhaps a Book of Hours?

The ewers and bowl in the background were glazed in an elaborate pattern of cream and pale green, and the owner said they were Majolica ware, and would have been imported from Italy.

Writing slopespacer


Food and medicine

Unfortunately, I didn't take a picture of the lady who was preparing the food! She had a large open fire over which she was boiling water (for tea!—they were all, very apologetically, drinking tea), eggs and a ham. Her table was laid out with various breads (mostly dark and close-textured and containing seeds or chopped onions or dried fruit), soft cheeses (some of them flavoured with herbs, others blue), dried fruits, herbs and spices. She showed me some powder fort (a mixture of peppers, used with meat) and powder douce (used for sweets). Her daughter was making sweet pasties, filled with dried fruits and honey, which she said would be fried over the fire.

Two ladies eating.



The mess tent (with a barrel of ale).

Mess tentspacer


Two views of the wise woman's table, showing the ingredients used for making various salves. The blossoms on the right are elderflower, used for cleansing. The bowl beside them contains petals, which have been removed from the stems because 'the green bits taste bitter'.

Wise woman's tablespacer


The flat box at the back of the table contains a set of tiny scales. The basket to its right holds lumps of chalk, which would have been ground up to treat stomach complaints. The small jars are filled with various medicinal herbs, including caraway seeds for digestive complaints, because 'They ate a lot of red meat and suffered badly from indigestion. 'The basket and bowl to the left contain two types of camomile—hay, for stuffing pillows to help sleep; and flowers for making a soothing tea and for adding to salves. The wooden pots contain various salves, made from a mixture of oil and wax and the appropriate herbs. The earthenware jars are sealed with corks and made airtight with a piece of leather. The wise woman thought that people would have brought their own pots and jars to be filled with whatever they needed. The two cups (centre right) are made from cow's horn.



A photograph of the lovely archer, who told me all sorts of lore about mediaeval archery. On the very left of the picture, you can just see the end of his long bow, which is unstrung.

Bow strings must have broken very easily. A bow would typically have had two strings attached—the archer would have had another string to his bow so that he could quickly remove the broken one and replace it. He would have had another kept under his hat (to stop it getting wet). (None of this, of course, applies to Legolas, because an elven bow is kept strung at all times and its string never breaks). Archers arrived with their own bows and about 50 arrows (which would have lasted approximately four minutes) but had an enormous support team, who worked behind the lines keeping them supplied with new strings, new bows (if they snapped), and, of course, arrows.

A good bowyer could make a bow in two and a half hours! But it was illegal for him to work after dark, in case he made mistakes because he couldn't see properly.



A selection of arrowheads. The big one on the extreme left is designed to injure horses (and is probably the type that was used to kill Banduil in The lady vanishes). The arrow beside it has a tiny fire basket, which would have been stuffed with a bit of cloth soaked in something flammable. The long, thin head (to the right) was designed to pierce chain mail (and examples have apparently been found buried several inches deep in oak doors). The crescent-shaped tip was also used against horses, and for poaching. All arrows were designed to spin as they flew through the air, because (like a bullet shot from a rifled gun) it makes them more accurate and increases their range. The spinning crescent tip would have done a lot of damage but could easily be removed from the carcase. ('People didn't travel much in those days and smiths would put a maker's mark on their arrow heads. So if you left an arrow behind, and the gamekeeper found it, all he had to do was take it to the local smith and say, "Who's been having these made?".') The rounded wooden tip (far right) was used for practice ('If you can shoot one of those you can shoot anything') and for stunning game.

The white substance towards the top centre of the picture is archer's wax.



English archers had a special salute! Because the French typically cut the fingers off any archer they captured, English archers would apparently raise two fingers to their enemies, as a sign of contempt.


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