A nation of shopkeepers….

It is a busy time at the moment – sorting through my stock ready for when I move into the antiques centre at the end of this month – At the same time, I can’t resist looking for one or two more unusual bits, to add to the flavour…. I was particularly excited this last week to happen across a Victorian butter churn…. I had to have it….


Butter dates back to 2000BC; possibly it may have been discovered accidentally. The first butter was produced by putting milk into bags made of animal skin and then literally shaking until the milk and fat separated…. It is quite likely this process came to light when milk was being transported by animal….

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Rollin’ USFS Region 5 via Foter.com / CC BY Original image source: https://www.flickr.com/usfsregion5/16188477770/

Butter churns have probably been around since the 6th Century…. There are different variations of them but all use the same concept….to agitate the liquid until separation…. The buttermilk is then strained off (and can be used in cooking and baking), leaving behind the creamy butter…. To speed up the process, cream skimmed off the milk could be used; well into the 1800s this was done by simply allowing the milk to sour a little – but by the late Victorian / early Edwardian times cream separators became available….

Edwardian stoneware cream separator – one method used to separate cream from milk….

The more familiar styles of butter churn are: The Plunge Churn – (also known as the Up and Down Churn) – an upright container, with a pole inserted through the top, which is then moved up and down vertically….

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Butter Churn and Washboard chris league via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisleague/450847202/

The Barrel Churn – a barrel with a handle attached, that either turns paddles within or rotates the whole barrel itself….

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butter churn Steve Slater (used to be Wildlife Encountered) via Foter.com / CC BY Original image source : https://www.flickr.com/photos/wildlife_encounters/9247055775/

Or, The Paddle Churn – a container with paddles inside, that are turned by a handle…. The butter churn I acquired this week is of the latter form; it is French in origin and full of rustic charm…. The paddles inside are made of wood, with cut-outs in the shapes of heart, diamond, club and spade, as in a pack of playing cards….


The crank handle on the outside still turns the paddles and so I guess it’s in full working order…. Theoretically, butter could be made – I don’t think I will be giving it a go, though – I’ll stick to buying my butter from the shop….

In years gone by, it would have been very much my job to make sure the family had butter, an essential part of a woman’s daily work…. Even producing the most simple of meals, such as a breakfast of boiled eggs, toast and jam required much effort…. After tending the chickens and collecting the eggs, the bread needed to be made and baked, ready to be slathered with freshly churned butter and home-made jam…. At least in more recent times it became possible to nip down the village shop….

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Image from page 10 of “The days of long ago, and Immortality (Antithesis of “The Rubaiyat”)”(1909) Internet Archive Books via Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions Original image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/14790395683/

Mankind has been trading his wares for centuries…. The Ancient Greeks had their ‘agoras’ and the Romans their ‘forums’ – market places to you and I…. The Romans were even known to use shopping lists – one was found close to Hadrian’s Wall – dating to 75-125CE (current era, the numbering system for the Julian and Gregorian calendars)…. The Middle Ages saw street hawkers, markets and fairs…. As the 1600s approached, the average Englishman’s purchasing power increased….the demand for sugar, tea, cotton and luxury goods rose….the beginnings of consumerism. Market places expanded…. In 1609 the first shopping ‘centre’ was opened in the Strand, London, by politician, Robert Cecil, the first earl of Salisbury…. This was the start of specific streets and areas being designated to retail….

The first plate-glass windows arrived in the late 18th Century, allowing displays to entice customers in…. A tailor’s shop in Charing Cross was amongst the first to install such windows…. Department stores also arrived in the late 1700s….the first is believed to be Harding, Howell & Co. of Pall Mall, in 1796; it closed 24 years later, after the partnership dissolved. During the 1840s and 50s department stores took off in a big way across the UK, France and USA….

Most villages would have had a village shop…. A centre of the community, where locals would meet and exchange news and gossip….where the proprietor knew most of his customers by name…. Very often, these little shops were a life-line to some of the village’s residents….


Britain’s oldest surviving shop is the Boxford Stores, in Suffolk. Documented evidence shows it was first used as a warehouse for the buying and selling of wool and fabric. It has been in continuous service as a shop since 1528, when it was rented to Thomas Rastall, a butcher…. Over the centuries it has accommodated a variety of retail businesses, including green grocers, iron mongers and drapers…. Concerns were raised in 2015 that it may close as a shop, when ownership changed hands – but it was bought by two businessmen and it now trades as a green grocers and delicatessen….


The corner shop is the urban equivalent to the traditional village store….both have been facing a struggle to survive, many have already disappeared. Very often, small shops are family run businesses; because of other opportunities available to them, it is often the case that the children of the family don’t want to take over the running of the business. Of course, the other main reason for their demise is competition from the ‘big boys’…. Smaller premises means the variety of produce available is limited and with their larger purchasing power, supermarkets can very often sell goods at much cheaper prices….

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Premier chrisinplymouth via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisinplymuth/7182920710/

The concept of the self-service grocery store came about in 1916. On the 6th of September of that year, American grocer, Clarence Saunders opened his first ‘Piggly Wiggly’ store at 79, Jefferson Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee…. By 1922 he had 1,200 stores across the States and by 1932 the number had risen to 2,600….


The first supermarket to be opened in the UK was by the Cooperative Society on the 12th of January  1948, in Manor Park, London…. (Sainsbury’s first opened in 1950, followed by Tesco in 1954)….

Up until that point, shopping meant a trip to several different stores….the butcher, fish monger, green grocer, baker etc…. It meant queuing at the counter, waiting for purchases to be weighed, measured and packaged….which all took a considerable amount of time….

On that first morning of the brand new Co-op store opening, housewives queued outside in the freezing January cold…. Once inside they were amazed by the variety available to them….and were confused by the concept of serving themselves….

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“The arrival of the Supermarket, it changed our lives forever” brizzle born and bred via Foter.com / CC BY-ND Original image source: https://flickr.com/photos/brizzlebornandbred/8751069802/

Early stores did not carry fresh produce, such as fruit, vegetables and meat…. How different things are today…. As we all know, just about everything we require on a day-to-day basis can be found under one roof….and of course, bigger stores offer so much more….clothing, electrical goods, toys, even financial services…. There really is no stopping them…. Nowadays, many of the old corner shops are being replaced by the big chains with their smaller convenience stores….

The way we shop has also changed…. Competition between the big concerns and the relaxation of Sunday opening means stores are trading for longer hours, some are even open 24 hours a day…. In recent years we have seen the advent of on-line shopping…. A few clicks and the weekly shop is delivered straight to your door…. ‘Dark stores’ exist; warehouses essentially layed-out like supermarkets but not open to the public – their sole purpose to fulfill all those on-line orders….  Nowadays, the focus is very much on on-line shopping for just about everything…. We don’t have to take time out of our busy lives to trudge around stores and can arrange delivery to a convenient location, be it home, the office…. Actual, physical ‘shopping’ has, to some extent, become reserved as a leisure activity….

We are all often nostalgic when we think about our village shops and corner stores….

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The Corner Shop brizzle born and bred via Foter.com / CC BY-ND Original image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/brizzlebornandbred/13799292373/

Unfortunately, it is our preference for convenience that has seen the demise of so many….we simply haven’t supported them…. Although it may be too late for some, it’s not all doom and gloom….there are plenty that are fighting back…. It is not unusual these days for a village shop to be owned and run by the villagers themselves….often selling local produce – eggs, milk, vegetables from a local farmer, bread delivered daily from a local bakery…. Sometimes these shops will offer a range of artisan or hand-crafted foods…. Many might provide a facility for fresh coffee and place to catch-up with neighbours whilst picking something up for dinner…. The village shop is still, in so many cases, the central hub of the community…. Thankfully, their value has been recognised and conscious efforts are being made to preserve them…. Obviously, we all have to move with the times, many of these little stores are doing just that…. It’s up to us as individuals to help keep them going; personally, I love it when I can pop into a little shop and find something different….may be a jar of locally produced honey – or handicrafts made by somebody within the village…. Let’s face it, we all love a little retail therapy….

“To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers, may at first sight, appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers. It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers, but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers”….  Adam Smith – Wealth of Nations 1776












Hey! That’s not a weed….that’s lunch….

“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not been discovered….”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson 1878

With the arrival of the good weather it dawned on me there really was no excuse now, time to get outside and do some serious jungle clearance in the garden…. That’s how I found myself on my knees for three hours, pulling out ‘weeds’…. When my aching back could take no more, I hauled myself to my feet and stood back to survey my handiwork and was quite disgruntled that it really looked no different to when I had first started…. The only evidence I had to show for all my hard toil was a bucket full of wilting, sad-looking, unwanted vegetation. With a sigh, I plucked out a piece of limp greenery and inspected it…. There was something vaguely familiar about it, or maybe a similarity to something else…. After a moment of pondering, it ‘clicked’ – it reminded me of spinach. Naturally, I had to go and investigate – what was this little plant and could I eat it….?

My ‘spinach’ lookalike turned out to be Lambs Quarters; and indeed is a relative of spinach and perfectly edible…. This got me wondering to what other culinary delights might be lurking in the garden…. I was in for quite a surprise….

Lamb’s Quarters: A single plant can produce up to 75,000 seeds, as a result this makes Lamb’s Quarters one of our most common garden ‘weeds’. It was initially thought to be native to Europe but evidence has been found that even American Blackfoot Indians used it in the 16th Century. There is obviously a good reason for the widespread existence of this abundant little plant; Lamb’s Quarters are excellent at restoring healthy nutrients to the soil. They are also capable of providing us with plenty of healthy nutrients too; they are a good source of vitamins A and C and contain calcium, phosphorus and some thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and iron. The leaves, shoots and flowers are all edible (as are the seeds but not to be consumed in excess as too many can be toxic). Lamb’s Quarters can be eaten raw in salads but sparingly as they contain some oxalic acid – but once cooked, this is removed. Cook as you would spinach, preferably by steaming; add to soups, stews, casseroles, egg dishes – in fact it can be used as a replacement in any dish requiring spinach, as it is in effect ‘wild spinach’. It can be preserved for winter by drying or freezing…. Pick young leaves to enjoy the mild, spinachy taste….

Lamb’s Quarters Pesto :
3 handfuls Lamb’s Quarters leaves
1 handful grated parmesan cheese
1 handful pine nuts
2 chopped cloves garlic
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Place all ingredients in to a blender and blend until combined and smooth.
Store in the fridge in a glass jar for up to a week (or freeze for up to 6 months)….


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Photo credit: Skvalderkal Isfugl via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/erikjorgensen/132779367/

Ground Elder : Yes, that stuff! The bane of many a gardener; this invasive ‘pest’ of a plant was first recorded in Britain in 1578 but was most likely introduced by the Romans as a herb. It is also known as Bishop’s Weed, probably because it was once commonly used by monks. Another name given to it is ‘Gout Weed’; in old folk-medicine it was a treatment for gout…. Also handy to know, is that a poultice made of the leaves is a good remedy for insect bites, burns and minor wounds….

In the Middle Ages it was cultivated as a food crop as it was one of the first edible greens to emerge in the spring. It is best harvested between February and June (before the flowers appear) and can prove to be very versatile…. Eat raw in salads, dress it with olive oil, lemon juice and a twist of black pepper….or put it in a sandwich. When cooking it can be treated like spinach; pop it in a pan with a large knob of salted butter, cover and cook until soft – serve once again with black pepper. Ground Elder can be added to soups, stews, casseroles, omelettes, quiches and pies…. There are countless ways of consuming this ‘fiend’ of the garden….


Purslane : This half-hardy ‘weed’ was once to be seen growing in the beds of gardens in the Middle Ages, as it was thought to ward off evil spirits! Nowadays, we know it is good for us in other ways; it is high in vitamins A, C and E and is also a source of Omega 3 Fatty Acids. With its salty, lemony, sour, spinach like flavour, it is a lively addition to salads and sandwiches, with a satisfying slight ‘crunch’ to the leaves…. Again it can be cooked as you would spinach, it can be added to soups and stews – and is great in a stir-fry…. In French cookery it is used with equal amounts of sorrel to make the classic ‘Bonne Femme Soup’. As a more simple alternative, try a quick and easy….

Purslane and Potato Soup :
250g chopped Purslane
250g peeled, diced potatoes
50g butter
1 litre vegetable stock
3 tablespoons single cream
seasoning, to taste

Sauté Purslane in butter; add stock and potatoes. Simmer until potatoes are tender.
Add seasoning. Puree soup mixture in a blender; stir through cream.
Serve garnished with fresh Purslane….


Chickweed : Oh, how can we possibly call this one a weed? It is a gift from Mother Nature, herself…. This highly nutritious plant is available nearly all year round and was once thought of as a valuable food source during the winter months…. Packed with vitamins C, B6, B12, D and A, it also contains magnesium, phosphorus, copper, flavonoid (rutlin), iron, zinc, calcium and beta-carotene….but don’t be deceived, despite all that it has a mild flavour, almost like iceberg lettuce. Therefore, it makes an ideal salad base and is great in a sandwich. It can be cooked but chop it up finely, as it can become a little ‘stringy’. Put it in soups and stews, add it to quiches, pies and omelettes – pile it on your pizza….

However, the benefits this wondrous little ‘super food’ offers don’t stop there! It has many medicinal properties too. It can help with circulation and stomach disorders and as an aid for rheumatic and respiratory conditions (especially those where there is a lot of mucous present). It is also known for its skin soothing effects, making a good emollient or can be administered via poultices, compresses or baths. It can be used to treat ulcers, boils and abscesses; it will alleviate bites, stings and blisters – even nappy rash! It is thought to help with eczema and psoriasis symptoms…. I must admit, I now have so much respect for the humble Chickweed….


Nettles : Those horrible, pain inflicting plants we’ve all been stung by at one time or another….but they’re only trying to protect themselves and the precious cargo of young wildlife they offer a home to; namely the caterpillars of some of our most beautiful butterflies….

If you are brave enough to attempt to prepare them for culinary use, they provide an excellent source of vitamin C and minerals – particularly calcium, potassium, silicon and iron. They were once used to ‘revitalise’ the body after the winter period and are believed to help with arthritic conditions and eczema. Some herbalists use them to treat hay fever and skin allergies….

Never, ever, attempt to eat them raw – for obvious reasons…. Use the young leaves and cook like spinach (older leaves are high in calcium oxalate).  Add to soups and stews….steep in boiling water to make nettle herbal tea…. Of course, you can always take the sting out of them by turning them into beer or wine….

The Cornish use them in the production of Cornish Yarg; a handmade, semi-hard cheese that has a creamy taste.

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Photo credit: Cornish Yarg – cheese wrapped in nettles. Much better than it sounds! gingerbeardman via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/emsef/6779738962/

After pressing, the cheese is wrapped in nettle leaves, in a decorative manner; this then attracts natural moulds which occur in varying colours. The mould helps with the ripening process and gives the cheese a subtle, ‘mushroomy’ flavour….


Dandelions : Admittedly, this is one ‘weed’ that, to a certain extent, gets a ‘stay of execution’ in our garden – as the family bunnies love them…. Rich in pollen and nectar, this hardy perennial is also very attractive to insects, including bees…. So, another good reason to leave them put. However, they certainly have their uses in our kitchens too….

The young leaves are good in salads but older leaves are best blanched to reduce their bitterness; they can also be used in stir-fries…. Dandelions are a good source of potassium….

The roots can be used to make herbal ‘coffee’…. At the end of the plant’s second season, lift the roots, wash well, chop and dry…. They can then be ground to make ‘coffee’. Another, more familiar drink, made from the fermented roots, is Dandelion and Burdock; now marketed as a soft fizzy drink, it was once sold as a health drink during Victorian times….

The dandelion flower can also be used to make a very pleasing wine…. This personally brings back childhood memories for me…. Many a happy hour was spent helping my Dad pick dandelions for his homemade wine….

Dandelions are well-known to help with liver and kidney ailments as they have a diuretic effect on the urinary system; they may help to reduce fluid retention and help the body to get rid of toxins. They are good for gallbladder complains and are an effective laxative….

Another name dandelions are known by; ‘piss en lit’ – yes, seriously – when translated from the French it means ‘wet the bed’….


Clover : A member of the pea family, clover is high in protein, beta carotene, vitamins B and C. When picking the flowers, choose fresh blooms that have no signs of browning on them. Rinse well in cool water and blot dry with kitchen paper….

Toss the whole heads in to a salad, or dust with flour and pan fry for a tasty nibble…. Alternatively, they can be frozen into an ice-cube and make a pretty addition to a cold drink….

The flowers are known to help with eczema and psoriasis; also if used as an infusion or syrup, they can alleviate coughs and bronchitis. Clinical studies suggest they can aid in menopausal symptoms due to compounds called isoflavines found in both the flowers and leaves; these isoflavines possess mild oestrogenic properties….

To make red clover tea – pick 3 or 4 fresh flowers; remove stems and place in an infuser (if you have one) – if not, straining will be required…. Pour over boiling water and allow to steep for at least 5 minutes…. To make a refreshing version, add a couple of mint leaves with the clover blooms….


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Photo credit: 3572 daisy field crabchick via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/crabchick/5809581141/

Ox Eye Daisies : Not really a ‘weed’ as such, rather a very pretty wild flower – but if left unchecked in the garden they can soon get out of control…. So, waste not want not….

Ox Eye Daisies are tasty when eaten raw, add flowers and buds to salads…. Alternatively they can be fried in tempura batter (rather like you would a courgette flower); makes a great savoury when paired with chilli or sesame seeds – or for those with a sweet tooth….dust with icing sugar after frying….

Ox Eye daisy buds can also be pickled like capers….

Put in to a saucepan….

500ml white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon each of salt, peppercorns and mace
2 chopped garlic cloves

Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and allow to cool for at least an hour….
Meanwhile, fill two 1/4 litres preserving jars with Ox Eye daisy buds,
then press down so the jars are 3/4 full….
Once cool, strain the vinegar mixture through a sieve to remove solid ingredients
and pour liquid in to jars until full.
Cap and keep for a few weeks to mature….

Or, how about using Ox Eye daisy leaves as an accompaniment to a curry….

150ml coconut milk
150g natural yoghurt
Juice of half a lime
20g Ox Eye daisy leaves

Chop the leaves finely. Put yoghurt, coconut milk and lime juice into a bowl and mix.
Add leaves and stir through to combine thoroughly….
Allow to stand at room temperature for 10 minutes….serve with your curry….

Finally, we come to dessert…. Now, here’s one that really did surprise me…. I had no idea this could be eaten…. (and I am actually quite thankful we don’t have this particular one in the garden)….


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Photo credit: Japanischer Staudenknoterich (Fallopia japonica) blumenbiene via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/blumenbiene/6805839518/

Japanese Knotweed : One of the most invasive plants around and extremely difficult to eradicate….laws exist as to the means of its correct disposal…. Knotweed grows approximately 3 foot a month and its roots can go down to a whopping 10 foot! It was first introduced to Britain in about 1825 as a garden plant and has since become a thorough nuisance…. It is spread via the roots; just a tiny piece, the size of a postage stamp, is enough to produce a whole  new plant. If you are going to use it for culinary purposes it is strongly advisable to burn any unused material – as nobody wants to be responsible for inadvertently spreading this highly invasive plant….

Knotweed can be eaten raw but it is best cooked. It has a lemony, tart, crispy, rhubarb-like taste and can be used in just about any recipe that calls for rhubarb….

The best time to pick it is mid April to May; the stems have to be gathered whilst they are still tender i.e. before  they become hard and woody. Ideally, the shoots should be between 6 to 8 inches in length….

Knotweed is an excellent source of vitamins A and C, it also has zinc, potassium, phosphorus and manganese. It is suggested it can help treat and prevent Lyme’s disease…. It also contains resveratrol – the substance found in grape skins, that is known to protect against heart attacks…. In fact, beer or wine can be made from Knotweed (personally, I think I’ll stick to a decent glass of red)…. It is also possible to make a tea; the Japanese call it ‘Itadori tea’…. Simmer shoots for 20 minutes, strain, add sugar to taste and serve chilled….

Knotweed and Date Crumble

20 lengths Knotweed, cut into 5cm chunks
A good handful or two of chopped dates
4 tablespoons orange juice
110g butter
225g plain flour (sifted)
110g light brown soft sugar

Make crumble by rubbing flour into butter until it resembles breadcrumbs.
Stir through sugar….
Place Knotweed and dates into an oven proof dish, pour over orange juice.
Cover with foil and bake at 180°C for 10 minutes.
Remove foil, cover mixture evenly with crumble and bake for a further 20 minutes,
until golden….
Serve with custard or cream….

Sounds yum, doesn’t it….? In all honesty though, it would take an awful lot of crumble to eradicate one Knotweed plant….probably best to get it disposed of properly….

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Photo credit: Controlled Waste Peter O’Connor aka anemoneprojectors via Foter.com / CC BY-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/anemoneprojectors/9740824919/


So, there we have it…. Next time I’m working in the garden, I will think of it as ‘maintenance foraging’ as opposed to ‘weeding’….although I’m not quite sure if I’m ready to cross that bag of rocket off the weekly shopping list yet….

Of course, it goes without saying….if you do decide to take advantage of Nature’s free veggies….be both 100% certain they come from a totally weed-killer free environment and that they have been correctly identified…. Also, as a lot of these plants are used in herbal medicines it is strongly advised not to participate if pregnant or breast-feeding…. Far better to be on the safe side….

“There was a young farmer of Leeds,
Who swallowed six packets of seeds,
It soon came to pass
He was covered in grass,
And couldn’t sit down for the weeds….”
Limerick – Anon.












A stitch in time….

“We have to free half of the human race, the women, so that they can help to free the other half” – Emmeline Pankhurst

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Emmeline (Goulden) Pankhurst circa 1913 Public domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AEmmeline_Pankhurst_1.png

June the 8th is fast approaching – the day the British public go to the polls…. Being a woman of middling years, this is something I have done on numerous occasions in the past…. I recall the very first time I exercised my right to vote; I was in my late teens, I stopped off at the village hall on my way to work, I felt so very grown-up. That time and every subsequent time since, that I have pencilled my ‘X’ into the appropriate box, I have had no doubt as to which Party I wished to vote for; it has always been perfectly clear in my mind – until now…. For the first time in my life, I am questioning – to the point I have even asked myself whether I should bother to vote at all….


A couple of years ago, John and I visited the Priest House at West Hoathly in West Sussex; a traditional Wealdon hall house, situated on the edge of Ashdown Forest, it is a museum filled with some of the most amazing artifacts from life gone by. One particular item really caught my eye – a framed handkerchief covered with signatures. On closer inspection it became evident that each signature had been painstakingly embroidered. The delicate piece of linen is known as ‘The Suffragette Handkerchief’ and bears 66 signatures and 2 sets of initials; I was fascinated and bought myself a pamphlet explaining its history and meaning…. Last week, whilst doing a spot of spring cleaning, I came across this pamphlet….it seemed poignant that I should unearth it at this particular point in time…. The signatures are those of a group of women that were being held in Holloway Prison in 1912 – when the Women’s Suffrage Movement was at its peak….

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The Suffragette Handkerchief Image courtesy of http://www.hoathlyhub.info/PriestHouse/

After the industrial revolution many women were in the position of being in full-time employment. Although actively contributing to the Country’s workforce they had no voice in the running of the Nation – no representation in Parliament and indeed, were not even allowed to vote. Organised campaigns for women’s suffrage started to materialise in 1866 and by 1888 women were permitted to vote in many council elections – but that was as far as it went…. In 1867, Liberal MP, John Stuart Mill proposed an amendment to give women the vote on the same terms as those of men…. It was rejected by 194 to 73 – and so the ‘Cause’ gained momentum….by the end of the 19th Century the focus of women’s equality became that of their right to vote….

The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), known as the ‘Suffragists’ (not to be confused with suffragettes) was founded in 1897. It was a merger of two groups that had both split up in 1888; the National Central Society for Women’s Suffrage and the Central Committee, National Society for Women’s Suffrage. The aim of the NUWSS was to lobby and obtain the vote for women through democratic, legal and peaceful means…. Its members were middle class and working class women, working together, alongside each other….and it wasn’t only confined to women, many men also actively campaigned for the Cause…. By 1914 it had over 100,000 members and 500 branches countrywide….

In 1903 the Women’s Social Political Union (WSPU) was founded by six women in Manchester. Dissatisfied with the results being achieved by the NUWSS, this new group decided more militant tactics were needed. The women  only group, under the leadership of Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter, Christabel, fought for social reforms and became known as the ‘Suffragettes’….adopting the slogan “Deeds, not words”….

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Emmeline Pankhurst being arrested at King’s Gate in May 1914 Author unknown – public domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AEmmeline_Pankhurst_Arrested_1914.jpg

In November 1911, demonstrations in London saw the arrest of 223 women, after a spree of window breakages of government buildings in Whitehall and at shops in the Strand. March 1912 saw an even bigger demonstration, a second wave of window smashing in London, organised by the WSPU, meant a further 200 plus women were arrested. The leaders of the WSPU, including Emmeline Pankhurst, were sentenced to nine months in prison; other women received sentences averaging two months – many for refusing to pay fines levied in Court….

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Great suffragette demonstration in London – Mrs. Andrew Fisher, Mrs. McGowan and Miss Vida Goldstein from Australia 1911 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGreat_suffragette_demonstration_in_London
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Postcard of a suffragette procession of 1911. Printed by H Searjent of Ladbroke Grove, London 1911 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASuffragette_procession_1911.jpg

Soon, Holloway became full, so women were sent to other prisons in places such as Birmingham and Aylesbury. Overcrowding meant the conditions in the prisons were even poorer than usual. Denied the status of political prisoners and so not receiving the certain privileges that such were entitled to, many of the women resorted to going on hunger strike as a protest….

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Emmeline Pankhurst in prison dress circa 1911 public domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AEmmeline_Pankhurst_in_prison.jpg

The pamphlet I found whilst spring cleaning recites the story of how this particular group of women happened to be in Holloway at the time and the author had researched the women whose names appear on the handkerchief. They came from all over the Country and from all walks of life. After reading through the explanation and the information collected on each woman, it inspired me to find out a bit more about women’s suffrage closer to home….

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Anti Suffrage Postcard c.1910 TWL/2004/1011/55 LSE Library CC / no restrictions https://www.flickr.com/photos/lselibrary/22754363186/

Here in Surrey, the Movement appears to have become active in the 1870s. The first recorded meeting was held in Guildford during January 1871. Farnham had a branch of the NUWSS from 1908 and by 1909 the Godalming branch had been established. Godalming’s president was Mrs. Mary Watts, the widow of the artist G.F.Watts. Her secretary, Theodora Powell, went on to co-found the Guildford branch in 1910, (Cranleigh also got its own branch in this same year). Connected to the Godalming branch was a New Zealander by the name of Noeline Baker, who befriended famous garden designer, Gertrude Jekyll (who lived just outside of Godalming). Jekyll became a member of the NUWSS and designed banners for both the Godalming and Guildford branches….

The Church in Surrey provided sympathisers to the Cause. One clergyman in particular, involved in the League for Women’s Suffrage, was a Reverend Algernon Creed, vicar of Ewshot, near Farnham. This particular piece of information struck a chord with me; I spent my teenage years in Ewshot, living in a house opposite the church…. I got married in that church, my son was christened there and it is where we said ‘good-bye’ to my father after he passed away. A humble church in a small Surrey village, I had no idea such an advocate for women’s equality had once been such an important part of it….

By 1913 all areas of the Country had representation in organisations promoting the suffrage cause. Surrey saw its fair share of militant activism; one method was to sabotage male dominated organisations, golf courses and cricket grounds were popular choices. Sometimes more extreme measures were attempted, for example a bomb left at Haslemere Station (which failed to ignite)….

Many suffragettes had homes in the Surrey Hills, amongst them Emmeline and Frederick Pethick-Lawrence, who helped lead the WSPU. Their home, ‘The Mascot’, in South Holmwood, became the place where many women released from prison after being on hunger strike, went to recuperate….

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Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Jennie Baines, Flora Drummond and Frederick Pethick-Lawrence c.1906-1910 https://www.flickr.com/photos/lselibrary/22545429328/

Peaslake, a village in the Surrey Hills, was home to a surprisingly large number of activists, it was described in 1912 as being “rather a nest of suffragettes”….

Hilda Brackenbury and her daughters Georgina and Marie also opened their home, ‘Brackenside’, in Peaslake, to women recovering from hunger strike….including Emmeline Pankhurst herself. In fact, it was a Peaslake resident, Marion Wallace Dunlop – an artist, sculptor and illustrator – who initiated the very first hunger strike….

Marion Wallace Dunlop, a member of the WSPU, was imprisoned for printing an extract from the bill of rights on the walls of St. Stephen’s Hall at the House of Commons. On the 5th July, 1909, she went on hunger strike, refusing all food as a protest that her rights as a political prisoner were not recognised. She claimed her actions were “….a matter of principle, not only for my own sake but for the sake of others who may come after me….refusing all food until this matter is settled to my satisfaction….” After three days of fasting….she was released….

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Entry in Mabel Capper’s scrapbook by Marion Wallace Dunlop June 1909 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMarion_Wallace_Dunlop_WSPU_prisoners_scrapbook_entry.png
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Memories of Winson Green Gaol – Mabel Cappers WSPU prisoner’s scrapbook – Forcible feeding illustration 18 September 1909 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AForcible_feeding_illustration_from_WSPU_prisoners_scrapbook.png

Force feeding was a brutal procedure. The woman was either tied to a chair, which was then tipped back or she was held down on a bed. A rubber tube was then forced up the nose or down the throat, into the stomach. If administered via the mouth, a ‘gag’ was used, occasionally made of wood but more often steel. The steel option was particularly painful as it was pushed into the mouth to force open the teeth and then a screw was turned to open the jaws wide…. Sometimes the rubber tube would be accidentally forced into the windpipe, causing food to enter the lungs, thus endangering life…. Which ever method was used, damage to the nose or throat was pretty much inevitable….

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Force feeding – A suffragette on hunger strike being forcibly fed with a nasal tube. Source: The Suffragette by Sylvia Pankhurst circa 1911 https://common.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AForcefeeding.jpg

Some women had to endure being force-fed more than 200 times…. Two such women were Grace Roe and Kitty Marion….

Grace Roe joined the WSPU after hearing Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence speak in October 1908. Grace was arrested for the first time after a demonstration held at the House of Commons on June 29th, 1909. She was appointed organiser of the East Anglia WSPU in 1910 and then in 1912 Emmeline Pankhurst made her deputy of the WSPU in London, under Annie Kenney. After Kenney’s arrest and imprisonment for ‘incitement to riot’ in April 1913, Grace became leader of the WSPU in London….

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Emmeline Pankhurst talking to Grace Roe, c.1912 – France https://www.flickr.com/photos/lselibrary/22937693496/
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Christabel Pankhurst (left) and Annie Kenney circa 1911 Source: The Suffragette by Sylvia Pankhurst Public domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AChristabel_Pankhurst_and_Annie_Kenney.jpg

Katherina Schafer was born in Westphalia, Germany in 1871. Her mother died when she was just two years old, her father remarried but lost his second wife when Katherina was only six; both women died of TB. Katherina’s father was very strict and by all accounts had an uncontrollable temper…. In 1886 the young Katherina moved to England to join her sister, Dora. She learnt English, changed her name to Kitty Marion and became an actress, enjoying a successful although modest career. In 1908 she joined the WSPU, moved to Hartfield, East Sussex and became an active member of the Brighton branch….

In June 1908 Kitty was arrested at a demonstration at the House of Commons. In July 1909 she was arrested once again; this time she was imprisoned. She immediately went on hunger strike which resulted in her being force-fed. In retaliation and protest she barricaded herself in her cell and set light to her mattress….

In November 1911, she was once again sent to prison, with a sentence of 21 days to be served in Holloway, she went on hunger strike yet again…. It has been calculated that Kitty endured some 232 force feedings during the times she spent on hunger strike in prison….

This account by Kitty Marion, from 1913, has been edited by Christabel Pankhurst. The excerpt is taken from ‘The Suffragette’ – the official weekly newspaper of the WSPU….

….”I was lying on my bed, and I immediately turned to the wall, but they wheeled the bed out into the middle of the room, and tried to get me into position for feeding. I struggled violently, but they sat on my legs and I was fed with the nasal tube. I was so exhausted at the end of the feeding that a wardress was left with me for some time”….

The following account is that of E.Sylvia Pankhurst (daughter of Emmeline). The excerpt is as published in McClure’s magazine, August 1913 pp 87-93…. Please be advised, it is quite graphic….

….”I struggled as hard as I could, but they were six and each one of them much bigger and stronger than I. They soon had me on the bed and firmly held down by the shoulders, the arms, the knees and the ankles.

Then the doctors came stealing in behind. Some one seized me by the head and thrust a sheet under my chin. I felt a man’s hands trying to force my mouth open. I set my teeth and tightened my lips over them with all my strength. My breath was coming so quickly that I felt as if I should suffocate. I felt his fingers trying to press my lips a part, -getting inside,- and I felt them and a steel gag running around my gums and feeling for gaps in my teeth.

I felt I should go mad; I felt like a poor wild thing caught in a steel trap. I was tugging at my head to get it free. There were two of them holding it. There were two of them wrenching at my mouth. My breath was coming faster and with a sort of low scream that was getting louder. I heard them talking : “Here is a gap”.

“No, here is a better one – this long gap here”.

Then I felt a steel instrument pressing against my gums, cutting into the flesh, forcing its way in. Then it gradually prised my jaws a part as they turned a screw. It felt like having my teeth drawn; but I resisted – I resisted. I held my poor bleeding gums down on the steel with all my strength. Soon they were trying to force the india-rubber tube down my throat.

I was struggling wildly, trying to tighten the muscles and to keep my throat closed up. They got the tube down, I suppose, though I was unconscious of anything but a mad revolt of struggling, for at last I heard them say, “That’s all”; and I vomited as the tube came up.

They left me on the bed exhausted, gasping for breath and sobbing convulsively. The same thing happened in the evening; but I was too tired to fight so long.

Day after day, morning and evening, came the same struggle. My mouth got more and more hurt; my gums, where they prised them open, were always bleeding, and other parts of my mouth got pinched and bruised.

Often I had a wild longing to scream, and after they had gone I used to cry terribly with uncontrollable noisy sobs; and sometimes I heard myself, as if it were some one else, saying things over and over again in a strange, high voice.

Sometimes – but not often; I was generally too much agitated by then – I felt the tube go right down into the stomach. It was a sickening sensation. Once, when the tube had seemed to hurt my chest as it was being withdrawn, there was a sense of oppression there all the evening after, and as I was going to bed I fainted twice. My shoulders and back ached very much during the night after the first day’s forcible feeding and often afterwards.

But infinately worse than any pain was the sense of degradation, the sense that the very fight that one made against the repeated outrage was shattering one’s nerves and breaking down one’s self control”….                  – E.Sylvia Pankhurst

The act of force feeding was highly controversial, causing a public outcry. In 1913 the government looked to other ways of dealing with the hunger strike issue and introduced the Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health Act, which became known as the Cat and Mouse Act. This in itself could be regarded almost as cruel as the force feeding itself…. It allowed the release of a hunger striker in order for her to recuperate and regain her health…. Once recovered, she would then be re-arrested and made to complete her sentence….

Between 1900 and the start of World War 1 approximately 1,000 people were imprisoned for crimes relating to suffrage. Most were sent to prison for refusing to pay fines imposed by the Courts as punishment….

The subject of women’s suffrage was debated in the House of Commons 18 times between 1870 and 1904. Many suffrage societies suspended their activities at the beginning of WW1. Two million women took up and worked in roles traditionally fulfilled by men; this was to become a key factor in women finally obtaining the vote….

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Members of the Women’s Social and Political Union campaigning for women’s suffrage in Kingsway circa 1911 Public domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWSPU_in_Kingsway.jpg

In February 1918, the Representation of the People Act was passed awarding the vote to women aged 30 or over, if they were a householder or the wife of one. This excluded the majority of working class women and fell well short of the original aims of the suffrage campaign….

In November 1918 the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act was passed, allowing women to stand for Parliament. The first ever elected female MP was Constance Markievicz for Sinn Fein but she did not ever take her seat. In 1919, Lady Nancy Astor became the first female MP to sit in the House of Commons….

On the 14th December, 1918, 8.5 million women were eligible to vote in a general election for the first time. It wasn’t until 1928 with the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act that women were given the same equal voting rights as men: the general election of May 1929 saw 15 million women with the right to vote….

So, with all that in mind, I for one have been reminded why I have always felt it my duty as a woman to vote; in recognition of our sisters who fought so hard to secure it for us. Far be it for me to preach to anyone but I hope it’s given you food for thought, girls….as it has for me…. This Country may be facing difficult times and some of us may be having problems deciding which way to vote or whether to even bother….but don’t you think we owe it to these women to do so….? I’m glad I came across that pamphlet….

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British suffragette with a poster, giving out newspapers Ch. Chusseau-Flaviens https://flickr.com/photos/george_eastman_house/2678367136/in/set-72157606224254056/

Merry month of May….

Today is May Day – time to celebrate the coming of summer – a time of joy, hope and love – time to have some fun…. So, let’s go crown the May Queen, grab some Morris men and do a turn around the maypole….

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Photo credit: Beltane Shadowgate via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/shadowgate/5711544065/

Where did all this malarkey come from? May Day originates from the Pagan festival of Beltane, which falls exactly six months after November 1st (Pagan New Year) and half way between the spring equinox and summer solstice; it is the peak of spring, a time of abounding fertility…. Beltane is the anglicised name for the Gaelic May Day; it comes from the Celtic god ‘Bel’ (meaning the bright one) and ‘teine’, the Gaelic word for fire. Put together Beltane translates as ‘Bright Fire’. As it is a fire festival, traditionally bonfires are lit to honour the sun and to ask the god Bel to ensure a good harvest….

The earliest May Day celebrations can be traced back to the Romans; young people celebrated the arrival of spring by performing dances dedicated to Flora, the goddess of spring….

In the Pagan festival the Maiden goddess is a manifestation of Flora. The Oak King, also known as Jack-in-the-Green or simply the Green Man, falls in love with her and wins her hand…. They are the May King and Queen, symbols of the sacred marriage, the union of Earth and the sky (Heiros Gamos) – re-enacted in May Day celebrations by the Lord and Lady of the May….

As Beltane is a special time in the Pagan calendar it is a popular time for Pagan weddings; traditionally a union that lasts for a year and a day. At the end of this period the couple can either re-new their vows or go their separate ways without hard feeling. Today Pagan couples choose their own time period, very often it is for life…. Ceremonies are unique to each individual couple, involving the exchange of vows and tokens, such as rings. It also always entails ‘Hand-fasting’. This is when the hands of the couple are bound together using a cord or ribbon, in a figure of eight motion and then unbound again. The binding represents the coming together, the unbinding that they do so of their own free will. This is where we get the saying ‘to tie the knot’ when referring to marriage….

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Photo credit: Hand Fasting Symroe via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/symroe/4768615300/

Another term we use when referring to a wedding is ‘jumping the broomstick’. In times gone by, if a couple could not afford or did not want to get married in Church, they would literally jump over a broomstick laid on the ground. This symbolised crossing over a threshold from one life to another – by doing so they would have been accepted in the community as husband and wife…. There are those who still choose to make a commitment to each other in this way today….

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Photo credit: woodland-blessing-jumping-the-broom mookychicks via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/98260052@N03/21869884023/

The Green Man is a character who appears in many of the May Day celebrations and traditions we know today – in fact there is many a public house across the Land that bears the name…. During the 16th and 17th Centuries, people would make garlands and wreaths for the May King and Queen – things became competitive, the garlands became more and more elaborate….in time the leaves of the Green Man completely engulfed him….

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Photo credit: Jack in the Green Festival Hastings dcanprice via Foter.com / CC BY-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/132952433@N02/17334297696/

The colours associated with Beltane are:- red – for strength, passion and vitality; white – for cleansing, purity and to get rid of negativity; green – for growth and fertility. Beltane also has its connected sacred trees:-

Hawthorn: the tree that bears the may blossom. Traditionally Beltane commenced when the  hawthorn bloomed; it is the symbol of sexuality and fertility. May blossom would have been used to decorate the home at Beltane – but at no other time, as it was then considered unlucky….

Rowan: representing protection and healing. Branches would have been put over the doors of houses and barns to protect from faeries as they awoke from their winter sleep. People wore sprigs of rowan for personal protection….

Birch: seen as a feminine tree; it is among the first to have leaves in the spring. Traditionally it is used to make besom brushes (this is where we get the term ‘a new broom sweeps clean’). Eostre, the Celtic goddess of spring, is associated with birch – wreaths of it given by lovers as gifts to each other….the traditional wood for the maypole is birch….

The maypole is a phallic symbol – representing the power of the god. The traditional ring of flowers (which should ideally be may blossom) represents the goddess…. Originally the pole was decorated with garlands of flowers and leaves and dancers simply circled it in time to music, provided by pipe, tabor and fiddle – nowadays often accompanied by an accordion. Ribbons were added at a later time; the weaving of ribbons stands for the ‘spiral of life’. The dancing weaves and creates a complex pattern with the colourful ribbons – the dance is then reversed to undo it….

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Photo credit: may pole Photos by Zoe via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/photosbyzoe/3508801228/

Very often the festivities around the maypole were led by Morris dancers. The Morris Dance is a form of English folk dance that has undergone some 500 years of evolution. Possibly the name comes from the French ‘morisque’ meaning a dance. It became ‘morisch’ in Flemish (who influenced many European customs). Eventually it became known as ‘moryssh’ in English and finally ‘morris’. The earliest record of Morris dancing in England is May 1448. In the beginning it was a dance performed just by one or two people and was popular in the Royal courts – the dancers would wear elaborate, fancy costumes….

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Photo credit: Image from page 634 of “Illustrations of Shakespeare and of ancient manners : with dissertations on the clowns and fools of Shakespeare ; on the collection of popular tales entitled Gesta Romanorum, and on the English Morris dance” (1839) Internet Archive Book Images via Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/14765685362/

By the 16th Century Morris dancing had become part of many religious festivals. In Mediaeval and Renaissance England the Church brewed wassail and other ales, which were sold at occasions such as weddings, christenings and wakes and at Whitsun…. It was a method of fund-raising for the Church…. As time went on, Morris dancing became associated with other village celebrations such as fetes and May Day…. It was particularly popular in Tudor times….

Many May Day celebrations were banned by the Church in the 16th Century due to their Pagan origins; although some Roman Catholics continued to celebrate May 1st with the ‘May Crowning’ of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The ban incited riots; 14 men were hanged as a result and a further 400 were pardoned by King Henry VIII….

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Photo credit: May Crowning at St. Gertrude’s Lawrence OP via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paullew/14107194936/

May Day, which has always been associated with fun, revelry and fertility, disappeared once again during the civil war, when Oliver Cromwell’s Puritans took control of much of the Country in 1645. Cromwell banned maypoles, describing them as ‘heathenish’….

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Photo credit: May Pole ericwg via Foter.com / CC BY-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ericwg/16767907/

At the Battle of Worcester in 1651, Cromwell defeated King Charles II, who fled to Europe to spend the next nine years in exile. Cromwell ruled Britain like a Puritan dictator. After his death in 1658, the monarchy was restored and Charles was invited back. He was reinstated in 1660 – known as the ‘Merry Monarch’ he was determined to bring back the fun; to show a return of the good times he had a giant 40ft maypole erected in the Strand, London….

Morris dancing had also been actively discouraged under Cromwell’s Puritan rule but it too made a hearty return under Charles…. By the mid 1700s it had become practised by common folk. The fancy clothes disappeared, ordinary attire was worn, decorated with flowers and ribbons….

May Day celebrations went into decline during the Victorian era…. The Victorians disapproved of bawdy behaviour; the Green Man died out altogether. The traditional Lord and Lady of the May who had boisterously presided over festivities were replaced by the more demure May Queen…. Morris dancing was considered to be old-fashioned, as new forms of entertainment had come along – although some villages still kept it going….

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Photo credit: The May Queen 1886 Thiophene_Guy via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7726011@N07/7514274860/

Nowadays, many towns and villages have May Day celebrations of their own. Many continue to have a May Queen, some even have a Jack-of-the-Green, (the Green Man having been revived in Whitstable, Kent, in 1976) and maypole dancing. The village greens of Welford-on-Avon and Dunchurch in Warwickshire have permanently erected poles. Barwick in Yorkshire boasts the largest maypole in Britain at 30m high! Of course, Morris dancers are still here to entertain us….nowadays we are familiar with their bright costumes, the bell pads on their shins, wielding their sticks, swords and handkerchiefs, whilst performing their noisy, rhythmic, choreographed dances….

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Photo credit: Morris Men’s Jump the_steve_cox via Foter.com / CC BY-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/photowannabe/1571528274/

The Labour Government introduced May Day as an official holiday in 1978; the first Monday in May is now a bank holiday….

Back in the early days of this particular house, the Mediaeval May Day was dedicated to Robin Hood; plays would have been performed all over Britain to celebrate spring. Things have changed considerably since then but this village still has its May Day fete….now, all we need is some decent weather….  Hang on though, this is a British bank holiday we’re talking about….decent weather – pah!!

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Photo credit: Dancing the May Pole before Wedding Party / Milkmaids in background, Morris Dancers on left LIGC~NLW via Foter.com / No know copyright restrictions Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/llgc/4541056352/
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Photo credit: Hawthorn Axiraa – back very soon via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/46785534@N06/14249923649/















Standing at the cross roads….

Ever found yourself at a cross-roads wondering which way to go? That’s where I am right now – hypothetically of course….

In 2008, I took a room in an antiques centre, located in a former mill. It is a rambling, quirky, centuries-old building – home to some 70 dealers, a real Aladdin’s cave, brimming with all manner of antiquities.

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Photo credit: getsurrey.co.uk

I filled my room to the rafters with all sorts of vintage and antique goodies; china, linen, collectables, paintings, small items of furniture…. As far as I was concerned I was indulging my passion and earning a living at the same time….

It was November 2015, I was at home alone, working on some pieces for the Mill, with the radio on for company – when there was a news flash….a local antiques centre was on fire…. I knew instantly it was us….

I was incredibly lucky, my room was completely unscathed; unlike many of my fellow dealers who lost their entire stock, if not to the fire itself but through smoke and water damage. It was heart breaking….

What followed was a frantic few days of packing boxes and shifting furniture to clear the building. Being November, daylight hours were restricted, there was no electricity, it was cold, damp, with the smell of smoke thick in the air – safety measures required hard hats to be worn…. Still, resolve and morale remained high – we were all convinced we would be back in and trading again come Summer….

That was 18 months ago – due to complicated insurance issues work has not yet begun to repair the damaged building; meanwhile, my stock is in storage – waiting….

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Photo credit: farnhamherald.com

I love the Mill, I find it hard to imagine trading from anywhere else. I have viewed another centre and I have dabbled at selling on-line….but I soon discovered that wasn’t for me…. So, up to this point I have simply chosen to ‘wait it out’. However, since it is now painfully apparent nothing is going to be resolved in the near future, decisions have to be made….

I could look for an alternative venue, continue to wait or dispose of my stock through auction and consider a new career challenge…. at least I have choices. Being a woman in the 21st Century I am free to make my own decisions, which is probably more than could be said for the womenfolk who have lived in this house before me….especially those in its very early days….

When this house was first built in the mid to late 1300s, life would have been ruled by feudal obligations. Possibly this cottage would have been the home of a lesser yeoman or more affluent villien and his family; it is not grand by any means but it is well constructed and in its time would have been quite substantial. Life for a yeoman or villien’s wife would have been tough….

Most people in Mediaeval Europe and Britain lived in small rural communities and made their living from the land. In some respects the life of a peasant woman was less restricted in the confines of her class than those in aristocracy. Generally, women had little control over the direction their lives took them in. Society in the  Middle Ages was heavily influenced by the Bible….women were deemed inferior to men, morally weaker and likely to tempt men into sin….all this stemming from Eve. Women were conditioned to remain silent, letting their menfolk make decisions on their behalf. Fathers arranged marriages for their daughters, who were usually married off as teenagers and then became responsible for managing their new home, whether a castle or a hovel….

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Photo credit: Medieval Village, WA Tuzen via Foter.com / CC BY-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tuzen/14551399513/

A peasant woman’s day may have typically started at 3am. She would have been expected to work in the fields alongside her husband; ploughing, sowing, harvesting, haymaking….

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Photo credit: Image from page 273 of “Mediaeval and modern history” (1905) Internet Archive Book Images via Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/14758267726/

There may have been livestock to raise – lambing in the Spring, shearing mid-June. Poultry needed tending (nearly always a woman’s job)….and of course, she also needed to manage the household chores too. There would have been cheese, butter and bread to make, food to be preserved ready for the Winter, the vegetable plot would have needed maintaining – growing vegetables for the family’s pottage…. A certain amount of time would have been spent foraging for nuts, mushrooms, berries and fruit…. Floors had to be swept and straw replaced, rush lights needed to be made. She would have sewed new clothes for the family, washed and mended when necessary…. Then she would have to have found time for her spinning and quite possibly weaving too…. Unless living as a free-woman and hence excused, she would also have been expected to help with the harvest of her lord as well as that of her own family’s land…. On top of all that, she probably had a tribe of children to bring up….

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Photo credit: Image taken from page 267 of ‘English Wayfaring Life in the Middle Ages-XIV.Century… Translated from the French by Lucy T.Smith…Illustrated’ The British Library via Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11199869396/

Knowledge of a trade could have made a girl a good marriage prospect, especially if it happened to be one that could be run from home, such as weaving, brewing or baking. Extra income for the household was always welcome….

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Photo credit: “Middle Ages” spinner P Torrodellas via Foter.com / CC BY-NC Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ptorrodellas/143041021/

Cottage industries were small businesses where people produced their own goods and sold them either from home or by ‘hawking’ them in the streets, possibly using a mobile cart. A small business would have been eligible to join a guild, an association of artisans or merchants. Most small businesses were owned and registered with the guild by a man – his wife, daughters, sisters and mother were his ‘workforce’. Women connected to a family business would have been allowed to join the guild via their fathers or husbands. By learning the family trade, very often a woman would have been permitted to continue the business in the event of her father or husband’s death. Sometimes, although it was the man of the house registered as the owner, it could be the woman who ran the entire business….

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Photo credit: Medieval tincaster hans s via Foter.com / CC BY-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/archeon/7481668890/

Even if a woman was a member of a guild, generally she was still very restricted. For example, a pastry maker was only permitted to carry one box of biscuits at a time in order to sell from….and of course, women were paid less than their menfolk even if they were doing the same job. Many widows inherited property and businesses and were able to carry on and run them very successfully, sometimes they became very financially well-off; if this were the case it was often not in her best interest to remarry…. Some widows ran the financial side of their deceased husband’s business but would have had employees to carry out the work….

After the black death new opportunities arose for women wishing to prosper. Due to a shortage in the skilled workforce a woman with a trade could rent premises, take on apprentices and run a business; she could even write a will to determine what would happen to it in the event of her death…. Married women could choose to trade separately from their husbands, they were known as ‘femme soles’. In order for a woman to do so, she had to make a public declaration of her sole status and to be able to trade her application had to be approved and granted. Those in urban areas may have become shop or inn keepers. London’s population halved after the plague, opportunity was everywhere for women. In the early 15th Century one third of brewers paying dues to the Brewers Company were women, some were single, some married, some widowed. However, there is little evidence of women being in public office, where they may have had authority over men….and as the population recovered and increased women faded back into the background, once again it became a man’s World….

Many women had multiple jobs to help make ends meet….very often she would have had her children in tow; as soon as they were old enough they would have been expected to help out….

Some women may have held the position of a domestic servant to a wealthier family. There were other employment options as well of course, prostitution was one…. Although frowned upon by the Roman Catholic Church and regarded as a sin, it was tolerated to a degree as the belief was that it helped curb rape and sodomy; towns and cities had designated areas where prostitutes could ply their trade…. Midwifery was solely a female occupation; although English universities barred female medical practitioners, midwives delivered babies and attended to other women’s health matters, as men were terrified of childbirth…. Midwives had no formal training as such, they relied purely on experience….

Childbirth in the Middle Ages was an extremely risky business, both for mother and infant; in fact childbirth was the greatest hazard a Mediaeval woman faced…. If a woman survived her childbearing years she was likely to outlive her husband. There was no real medical help available if problems arose, no procedures or techniques when dealing with breech births. If the pelvic opening was too small for the baby’s head nothing could be done; Caesarean sections were only performed if either mother or child had died and were carried out without anesthetic….

Any mother will tell you giving birth is no picnic but when we consider the horrors that childbirth in the Middle Ages often entailed, it is hardly surprising to learn that many women found the thought of becoming a nun a more attractive prospect than becoming a mother…. Nearly 10% of women in Mediaeval England and France never married in the traditional sense – many opted to marry the Church instead. Indeed it had its benefits….it gave the opportunity to gain an education; many writers, artists, educators, healers and botanists gained their knowledge through the Church….

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Photo credit: Image from page 207 of “The story of the middle ages; an elementary history for sixth and seventh grades” (1912) Internet Archive Book Images via Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/14797864713/

Although women were restricted in what was essentially a World run by men, there is little doubt that without the sheer gutsiness of our Mediaeval sisters, the World at that particular time would have come to a grinding halt…. There is that familiar saying: ‘behind every successful man stands a strong woman’….which appears to have its origins in the 1940s – but I wonder if it was inspired by women of the Middle Ages….

I, for one, am thankful I am a woman of now, rather than then…. I can make my own decisions, follow the career path of my choosing – my destiny is not determined by my husband’s trade…. Good job really, I can’t imagine myself wielding a chainsaw….