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:

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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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 / CC BY-ND Original image URL:

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 / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL:

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 / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL:

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 / CC BY-NC Original image URL:

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 / CC BY-ND Original image URL:

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 / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL:

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….



















































































































































A black cat called ‘Lucky’….

On my wedding day, my mother handed me a good luck mascot in the form of a black cat – a tradition that originates to the Midlands. Mum, being from that part of the Country (well, Worcestershire to be precise – but it’s in the same region) has always held that particular custom close to her heart, after receiving one on her own wedding day…. Now, some of you may be exclaiming in horror – ‘a black cat on a wedding day – and given by the bride’s own mother!’ To many, a black cat does not symbolise good luck, quite the opposite in fact – it really depends on where in the World you come from….

The Black Cat
Photo credit: ‘The Black Cat’ @Doug88888 via / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL:

Generally, in the UK, a black cat is seen as a good omen, there are many black moggies to be found answering to the name of ‘Lucky’….In Scotland, it is thought if a strange black cat arrives at the house, it will bring with it prosperity…. However, there are those who believe if a black cat crosses their path, this will bring bad luck; the same if one is walking towards them, where as a black puss walking away signals good fortune…. This possibly goes back to pirates in the 19th Century who held the same beliefs….

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Photo credit: ‘Frankie the pirate’ the1pony via / CC BY-ND Original image URL:

The connection with black cats and the sea is deep-rooted. Sailors always wanted their ship’s cats to be black as they were thought to bring good luck. A black kitty strolling on to a ship was good – but if it turned its back and walked off again, this meant the ship was going to sink…. Fishermen’s wives kept black cats, believing in doing so, they would keep their menfolk safe whilst at sea….

Photo credit: ‘Oh Danny Boy’ hehaden via / CC BY-NC Original image URL:

Most of Europe views the black cat as a sign of bad luck. However, in Germany it is believed if a black kitty passes from left to right, this is a bad omen but if it passes from right to left, there are favourable times ahead. French peasants once held the belief that if such a cat was released at a cross roads, where five roads intersected, the moggy would choose the road that led to treasure…. The South of France has a superstition that black cats are Magician cats ~ ‘Matagot’ ~ a spirit in the form of an animal. Tradition says a Magician cat must be lured with plump chicken and then be carried home without its new human owner looking back. If treated with respect in its new home, by being well fed with the first mouthful at every meal, the Matagot will reward with a gold coin each morning. So, if you happen to find yourself in the South of France and a black cat decides to grace you with its company, make sure it has plenty to eat and a cosy bed to sleep in and you never know, wealth and good fortune may come your way….

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Photo credit: ‘Odd-Eyed Black Cat fourbyfourblazer via / CC BY Original image URL:

It is considered that if a black cat is in the audience on the opening night of a play, then the play will have a long and successful run…. In Japan it is said that if a lady owns a black cat she will find herself with many suitors – and if one crosses your path in Japan, this heralds good luck. Black cats are thought to be lucky throughout much of Asia….

In the USA, things are very different, black cats are deemed as being very unlucky. So much so, that American animal shelters sometimes have a difficult time finding new homes for such moggies. The myth still remains that they are evil. Some shelters even halt the adoption of them around Hallowe’en time in the fear they will be used as seasonal ‘props’ and then be left abandoned once again…. August 17th has become ‘Black Cat Appreciation Day’ in the States to attempt to raise the profile of and get rid of the bad image these poor, unfortunate mousers have undeservedly acquired….

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Photo courtesy: George W Bush Presidential Library ‘India peeks around a plant at the White House’ July 10, 2001,

So, where does this belief that black cats are unlucky and evil stem from? With their association to Hallowe’en and the witch, with her stereotypical familiar, it does appear we have to look back to times when the World was gripped in the fear of witchcraft….

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Photo credit: ‘Hallowe’en’ New York Public Library via / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL:

The Ancient Egyptians worshipped cats, literally. Bast (or Bastet) was the cat goddess. She represented protection, family, music, dance and joy. Originally she was portrayed as a lioness, fiercely protective and warlike; but over time, her image softened and she became seen more like a domestic cat, graceful, affectionate, playful, cunning…. Egyptian households believed by keeping a black cat they would gain favour with Bast….

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Photo credit: ‘bust of goddess Bast’ JimmyMac210 – just returned home from hospital via / CC BY-NC Original image URL:

In Norse Mythology, felines had their place ‘up there’ with the gods too….Freya was the goddess associated with beauty, love, sex and fertility. She wore a cloak of falcon feathers, kept a boar named Hildisvini at her side and she rode a chariot pulled by two magical black cats. Farmers would leave bowls of milk for these cats, to bring good fortune for the coming harvest. Freya was also the goddess of war, she represented death and the afterlife….and she practiced witchcraft….

During the Middle Ages, cats, especially black ones, fell out of favour. It is often thought all cats were hated during this time but that is untrue. They were still highly useful to have around as they caught mice and other vermin. The Church was especially fond of them, nuns and priests kept them as pets, presumably to catch rodents. In the 15th Century, Exeter Cathedral even had a cat on its payroll! Its salary was a penny a week. Still today a small cat door can be seen in the south tower of the cathedral…. A hermit was allowed 3 acres of land and a cow but the only companion seen as fitting for an anchoress, was a cat….

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Photo credit: ‘Evil Eye’ Chucknado via / CC BY Original image URL:

So, to say all cats were viewed as evil in the Middle Ages is incorrect; it is a myth. It could hardly be true when those giving up their lives for solitude and prayer allowed a feline presence. However, as much as members of the Church appeared to love their kitties, it could be said it was also the Church that was responsible for the bad reputation the cat, particularly the black cat, was to gain….

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Photo credit: ‘Stray Mog’ paulmcdee via / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL:

Muslims in Mediaeval times were very fond of cats (and of course, many still are). There are accounts that say Prophet Muhammed  especially liked cats, he treated them well; perhaps it was their cleanliness he found appealing. Middle Eastern street cats were often looked after by charities…. One European pilgrim, on returning home from his travels in the Middle East, remarked that the difference between Christians and Muslims was that ‘Christians like dogs and Muslims like cats’….

Christians in the Middle Ages thought all animals were made by God to serve and be ruled by humans. Dogs showed obedience and complied. Cats, on the other hand, even when domesticated, kept their independence and wilful ways…. Edward, Duke of York, said the cat had the spirit of the Devil in it….

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Photo credit: ‘Buzzy the cat’ Mark McLaughlin via / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL:

Writers began to portray cats in a bad light; they compared the way they caught their prey and tormented it to the way the Devil catches souls. William Caxton wrote: ‘the devil playeth ofte with the synnar, lyke as the catte doth with the mous’….

It became widely believed that the Devil could manifest as a black cat. Christianity saw things very much in black and white. White representing goodness and purity; black, evil, danger and corruption. Black cats became associated with witches and heretics. Heretical religious groups, such as the Cathars and Waldensians were accused by the Catholic Church of worshipping cats….

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Photo credit: ‘Purring in the Dark’ Tria-Media_Sven via / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL:

1022 saw the first burning at the stake of the Cathars in France, when heretical Canons of Orleans perished upon the orders of the King. At the time there was no law to say heretics were to be executed in this way – was it that Robert the Pious was influenced by the Germanic custom of burning witches at the stake? Whatever his reasons, this became the form of execution for the so-called ‘heresy crimes’ of the Cathars….

Emperor Frederick II sanctioned the practice in anti-heresy laws in 1224 and 1232 but only when the Church authorities demanded the extreme sentence. It was believed that heresy was contagious, rather like leprosy or the Plague – many thought the only way to be rid of the disease was through ‘cleansing’ with fire. It was also the Christian belief that reducing to ashes would condemn to eternal damnation, depriving bodily resurrection on Judgement Day….

Witches burned at the stake
Photo credit: ‘Witches burned at the stake’ via / CC BY Original image URL:

Burning witches at the stake was a method of execution used across Europe and the UK (no witches were burnt in the English colonies of North America). It was commonly believed both in Europe, the UK and Salem, USA, that witches shape-shifted into the form of black cats in order to roam the streets unobserved…. The streets were dangerous places at night, no lighting meant darkness provided cover for all kinds of villains and evils….Cats, being nocturnal and their ability to see in the dark, made them the obvious choice for a witch’s familiar….

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Photo credit: Image from page 105 of ‘Our domestic animals, their habits, intelligence and usefulness;’ (1907) Internet Archive Book Images / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL:

A Lincolnshire folktale from the 1560s, tells that a father and son were travelling on a moonless night; suddenly, a black cat ran across their path. Fearing bad luck, they started to hurl rocks at it. Terrified and injured, the cat fled to the house of an old woman who had recently been accused of witchcraft. The next day the father and son saw the old woman, she was bruised and limping…. Well, you can imagine the conclusions they drew….

Old women in Mediaeval times often cared for street cats. As the witchcraft hysteria took hold, it was so often that these were the women accused. In Europe there was a large scale massacre of black cats, many of them burnt…. Pope Innocent VIII, in 1484, declared the cat was the Devil’s favourite animal and the idol of all witches….

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Photo credit: ‘This is the season of the witch’ sammydavisdog via / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL:

Whether these deep seated superstitions have any truth in them, I really don’t know…. Charles I obviously believed in the powers of the cat; when his beloved puss died, he claimed his luck would run out. It certainly did, the next day he was charged with high treason….

Throughout history, the black cat has had an extremely raw deal, considering their only crimes are being nocturnal and they take pleasure from torturing their prey….the same as any other cat does…. Once a year or so, I get to make a fuss of a ‘Matagot’ in the South of France. He is gentle, loving, playful and affectionate, he’s right up there with the best of feline kind; just like the other two black cats I have had the privilege of sharing my life with in the past – and yes! One of them was called Lucky….



Bring back the stocks…I say!!

There have been a few times in the past, when I have jokingly remarked it would be fun to see a set of stocks on the village green…. I may not have been saying that if I had lived in this house a couple of hundred years ago, even less so if I had been one of its first occupants….

Photo credit: ‘Punishment in 18th century Bristol by John Latimer’ brizzle born and bred via / CC BY-ND Original image URL:

Wind back to when No.3 was first built – England would still have been governed under the Feudal System. Feudalism was introduced when William I took control after the Norman Conquest in the 11th Century; it was to become the way of Mediaeval life. As William was still also the Duke of Normandy he had to divide his time between England and France, so was absent for many weeks at a time. Therefore, he needed people he could trust to run things for him in his absence. In order to do this, he divided the country up into large chunks, similar to the counties we know today. These plots of land were ‘given’ to those he considered the most trustworthy, namely those that had fought with him and were prepared to die for him. The land was not ‘given’ to them unconditionally, they had to swear an oath of loyalty and collect taxes for the King. The noblemen (barons, earls and dukes) were the most important men in their allotted portion of land, they were known as ‘tenants-in-chief’. They in turn divided the land further into smaller pieces, called Manors, which were entrusted to Norman knights, who had also served well in battle. Each also had to swear an oath and it was his duty, as Lord of the Manor, to manage the land and its occupants. He had to collect taxes on behalf of the tenant-in-chief and provide soldiers from amongst the men living within his Manor to fight when ever needed. It was also the lord’s responsibility to ensure law and order was upheld….

Photo credit: Image taken from page 210 of ‘The History of England from the earliest dawn of authentic record…Embellished with…engravings.’ The British Library via / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL:

The Manorial Court dealt with crimes that were of a less serious nature. Courts were held at regular intervals throughout the year and all villagers were required to attend, or face a fine. Trial was by jury, which consisted of twelve men, selected by the villagers. A steward, chosen by the lord, was in charge of the Court. The  community was divided into groups, called tithings, each tithing represented by ten adult (over the age of 12) men, who were then responsible for each other’s behaviour. If one member (or part of his household) broke the law or behaved in an inappropriate way, it was the duty of the other nine tithe members to bring them before the Court.

More serious crimes were referred to the King’s Court; these included murder, treason, heresy and witchcraft. Trial by jury did not come to the King’s Court until 1275. Before this time, trial was by ‘ordeal’; it was believed God would decide whether a person was innocent of the crime he or she had been accused of. There were three types of ordeal used to determine a person’s fate:-

Ordeal by fire: The accused was made to walk a distance of approximately 9 foot holding a red-hot iron bar, (or similarly, picking up a stone from a boiling cauldron of water). The hands would be bandaged. Three days later the bandages would be removed, if the wounds showed no signs of healing, the person would have been pronounced ‘guilty’….

Ordeal by water: The accused would have been thrown into water with their hands and feet bound together; if they floated, they were declared ‘guilty’….

Ordeal by combat: Reserved for noblemen. The accused would fight with his accuser, usually to the death; the victor being considered the one in the ‘right’….

In 1215 the Pope made a ruling that priests must not help with enforcing ordeals (as it was his belief they were wasting too much of God’s time) – as a result the King’s Court also became trial by jury. This was actually not popular with the people, some thought those with a grudge against them may use the system to their own advantage. In 1275 a law was introduced permitting the use of torture if trial by jury was refused. Torture was also used to extract confessions or to get the names of accomplices and other information about the crime in question….

Punishments were issued to fit the crime and reflect the social standing of the person who had been found guilty. The worse the crime, the harsher the punishment. For serious crimes, death was usually inevitable; as well as murder, treason and witchcraft, highway robbery and the stealing of livestock carried death sentences….

Although prisons existed, they were used as a holding place for people awaiting trial rather than as a punishment. They were squalid places, lack of food and disease often meant prisoners died before even coming before the Court. Prison sentences were usually not an option as the money to keep long-term prisoners was not available; it was cheaper to either execute or mutilate them….

Most towns had a gibbet. People were hung on them and their bodies left to rot to act as a deterrent to others. Witches were strangled or in severe cases, burnt. Sometimes beheading was used as a form of execution. Serious theft could result in hands being cut off, branding may have been used, along with other barbaric punishments, such as the poking out of eyes. Punishments and executions were always in public….

Photo credit: ‘Gallows’ Jaime Perez via / CC BY-NC Original image URL:

Courts were often biased, the poor discriminated against and judgement would often have been known before the case even came to trial. If somebody did not turn up to attend the Court they were automatically considered to be an outlaw; their possessions would have been seized, becoming the property of the King. Outlaws would often band together and live in hiding; of course, one of the most famous being Robin Hood….

Lesser crimes were dealt with within the community and it was up to the Lord of the Manor to decide a fitting punishment. The Middle Ages had a tendency to use ridicule to punish petty crimes, public humiliation was common practice. Anything from being forced to wear an animal mask to being publicly flogged…. Not working hard enough, cheating on a spouse, blasphemy, not observing the Sabbath and being drunk and disorderly were all punishable crimes in Mediaeval England….

Petty theft could result in being given extra, unpaid work and/or a fine. Slacking at work would warrant a flogging….

Women who nagged, scolded and gossiped could find themselves the centre of the utmost ridicule….by being forced to wear a ‘scold’s’ bridle. Although it looked like a torture contraption it was not really designed as such, more for humiliation. It consisted of a metal bridle that strapped about the head and had ‘bits’ that went into the mouth. Sometimes the bits had spikes to prevent the woman from talking. She would then be paraded through the streets for up to twelve hours; some bridles even had bells attached to them, to add to the indignation….

Another punishment used for women who found themselves fallen from grace was the ducking-stool, popular especially in the 16th and 17th centuries. The offending woman was strapped into a chair on the end of a long pole; she was then repeatedly dropped into a river or lake…. The last recorded ducking in England was in the Herefordshire town of Leominster. Jenny Pipes was a notorious scold and was dunked in 1809. In 1817, Sarah Leeke was found guilty of the same crime; fortunately for her, the water in the ducking pond was too low, instead she was wheeled around the town strapped in the ducking chair, to receive the ridicule of the townsfolk….

Photo credit: ‘The Ducking Stool at Leominster’ copyright John Phillips and licensed for reuse under creative commons license CC SA Wikicommons

Another variation of this was the cucking-stool, in which the guilty person was made to sit, to endure being paraded through the streets….

To us now, the  ducking-stool may conjure up quite a comical image…. However, it was a terrible ordeal for the woman concerned. Deaths did occur, either through drowning or shock. In more severe cases, for example a person accused of witchcraft, the chair would be held under the water for several minutes, repeatedly. If the accused survived it would be assumed they were guilty. If they drowned, the only consolation would be their name was cleared….

Photo credit: Image from page 90 of ‘Essentials of United States history’ (1911) Internet Archive Book Images / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL:

In the City of Canterbury, Kent, the original ducking chair can still be seen in its place at the back of the Weavers House Pub on the banks of the River Stour….

Photo credit: ‘Canterbury Historic River Tours’ Karen Roe via / CC BY Original image URL:

Of course, one form of punishment we commonly associate with days gone by is that which got me on to this subject in the first place….the stocks; (and we must also contemplate their cousin, the pillory, too)….

The stocks go back to at least Anglo-Saxon times…. A wooden construction, where the convicted person would sit and have their ankles trapped in holes within the structure and sometimes their hands too.  Occasionally, although not commonplace, even the neck would be entrapped. Most stocks were capable of holding at least two prisoners at one time….

Photo credit: ‘Stocks’ Kasper Veste via / CC BY-SA Original image URL:

In 1351 the parliament of King Edward III passed a law prohibiting labourers from leaving their home Manor to look for better paid work. After the Black Death there was a desperate shortage of labour – workers were in a situation where they could demand better conditions and wage increases…. To curb this the Statute of Labourers was instated….all upstarts were sentenced to the stocks. In 1405 it was made law that every town and village in England should have them….

Photo credit: ‘St Leonard’s Church Shoreditch’ Alan Denney via / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL:

A spell in the stocks could last anything from a few hours, to days, even weeks! A part from the obvious discomfort of being pelted with rotten fruit, vegetables, eggs and possibly even worse, the fact the prisoner was unable to shift position in all that time, has to be taken into consideration; that and our great British weather….!!

Photo credit: ‘Stocks, Codicote’ Peter O’Connor aka anemone projectors via / CC BY-SA Original image URL:

Stocks and pillories were always positioned in the most prominent place in the town or village….be it the market square, near to the church or on the village green….

The pillory tended to be used for slightly more serious offences. Similar to the stocks but this time the person was in a standing position with their head and wrists entrapped. A term in the pillory was usually shorter, not normally more than a day. Additional punishments may have been administered, depending on the crime. Sometimes the victim’s ears might be nailed to the pillory, to stop movement of the head. Often, the prisoner’s ears would be ripped off through their struggles; if the ears were still intact at the end of the ordeal, they were more than likely to have been cut off at the time of opening the pillory anyway. Branding the face of the criminal, nose slitting and even boring through the tongue with a red-hot iron were all punishments some prisoners of the pillory had to endure….

Photo credit: ‘laurel & hardy’ pinch of salt via / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL:

Being drunk and disorderly, cheating, blaspheming, not observing the Sabbath, or simply being a vagrant could result in a spell in the stocks or pillory. However, it was possible, if a person was well liked in a town or village, that no real hardship was suffered. Some places stipulated only soft missiles could be thrown, to prevent stoning….

In 1703, Daniel Defoe, a popular writer of the time, was sentenced to the pillory because his work ‘The Shortest Way with the Dissenters’ was considered seditious libel (criticising and discrediting the King and Church). In the July of 1703 he was taken on three consecutive days to some of the busiest parts of London; The Royal Exchange in Cornhill, Cheapside and finally Fleet Street, to spend an hour each time in the pillory. Huge crowds were expected to turn out and mock him and hurl whatever they deemed fitting; however, all that was thrown at Defoe were flowers, whilst his friends read extracts of his work to onlookers….

Photo credit: Image taken from page 146 of ‘Daniel Defoe : his life and recently discovered writings : extending from 1716 to 129. [With plates, including a portrait.]’ The British Library via / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL:
The pillory was abolished in 1837. The stocks, although never officially abolished, began to die out in England in the early 19th Century. The last recorded case of them being used was in Rugby, Warwickshire in 1865.

Most stocks were made of wood (although there have been examples made of iron), so many of the original stocks deteriorated and rotted over time. However, many villages, proud of their old stocks, have managed to preserve them as a reminder of the ‘olden days’. Several villages local to Dunsfold still have theirs, including Chiddingfold and Alfold. Dunfold’s have long gone – and after learning all this, I am not quite so sure now that I would like to see a new set on the green after all….

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Photo credit: ‘Pillory’ balaji shankar via / CC BY-NC Original image URL:

Dost thou know thy Tussie-Mussie from thy Nosegay…?

When I hear the words ‘Tussie-Mussie’, for me it conjures up a nostalgic, whimsical image of Victorian times…. A young suitor handing his intended a dainty posy of flowers, waiting to see if she would clutch it to her heart – for if she did, he would have known his love was requited…. Maybe they were secret sweethearts and his gift of flowers conveyed a covert message to her…. Each bloom, individually selected for its meaning, combined together to tell a story…. The language of flowers….

Photo credit: ‘Tussie-Mussie’ Leanne & David Kesler, Floral Design Institute, Inc., in Portland, Ore. Flower Factor via / CC BY-NC Original image URL:

Floriography, the term used for the communication of a message through flowers, was a trend introduced to Europe in the 1700s. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu brought it to England in 1717; wife of the then Ambassador to Turkey, she is better known for her writing, poetry and upon her return from Turkey, for the introduction of the smallpox inoculation to Britain….

Photo credit: Image taken from page 333 of ‘Literary Landmarks of London…Eighth edition, revised and enlarged, etc’ The British Library via / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL:

As Floriography gained in popularity throughout Europe and Britain, publications began to appear listing plants, trees and flowers with their meanings. The very first dictionary is thought to be Joseph Hammer-Purgstall’s Dictionnaire du Language des Fleurs’ in 1809. The craze continued throughout the Victorian era and dictionaries were produced in several countries; France, England, the USA, Belgium, Germany and South America. A well-known publication was ‘Le Language des Fleurs’ by Louise Cortambert writing as Madame Charlotte de la Tour, in 1819. Its equivalent in England was by the Clergyman, Robert Tyas and entitled ‘The Sentiment of Flowers; or, Language of Flora’, written in 1836. Other notable works were Henry Phillips’ ‘Floral Emblems’ in 1825 and Frederic Shoberl’s ‘Language of Flowers’ in 1834….

Perhaps though, the one we may be most familiar with and which is still printed today, is the one written by English, children’s book illustrator, Kate Greenaway. Her book, ‘The Language of Flowers’, which was first printed in 1884, lists over 500 flowers and plants, along with illustrations and the meanings and messages they convey. Many of the images are now reproduced as fine art prints, greetings cards and note paper….

Photo credit: ‘Queen Victoria’s jubilee garland’ (1887) Toronto Public Library Special Collections via / CC BY-SA Original image URL:

Because so many different publications were available there became many variations of the lists. Certain flowers and plants acquired more than one meaning, sometimes contradictory, often varying from country to country. For example, the herb Basil; in Italy, it represented ‘best wishes’, in Greece it conveyed ‘hatred’, whereas in India it meant ‘sacred’….

There are so many plants and flowers that have meanings, far too many to list here but following are a few of the more familiar ones:

Primrose: Inconstancy, changeability
Sweetpea: Departure, good-bye
Anemone: Forsaken
Bluebell: Humility
Daffodil: Unrequited love
Chrysanthemum: Friendship, cheerfulness
Dandelion: Faithfulness, happiness
Violet: Modesty
Iris: Hope, wisdom, valour
Ivy: Fidelity
Fern: Fascination
Passion Flower: Faith
Honeysuckle: Love (sweet and secret)
Golden Rod: Caution, encouragement
Forget-me-not: True love, forget me not
Lily of the Valley: Return of happiness
Rose: Love
Pansy: Thoughts
Daisy: Innocence, purity
Orchid: Beauty
Peony: Shame
Poppy: Oblivion
Rosemary: Remembrance
Purple Heather: Admiration
White Heather: For wishes to come true
Magnolia: Nobility
Forsythia: Anticipation
Petunia: Resentment, anger
Larkspur: Fickleness
Marigold: Jealousy
Elderberry: Sympathy
Aster: Daintiness….

In Victorian times, the Tussie-Mussie  became something of a fashion accessory. They would have been carried to social occasions, or maybe worn on the wrist, or as a brooch…. If carried, very often a lace doily would have been wrapped around the stems; or perhaps they would have been contained in a small silver vase that could be pinned to a lapel….

Flowers were the most commonly exchanged gift in the Victorian era; much thought went into the meaning of each bloom that made up the display. A Tussie-Mussie traditionally has one single central flower, which is then surrounded by smaller flowers, herbs, foliage and grasses. Each individual piece playing its part, in conveying the message the person giving the gift wishes the recipient to receive…. Every posy is unique, individual and personal… In Victorian times young ladies were taught how to make them as part of their social up-bringing…. The craze eventually ended with the outbreak of World War 1….

Nowadays, Tussie-Mussies are still occasionally given as gifts; when they are, it is common place to include a note, explaining the meaning….

The name, ‘Tussie-Mussie’, was first mentioned in 1440, as ‘Tusemose’. Tuse – meaning a knot of flowers; mose – refers to the damp moss wrapped around the stems to stop them from drying out. During Mediaeval times, small posies of flowers were more commonly known as ‘Nosegays’; ‘gay’ meaning ornament. The name quite literally means ‘an ornament appealing to the nose’….

A Nosegay could have come in several forms; a small scented posy, or sachet of highly aromatic herbs or maybe even an orange studded with cloves. They would have been used by both sexes, carried, pinned to lapels, worn on the wrist or perhaps around the head – anywhere convenient and easily accessible, to mask bad odours and rancid smells….

Nosegays were extremely popular whilst in crowded places or while walking through the streets of cities and towns. The streets were particularly filthy in the Middle Ages, often coated in raw sewage, where the contents of chamber pots had been flung from windows. Butchers slaughtered animals in the streets leaving the unwanted waste behind….general rubbish and debris would have been left to rot…. The stench could only have been horrendous, Nosegays were quite possibly the only method to prevent gagging…. It was also believed disease was spread by foul air and bad odours….

Photo credit: ‘Sign in Chinon’ Peter Curbishley via / CC BY Original image URL:

Contrary to general belief, many people in the Middle Ages did observe personal hygiene. Not all, obviously (hence another use for the Nosegay). Clothes, with the exception of under-garments, would not have been washed frequently; especially in the Winter months, as drying them would have been almost impossible….

Health manuals from the time stressed the importance of keeping clean in order to keep healthy. Magninius Mediolanesis wrote in his ‘Regimen Sanitatis’ “The bath cleans the external body parts of dirt left behind from exercise on the outside of the body”. He then went on to suggest 57 bathing remedies for conditions such as old age, pregnancy and for whilst travelling. He also advised: “Spring and Winter are good times for bathing but should be avoided as much as possible in the Summer”. Another of his pearls of wisdom stated: “Too long in the bath makes you feeble and fat”….

For those would could afford the luxury of a personal bath, namely Royalty, higher nobility and rich merchants, it would consist of a wooden tub with a ‘tent like’ sheet draped over…. Jugs of hot water would have been brought by attendants. According to John Russell’s ‘Book of Nurture’ from the late 1400s, fresh herbs were used for washing and then lukewarm rose-water for rinsing off…. Herbs would also have been added to ease aches and pains; camomile, breweswort, brown fennel and mallow….

Photo credit: CC / Public domain

Soap was introduced to the Western World during the Middle Ages, most probably from the Orient. Typically, it was a soft soap made from mutton fat, potash or wood ash and natural soda. It was not very effective as it had little cleansing power. Hard soaps were available but were expensive. Produced mainly in Spain from the 12th Century, they were made from olive oil and often had added herbs and flower petals….

Photo credit: ‘Lavender Dream’ Denise Karen via / CC BY-NC Original image URL:

For some, bathing was a very important affair….King John would take a bath tub where ever he travelled…. In 1351, Edward III had hot and cold taps installed for his bath in Westminster Palace…. Some wealthy monasteries  were able to pipe water in…. Westminster Abbey had a bath attendant, who was paid 2 loaves of bread a day and £1 a year….

However, for the majority of people, having a private bath was not an option; it was unaffordable and too time consuming. The very poor had to make do with rivers, streams and ponds. Many others had the opportunity of using public baths. By the 13th Century there were over 32 available in Paris; Southwark, (then separate from London), a town standing on the banks of the River Thames, boasted 18 baths. Even many of the smaller towns had their own, often connected to a bakery, making use of the ovens to heat water….

Public baths were not without controversy. Many, (the Church in particular), were outraged that men and women would be naked together. Baths were seen as little more than a front to  disguise what they really were….brothels! Southwark’s were known as the ‘Stews’. The Mediaeval Church authorities claimed that baths spread immorality and disease….

Initially, little notice was taken of these views but gradually it became believed that it was water that was to be blamed for the spread of disease, enabling it to enter the body through the pores of the skin…. It was thought that as the warmth enlarged and opened up the pores, this in turn allowed airborne infections to enter…. Much of this belief could well have been fuelled by Church propaganda….

Of course, there could well have been some truth in that bath houses  were places of debauchery and immoral behaviour…. Promiscuity was prevalent during these times; then, in the late 15th Century there was a widespread outbreak of syphilis across Europe. It is believed the spread of this disease resulted in people becoming less promiscuous and at the same time brought a rapid decline in the popularity of the public bath house….

Photo credit: ‘Scene of a Bath-house’ circa 1470 CC / Public Domain Image source: Wikipedia Commons

People in the Middle Ages loved their highly scented herbs and flowers…. Tables would have often been strewn with them in an attempt to keep houses smelling fresh…. Perfume was also popular, made from the oils of flowers and mixed with herbs and spices….both men and women used them….

Well, since bathing had fallen out of favour, they had to do something to mask the pong….!!

Photo credit: ‘At the Lead Mines’ River Museum via / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL:





Swan Roast, anyone…?

It’s that time of year again, our resident female swan is ‘feasting’ – building up her reserves ready for when she sits on the nest. She has become very persistent in asking for food and is incredibly grumpy when it is not forthcoming as and when she demands it…. She will often run at me and try to aim a peck or even a wing swipe, to show her disapproval at being made to wait. I’ve told her, on more than one occasion, that she ought to think herself lucky that this is the 21st Century or she may well have found herself on the dinner table….

Photo credit: ‘Nordic Museum’ Tuomo Lindfors via / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL

In truth, swan would have been reserved for the tables of Royalty and high nobility. People, in Mediaeval times especially, ate what was available to them and within their social standing. Peasants would have had a diet consisting mainly of bread, porridge, eggs, cheese, nuts, berries and what ever fruit and vegetables they could grow themselves. Meat was, on the whole, seldom eaten, maybe the occasional rabbit, pork or on special occasions, goose or chicken. Hens were more useful as egg layers than to provide meat….

Upper classes enjoyed far more variety, not only due to their wealth but also to their passion for hunting with birds of prey. As well as rabbit and hare, it could in fact be said, if it had feathers it was to be considered ‘fair game’…. Anything from sparrow to peacock could appear on the menu….

Photo credit: ‘Sparrow’ Stewart Black via / CC BY Original image URL:

In this current age of so many bird lovers, (a trip to the local garden centre will show how big a market there is for wild bird feed), it is almost incomprehensible that our feathered friends once graced the tables of households across the land. Thrushes, finches, starlings were all eaten….the utmost prize would have been a young cuckoo that had just fledged. Heron, crane and crow were all considered delicacies and were favoured by Royalty. Stork, cormorant, bittern, puffin, bustard, gull, guillemot, lark and woodcock would all have been served as part of a meal….

Peacocks were domesticated and prized for their plumage, they were very much a status symbol. Although not particularly tasty and  quite tough, they were still served at banquets, in order to impress. To make the meat more palatable, the birds were likely to have been ‘hung’ for a day or two, by the neck with their feet weighted down. To serve, they would usually have been ‘re-dressed’. This means that once the bird had been cooked the plumage would have been replaced. This was the case with any impressive bird, male pheasants, swans, partridge and the like. In the instance of the peacock, the tail would have been fanned out in a glorious display….

Photo credit: ‘Peacock on display’ asgw via / CC BY Original image URL:

Capons (castrated cockerels) and pheasants were purposely ‘fattened up’ – making them expensive, so were a luxury only for those who could afford them….

In England, (unlike Europe), duck was not popular for every day consumption, it was more likely to be eaten at feasts and on special occasions. Sometimes domestic ducks were kept but mainly wild ducks were hunted. The feathers were a bonus as these were prized for bedding….

Geese were also raised for their feathers, as well as for their meat and grease…. Most dwellings kept these noisy, hissy birds…. In England, goose was the traditional choice for Michaelmas and Whitsuntide, (both minor Christian festivals – not so widely observed in recent times); in Europe, goose was a popular choice at Christmas….

Because of the popularity of falconry, partridge, pheasant and quail were all common place. Pheasant, particularly, was highly valued because the meat was considered very flavoursome….

Photo credit: ‘Pheasant’ Richard Seely via / CC BY-NC Original image URL:

Wood pigeons, rock doves and turtle doves were all domesticated for food in Mediaeval Europe, again being reserved mainly for the upper classes. They were very often roasted or made into pies….

Crane and heron were hunted by the aristocracy with their hawks and falcons. Both were popular for banquets. Sometimes, heron would be purposely bred. Swans had been domesticated for centuries. It was actually the young swan that was eaten, the meat of the adult being too tough. The young birds would have been removed from their parents at about three months old, to be raised and fattened up on barley, until they were somewhat obese. Swan apparently tastes more like duck than goose and it lacks the tough ‘beefiness’ of goose…. As soon as their white feathers appeared, at about seven months, the young swans were slaughtered….

In 1482, during the reign of Edward IV, it became legally defined that anyone caught killing a swan, without the permission of the Crown, could be imprisoned. This is how it came to be  that the Monarch owns the majority of the UK’s swans.  Occasionally, throughout history, the Throne has given ‘rights’ to other establishments to own swans, currently there are three of such establishments: The Dyers Livery Company, a historic guild of dyers dating back to the 12th Century, (but now more noted for its charitable work); The Vintners Livery Company, a historic guild of wine merchants, gaining its first charter in 1363; and the Ilchester family, the Ilchester Estate being where the Abbotsbury Swan Sanctuary is located…. Each establishment identifies its own birds, nowadays by ringing them but in days gone by, notches were carved into the swan’s beak…. Any un-ringed swan is automatically assumed as belonging to the Crown….

Photo credit: ‘Swannery at Abbotsbury’ Matt Knott via / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL:

The Queen is at liberty to give swans away to who ever she sees fit; for example, in 1967 she gave six as a gift to Ottowa, Canada, to celebrate its 100th anniversary and Canada’s ties with the UK.

Swans are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981, it prohibits the intentional killing or harming of a swan. To do so could result in being arrested; in 2006 a man in Llandudno, Wales, was imprisoned for 2 months for the killing of a swan. Today the crime is referred to as a felony; the old term for the killing and eating of swans by unauthorised persons was ‘swanage’….

Technically, the Royals are still entitled to consume swan meat; as are the fellows of St. John’s College of Cambridge – however, it is unlikely that it will be appearing at any banquets any time soon….unlike those of yesteryear, where a swan would have been considered the jewel in the crown….

Photo credit: ‘Stockholm Nordiska’ Blake Handley via / CC BY Original image URL:

Anyone fancy slivers of swan, poached in saffron and peaches? Or how about a Swan Roast….

Take: one woodcock, place inside a pigeon….place pigeon inside a partridge….partridge inside pheasant….inside a chicken….mallard….duck….goose and finally, a swan…. Roast for many hours, then re-dress in swan plumage : to really impress, at this stage gild the feathers with gold; serves approximately 30 people….

The correct term for stuffing animal into animal is ‘engastration’ – sounds appetising, doesn’t it?! It goes back to the Roman times, possibly even before….

The lavish displays of food at these banquets were very much part of the entertainment. Another great source of delight was the ‘live pie’. As children, we were all familiar with the nursery rhyme ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’; reputedly about such a pie….

Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye;
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie;
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing;
Oh, wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the King?
The King was in his counting house counting out his money;
The Queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey;
The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes;
When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose….

Photo credit: Image from page 13 of ‘Sing a song for sixpence’ (1890) Internet Archive Book Images via / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL:

A pie would have been made by baking the pastry first without a filling; the crust would have been thick and would have risen to form a ‘pot’ shape. The top would have been cut off and live birds added and then the lid put back on…. The pie would then have been presented at the table and the lid removed, causing much merriment…. (It’s no wonder the maid in the rhyme had her nose pecked off….revenge!)….

Photo credit: Image from page 11 of ‘The real Mother Goose’ (1916) Internet Archive Book Images via / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL:

Cooks became more competitive; all kinds of animals got added to pies….frogs, rabbits, dogs….even dwarfs, who would pop out and recite a poem! It was reported that a band of musicians actually emerged from one pie….

The first recipe books appeared in England during the 1500s, (before that time recipes would have passed on verbally from mother to daughter). One recipe that may have appeared in such a book has been adapted here for anyone wishing to try out a Mediaeval recipe for themselves….

Mediaeval Game Bird Stew

6 rashers of bacon, cut into large pieces
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 small pheasants or 4 quail or 1 chicken
Handful of coarsely cut mushrooms
Teaspoon of roasted, chopped hazelnuts
1 bottle of ale
3/4 cup of water
3 crumbled bay leaves
salt and pepper
6 slices of whole grain bread

In a heavy pan or flame proof casserole dish, fry the bacon with the garlic. Add the bird(s) and brown on all sides. Add nuts and mushrooms, cook for a few minutes and then add ale, water, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 2 hours or until tender and the meat falling from the bone.

Remove from heat, take the birds out of the liquid. As the juice left in the pan begins to cool, skim off any fat that forms with a slotted spoon. Remove the meat from the bones of the bird(s) and return meat to stew. Reheat gently, then serve on the slices of bread, ensuring it is saturated with juices….


Now, does anyone have any idea how big a pot I’d need to make swan soup…..?

Image from page 58 of ‘The ideal cook book’ (1902) Internet Archive Book Images via / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL: