In Sickness and in Health – Part Two

 

The seventeenth century had medical men and women of all sorts, to suit all conditions and most purses. There were some who were licensed, some not, and some who probably should not have been. There were physicians, all university men; surgeons (or as it was spelt then ‘chirugeons’) who had been trained through an apprenticeship to perform basic surgery, treat injuries and set bones; apothecaries who dispensed drugs to physicians and also attended patients independently; and barber-surgeons, with practical skills in bone-setting, blood-letting and treating minor injuries, but who were men of little learning and generally held in low regard.  Finally there were midwives, who learned ‘on the job’ and were licensed by the Diocese on the recommendation of ‘six honest matrons’, their minister and a churchwarden.  Rich people could shop around and choose a practitioner of their liking, inside or outside the town, as most covered a wide area. The poor, as always, made do.

In fact, the practitioners who called themselves ‘physicians’ in Hythe were not university men at all, but only licensed surgeons or barber-surgeons. The terminology was loosely applied, and by the end of the century the word ‘doctor’ was generally applied to all medical men.

They offered different services and treatments. Arnold Hall seems to have specialised in providing remedial diets to patients, and also employed nurses to attend the sick. Between 1626 and 1642 he built up an extensive practice covering the Romney Marsh, Cheriton, Alkham and as far afield as Sittingbourne. William Stace, a barber-surgeon at about the same time, let blood and prescribed poultices and potions. When the blacksmith John Gately was taken ill at Rye in 1625, it was Stace he summoned from Hythe to treat him (unsuccessfully as it turned out).  James Arthur was licensed as a surgeon in 1635, over the objections of Arnold Hall. Whether the objections were on professional grounds or whether he thought one surgeon in Hythe was enough is not recorded. Arthur practised in the town for nearly fifty years, finding time also to serve as jurat, mayor and churchwarden. Sick people then, as now, sought second opinions. Elias Bassett, during his last illness in 1684, was treated by both James Arthur and Richard Jacob.

Medical men prescribed a range of treatments, nearly all thankfully unfamiliar today. Blood-letting and purges were very popular. So were poultices. In the 1630s, John Hall, Shakespeare’s son-in-law, described how he treated a man with gout: he applied a poultice of mallows, a fomentation of frogspawn and a plaster and purged him with senna powder. One must assume that the placebo effect was at work if any of these treatments relieved the condition.

Medicines were often herbal in origin, perhaps with the addition of opium, and often infused in an alcoholic beverage.  Brandy, port wine, beer, cider and ale were all popular, and spices and sweeteners were added for taste and smell. Fumigants were prescribed to banish noxious miasmas. One such, said to drive out plague, was a concoction of brimstone, saltpetre and amber which was ground and burned. The stench may well have been successful in driving rats out of the house, to say nothing of the inmates.

One Hythe surgeon, John Grove, had a most unfortunate record of prescribing.  In 1595, two years after he was licensed, he admitted to a court purging Anne Pierce, a widow, with two ounces of diacatholicon, two ounces of diafinicon, and one ounce each of electuarum rosarum and confectio hamech. Each of these mysterious-sounding compounds was a powerful purgative in its own right, and between them they contained antimony, wormwood, prunes, rhubarb root and senna.  One medical book of the time suggests six drams, or about a third of an ounce of confectio hamech alone as a purgative to cure any one or all of leprosy, madness, ringworm or scabies.   The dose prescribed by Grove was probably enough to purge an elephant, and if the unfortunate patient did not die, she would certainly have been very ill indeed.

Grove’s defence, used by schoolboys across the ages, was that he only did it once. The court took a dim view, said he was ignorant and audacious, fined him five pounds and imprisoned him – but did not remove his licence. He practised thereafter in Hythe, where as surgeon, gentleman, jurat and mayor, he achieved respectability.

Happily, physicians were starting to take a more scientific and empirical approach to investigating the workings of the human body. In 1628, William Harvey, who had been born in Folkestone, just down the road from Hythe, described for the first time the circulation of the blood. Not everyone believed him, though. He said that his medical practice dropped off after his publication because people thought he was mad.

Advertisements

In Sickness and in Health – Part One

The theory and practice of seventeenth century medicine is as foreign to us now as antibiotics and chemotherapy would have been to people then. Although scientific advances were made during this time, medical practice still relied largely on the teachings of the Greek physician Galen, who had died 1500 years earlier.  He taught that there were four humours in the body: blood, phlegm, choler (or yellow bile) and black bile and that their balance in the body determined healthIf there was an excess of one humour, disease could result, so, for example, too much black bile caused fever. Surplus humours could accumulate in the body and cause putrefaction. Blood-letting and purging were the only ways to treat these excesses.

Galen also developed miasma theory, which held that a polluted atmosphere, that is to say bad smells, carried disease such as plague.  Miasma could be carried in clothes or bedding, and domestic animals, especially dogs, cats and pigs might carry it on their bodies from house to house.

Both these theories ran alongside a belief in divine intervention in the affairs of man. God could, and did, send plague and other epidemics to punish men for their sins. And to confuse matters further there was some understanding of contagion, that a disease could be passed somehow from person to person.

Miasma’ was a particular problem in parts of Hythe, as it would have been in any town.  For reasons unknown, perhaps because it was private and not overlooked, the inhabitants used the lane leading to the Mount (now Mount Street) as an unofficial public convenience, or, as the corporation euphemistically put it ‘for easement of their bodies’. Naturally, it stank.  The corporation introduced a fine of a shilling for anyone caught in the act, but it was not until the visit of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports in 1615 that the place was properly cleaned out.  It must not be thought that the people of Hythe were exceptionally coarse in their habits: Samuel Pepys, on finding that no chamber pot had been provided in his lodgings, instead used the fireplace, twice, and Mrs Pepys was not embarrassed to use the corner of a street in London when caught short at the theatre.

Dangerous miasmas were also produced by people washing inappropriate things in the public water conduit, rather than carrying the water home with them and doing it there.  In 1668 the corporation complained that ‘People are using the conduit to wash fish, innards, and clouts (probably babies’ diapers), whereby unwholesome savours do arise to the great prejudice and danger of the Inhabitants’. They imposed the usual fine, and people carried on just as before.

There were regular outbreaks of infectious diseases in every town. Smallpox became more prevalent during the seventeenth century. It killed about 15% of its victims, and often left survivors blind or scarred. The young were particularly at risk from measles, scarlet fever, whooping cough, influenza, and a multitude of now unidentifiable diseases.  Locally, malaria was prevalent on the Romney Marsh, which was known as a ‘sickly and contagious place’ and ‘very aguish’ with high mortality from the disease.

It was, however, bubonic plague which, though relatively infrequent, was most devastating in its effects and most feared.  The major outbreaks in England were in 1603, 1625, 1636, and 1665.

Hythe escaped the first bout, but was hit badly in 1625 when ninety-one people died, as against an annual average of about forty. In 1638, at the tail-end of the 1636 outbreak, there were eighty deaths.

In 1578 the government had issued Plague Orders, which with some modifications were in effect until 1666. Local magistrates were to raise a tax for the relief of the sick, order the burning of the clothes and bedding of victims, and funerals were to take place at dusk to deter onlookers. Houses where there was suspected infection  were to be shut up for six weeks with all the members of the family, sick or healthy, locked inside.

The patterns of deaths seen in Hythe during outbreaks of plague tend to confirm that these orders were followed. In both 1625 and 1638 multiple deaths from single families are recorded, presumably because they had been quarantined. In a small town, this was a tough decision for the corporation to make. They were incarcerating their neighbours, friends and kinsfolk in the knowledge that this would almost certainly lead to agonising death.

The limited understanding of contagion led to other measures to protect the town. During the 1625 outbreak, the Cinque Ports Brotherhood and Guestling due to be held at New Romney in July was cancelled ‘by reason it pleased God to visit this kingdom with a great plague’.  People took their own precautions, too. One Folkestone couple got a licence to marry in Hythe in December 1625, because the plague had run its course there whereas it was still ‘very hot’ in Folkestone, and ‘people are very fearful to meet together’.  The Cinque Ports meeting was cancelled again in 1637 when the plague had reached New Romney. The burial records for Hythe for 1665, the year in which plague killed one-sixth of London’s population, are not extant so we do not know how badly it affected the town, but we do know that the corporation put the Plague Orders into effect.  The fair was cancelled, and any innkeeper or other person accommodating someone from a plague area would be fined.  The Mayor or a jurat was to approve bills of health for visitors to the town. Alexander Ames was shut up in his house as he exhibited signs of the sickness. He was one of the lucky ones, and survived another three years.

The haven in Hythe was another potential source of infection, as it brought in foreigners from infected areas. In 1629, the town was ordered to be especially careful as plague had broken out in Holland and France. Any vessel arriving from these areas was to be quarantined and all its goods to be thoroughly aired for as long as it took to ‘give hope and likelihood they are free from danger and infection’. As an additional precaution, one of the annual fairs in 1630 was cancelled.

Plague was often attributed to God’s judgement on a sinful nation, and towns wereL supposed to be particularly sinful. Since epidemic plague was concentrated in towns, the theory held water. The concentration of people and rats in towns was coincidental.

Remedies for plague included repentance and prayer, shutting south facing windows to keep out the injurious south wind, and burning the bedding of the sick (which may have helped).  Theriac, commonly called ‘treacle’, was often prescribed. It contained opium (which also may have helped, at least with the pain) and viper’s flesh to destroy the poison of plague.  A roasted onion stuffed with ‘treacle’ was the medicine most often recommended for the infected.  If the patient did not respond, it was God’s will: medicines only worked by the grace of God, and as God has made us to die, medicines would do no good if the time had come.  For the physician this was a splendid get-out clause.

A Tide in the Affairs of Men – Part Three

It was not only fishermen who used the haven. It had been an important site for export and import of goods and for cross-channel travel until it started to silt up.  This undoubtedly affected the wealth of the town, as it did in all the Cinque Ports. In 1618, they joined together to write to the Lord warden, pleading poverty and claiming that between them only one small ship now belonged to a Cinque Ports owner  and

‘all the residue of the ships of the Ports are of small burthen and only trade to Newcastle and the west of England with malt; some few are “passage boates,” and employed for France, Holland, and Flanders’

All the owners of larger ships had gone off to London, where the merchants had an unfair advantage, the Cinque Ports said, because they were incorporated into the Company of Merchant Adventurers. As the Company held a monopoly at the time on the exportation of cloth, the Cinque Ports men had a good point, but no chance of winning the argument.

Exactly what and how much was imported and exported through the haven in the seventeenth century is unknown. The Customs papers for the period, which recorded all this information are held at the National Archive, but are now too fragile to be viewed. Some information, however, can be pieced together from other sources.

We know that horses were exported through the haven. In the seventeenth century, the reputation of the British horse was so good that dealers could make three times more by selling abroad rather than in the domestic market. Cromwell had banned the export of horses during the civil war (they were needed for the cavalry) but the ban was lifted in 1656, and the corporation of Hythe evidently saw an opportunity to replenish the town chest, and slapped a fee on horse traders using the haven.

At the same time they voted to charge for other goods transported from the port  -wheat, beans, barley, malt, rye,  and pease.  Coal from Newcastle was a regular import. It was still being brought  into the haven in 1618, but by 1640 Elias Bassett, a local merchant, was bringing the stuff to the town in carts from the stade, suggesting his boats were drawn up there rather than anchoring in the haven.

Dealing in coal was not without its pitfalls. In 1644, Robert Curtis took his barque ‘Porpoise’ up to Sunderland to fetch coal, but on his way back home he and the vessel were seized by the navy, acting under the authority of Parliament, who believed he was  going to supply the enemy. The enemy in this case was the King, Charles I.  Curtis was held for a month before persuading the Admiralty of his ‘affection for Parliament’.

The Hythe Customs books do reveal one thing, even though they cannot be viewed. Their catalogue descriptions show that from 1685 onwards they are blank. No entries were made, and  it must be assumed that from then on, Hythe haven was closed for business.

Alongside legitimate trade existed the murkier world of smuggling. On the Kent coast in the seventeenth century, the focus of the smugglers was getting wool out of the country, rather than importing goods, although that could be an attractive sideline. For centuries England’s chief raw material was wool. It was exported, after payment of duty, particularly to Flanders where it fetched a good price, and was prized for its texture and length of staple. It was used in the manufacture of the very best quality cloth. Then, in 1614, James I issued a proclamation restraining the export of wool. This was repeated in 1617, and again by the Commonwealth and was finally enshrined in law in 1660. The measures were intended to halt the growth of the Flemish textile industries and promote the growth of domestic, especially Irish, enterprises.

During the first half of the seventeenth century, sheep farming on the Romney Marsh had developed until huge tracts of the area were converted to grazing land. Everyone kept sheep, from husbandmen and yeomen, to small and great landowners who employed ‘lookers’ to keep an eye on the beasts and never visited their holdings.  The ban on export was a disaster. The loss of revenue could not be made up by sales to the domestic market. In 1703, it was reckoned that wool in its raw state was worth fourpence a pound in Ireland, and combed wool, tenpence. In France a seller could get two shillings and sixpence for raw wool and up to six shillings a pound for combed wool.  Apart from the inconvenient fact that it was against the law, the argument for smuggling was very persuasive.

Even before the ban, wool smuggling, known as ‘owling’ had taken place to avoid paying the export duty. The word owling is variously explained as coming from the hooting noise the smugglers used to warn of danger (which sounds, frankly, unlikely) or as being a corruption of ‘wooling’.  Or perhaps it was because the smugglers worked at night.

The owlers’ enemies were the customs men. Until 1671, the normal method of customs duty collecting was ‘farming’. An individual, the farmer, would pay a fixed sum to the Crown, and then collect customs duties in a given area and keep them. Farmers appointed their own officials at ports.  Alas, neither the farmers nor the officials were always honest men.

Arranging a ship, and men, to smuggle wool overseas involved a large financial outlay, with the possibility of great returns, and the men who bankrolled this were not averse to using violence if their plans were threatened. Punishment for smuggling was death if the culprit resisted; if not, he could expect to be transported or sent for navy service, none of which was a desirable outcome.  Threats were an effective way of ensuring silence. Smugglers were not dashing rogues with Robin Hood tendencies, whatever the romantic novelists might have you believe.

Not a picture of a Hythe smuggler

 

The Middling Sort – Part Two

The houses the middling sort  lived in were, some of them, like the modified hall house described earlier, with a hall and parlour downstairs and stairs to the upper chambers.  If the chimney was centrally placed, visitors could be shown either to the hall or to the parlour, and it could help support a staircase. Glazing was becoming affordable, and dormer windows were introduced to utilise roof spaces more efficiently. In more modest houses, there were fewer rooms of specialised use and rarely more than one chamber for sleeping. First floor rooms might be reached by a ladder rather than a staircase well until well into the century.  Not all the hall houses in Hythe had been converted by the early seventeenth century. In 1625, John Banbury, a carpenter, was leased a house by the corporation on condition that he built a chimney and flue in brick, with fireplaces in two rooms.

Most houses were completely or largely wooden, with oak favoured.  Wattle and daub was used to infill between the timbers, but by the seventeenth century exteriors were being improved. Sometimes brick was used to enclose a timber structure and the use of weatherboarding and tiling increased.

Houses were also workshops, places of manufacture, offices, warehouses and retail shops. Almost the whole of trade was small scale and domestic, although from inventories we can tell that domestic quarters were separate from workshops.  In seventeenth century Hythe there was no commuting to work unless you were a fisherman.

Some houses had gardens, but often these had been used for building a cottage or two to rent out. Those householders who found themselves without a garden often leased one elsewhere to grow vegetables for the kitchen, like Robert Foster, a fisherman who kept a garden at the back of the ‘George’ inn (now the ‘King’s Head’). Some had small orchards too. There was also a physick garden maintained by John Jacob, which supplied the town’s physicians with the herbs they needed for their remedies – perhaps pennyroyal for vertigo, burdock for flatulence, fleabane for itchy bites, pennywort for bladder complaints, or rue, for almost anything. Jacob also diversified with land ownership on the Romney Marsh ‘which he manures with sheep and some other land he sows with flax’.  Flax needs soaking, or retting, before it can be used to make linen.  Jacob unwisely chose the town ditch in which to ret his, blocking it and causing a terrible stink, metaphorically and literally.

The universal presence of timber and thatch combined with the use of fire for domestic cooking and heating resulted in a huge fire risk. In 1655 the corporation issued a decree against carrying fire in an uncovered container. If a household fire went out, the simplest way to get it alight again was to fetch a burning log or coal in a bucket from a neighbour, rather like borrowing a cup of sugar.  This resulted, as the corporation minutes eloquently put it, in the ‘sad spectacle of God’s judgement upon several places by the Rage and Power of that unmerciful element of Fire’.  The order was clearly unsuccessful, as during the next five years there were several more fires. In 1660, the corporation changed their focus and ordered that all houses whose thatch touched another house should be tiled instead.  All rate payers were to pay an additional tax so that the corporation could provide buckets, hooks and chains for carrying water to fight fire.  Hythe would not get a proper fire brigade until a hundred and forty years later.

The possessions inside the houses depended on the wealth of the occupant, and as the century wore on people of the middling sort can be seen to be acquiring more home comforts and articles which were purely decorative. In 1625, John Gately, a blacksmith, had three pewter cups, but another blacksmith, John Clement, who died in 1696 had pewter, but also two silver cups and silver spoons.  In 1647, Baker Godden, a husbandman, had a pair of playing tables (for cards) and five pairs of pictures; in 1653 Thomas Hooker, a butcher left his ‘gold ring with deathly heads’ to his daughter Susan (memento mori rings had been popular since the beginning of the century) and Catherine Littlewood, the miller’s widow, left silver spoons to her children. The most noticeable increase is in ownership of looking glasses and chairs. Chairs were a  rarity among ordinary people at the beginning of the century, but most houses had at least one by the end of it.Peter Johnson, a baker, even had one upholstered in turkey-work, a sort of woollen tapestry, and he also, unusually, had ‘a small brass clock’  On the other hand, inventories can also show that disaster was never far away.  Michael Hammon who died in 1622 has goods worth only three pounds one shilling and sixpence, but he owed money totalling three pounds eight shillings and tenpence to four creditors. Robert Wakelin, a tanner,  left goods and money worth over a hundred and twenty pounds in 1693, but of that, over half was in money owed to him.

475px-European_-_-Memento_Mori-_Ring_-_Walters_44478
A seventeenth century memento mori ring

The Middling Sort – Part One

The majority of people who lived in English towns in the seventeenth century were neither particularly poor nor especially rich, and the term ‘the middling sort’ to describe them first came into use in this century. It meant those with adequate wealth, but at the time had connotations of mediocrity and meanness as well as being neither one thing nor the other. People of the middling sort worked for their income, and traded using the products of their labours or knowledge. They were a town’s main consumers, and it was they who filled the civic and church offices which kept the town running: jurats, mayors, churchwardens, overseers of the poor, constables, market searchers, town sergeants, and criers.

Their lives were tied, in one way or another, to commerce, and the whole family was involved in making the business pay to ensure their survival. Failure could be a disaster. If a man had borrowed and subsequently became ill, unable to work, and could not repay his debt, there were no bankruptcy laws to mitigate the blow: his bones would be picked bare and he would probably thrown into prison, and friends and kin who had co-signed on loans would suffer the same fate.  If he had extended too much credit and died and his creditors could not repay his widow, she would be pitched into poverty. It was a precarious existence.

Hythe supported all the trades essential to maintain life in a small town. Provisions for the kitchen could be bought from the butchers, the poulterer, the bakers, the vintners, and the rippiers (fish-sellers); other household wants were supplied by the tailors, drapers, mercers, tallow-chandlers, cutlers, haberdashers, grocers, glovers and shoemakers. Then there were the manufacturers: blacksmiths, coopers, brewers, joiners, ropemakers,  gunsmiths, saddlers, wheelwrights; and those who supplied the manufacturers: tanners, fellmongers, malsters, millers, woolcombers, weavers, physick gardeners, and malsters.

Other men and women provided services. There were barber-surgeons, physicians and midwives; painters, carpenters, glaziers, and pavers; thatchers and chimney-sweeps; schoolmasters and scriveners and innkeepers and licensed victuallers.

Finally, there were those who made their living from the land or the sea: yeomen and husbandmen (as a very rough rule of thumb, the former owned the land they worked, the latter leased it) and the fishermen.

Not all these occupations were present at one time in Hythe, but there was a profitable hinterland in the towns of the Romney Marsh with whom trade was possible. In 1623, Robert Smith, a weaver and woollen draper got his fleeces from a fellmonger in New Romney. James Pashley and John Oldfield, both brewers, supplied inns in New Romney as did George Thurbane later in the century.

Very often, a family had more than one source of income.  A man called Bridgman was both a thatcher and a chimney-sweep, presumably because he had the longest ladders.  Richard Clarke, a saddler, opened an alehouse in 1615, but overlooked getting a licence and was fined. Elizabeth Turner, wife of Richard, supplemented the family income by working as a midwife. In 1622, Phillip Van De Walle, a woolcomber, also kept ‘a shop of small wares’ and grazed a few sheep. Towards the end of the century, Vicesimus Gibson augmented his takings as a grocer by writing letters and legal documents for townspeople who could not write themselves.

At the beginning of the century, at least, fishermen did not generally need to diversify in this way, as there were opportunities for employment and trade all year round.  It was the single most populous occupation in the town.

As a buffer against financial ruin, some members of the middling sort used their savings to invest in land or property, becoming as rich, if not richer than the ‘gentlemen’ of the town who did not engage in trade.  Men in relatively humble occupations, such as William Gatley, a Hythe blacksmith or John Lambe, a carpenter bought land.  Gately bought land in Saltwood and Bilsington. The Saltwood holding passed to his niece Susan on his death in 1652. She almost immediately sold it and it eventually became part of Weller’s Gift. Susan meanwhile lived off the profits until they were spent and then applied for parish relief in her home town of Ashford. Instead she was prosecuted for not following a lawful occupation. Not all of the middling sort espoused the protestant work ethic. Lambe bought an acre of pasture land to the west of the town in 1657. The next year he bought an adjoining cottage and sold both as one lot to John Bassett, a grocer, who then rented it out.

Very often, property in Hythe was bought from, or sold to, outsiders. George Thurbane, the brewer, bought his premises from a man in Canterbury and Ferdinando Bassett, inn keeper of the White Hart, paid £360 to a vicar in Norfolk for seven acres of fresh marsh.  William Deedes, a mercer, bought two houses and stables from Thomas White of Wapping for £100. The middling sort were not only enterprising, they were mobile and had a wide network of acquaintance outside of the immediate environs of the town.

A Walk Through Hythe in 1600 – Part Two

Take a closer look at one of the bigger houses. It is of timber frame construction, with walls infilled with wattle and daub, but boasts a tall brick chimney stack. It has small leaded windows with glass.  This one is still thatched, using the water reed phragmites communis which grows abundantly on the neighbouring Romney Marsh. It is ideal thatching material, being naturally waterproof and thermally efficient and withstanding high winds better than tiles.  The roof is steeply pitched to allow gravity to take rain, sleet, and snow down and off the roof, forcing water down the stems of the reeds to run off at the eaves. There is no need for guttering or drainpipes, and below the top few centimetres the roof stays as dry as a bone in even the worst weather.  Water reed thatch can last up to sixty years, so, fire risk apart, there is no great incentive for the owner to replace it with tiles.

The owner is John Oldfield, a prosperous beer brewer who also keeps horses for hire. Walk down the alley at the side of the house. This leads to the ‘close’.  Besides the house itself, this area contains a hotchpotch of buildings: the kitchen, which is separate from the main house, the stables, a barn, the brewhouse with its furnace, the privy, a pigsty, a midden, and a hen house. It is a busy, noisy place and the sharp aroma of fermentation hangs over it all. A customer haggles with John Oldfield over the cost of horse hire for a handsome black gelding;  a servant mucks out the stables; Phillis, John’s wife, and a servant girl prepare  dinner in the kitchen; an apprentice is sweeping in a desultory manner, but he has been  working since before five o’clock this morning and is tired and hungry; Christopher Argar, a day labourer and his boy are shifting full beer barrels;  a servant is trying to back the beercart  into the close to collect the barrels, but has become wedged in the narrow opening; he is now blocking the street outside and several men are offering their advice as to how he can best extricate himself; some small boys stone a rat which they have cornered near the kitchen – they have managed to break its back but it still desperately drags itself about on its front paws while the boys watch gleefully.

Be bold, step inside the house. It is quieter here, and darker. The small windows let in limited light, even in summer. You see that although they are now glazed, they still have sliding shutters to cover them. Window curtains are not yet in vogue. When the house was built, over a century ago, it was a hall house, with a central hearth open to the roof. The smoke rose and seeped out through the thatch. The hall was divided to create a private ‘parlour’ which was primarily a sleeping room. Over the parlour another chamber was created, with stairs provided. Cooking arrangements were separate from the hall, at the end of the house.  During the sixteenth century, an age of home improvement on a grand scale, the central hall was ceiled over by having a whole first floor inserted. Then a central chimney stack was put in incorporating two back-to-back fireplaces, and heating the hall, the parlour and the rooms above. The chimney stack is of brick, although this is still not commonly used as a walling material.

Today the dinner table in the hall is being set by a servant girl. Dinner is eaten at midday. The tableware in this house is pewter, although for very special occasions, Phillis might bring out her silver spoons and salt dish. Each place has a plate, a knife and a spoon. Forks are not in common use, and indeed are regarded with some suspicion, either as being too effete to be used by real men, or as vulgar, like hay forks for tossing food into mouths. Each place is provided with a napkin, an essential when fingers are used for eating greasy food. Today Phillis is serving mutton baked in a pastry ‘coffin’. There are baked onions, too, for those who care for vegetables. Phillis grew them herself in the garden plot at the back of the house.  There are separate eating arrangements for the servants and apprentice, who will make do with bread and leftovers in the kitchen, although in this place they are always assured of a mug of beer.

You notice that the family will sit at the table on stools. Chairs are not often found in houses of the middling sort. The other furniture in the hall comprises a cupboard, where the tableware and napkins are kept. The walls are covered with painted cloths. These are the seventeenth century equivalent of wallpaper and also act as draught excluders. Richer folk hang carpets on the wall, but this is beyond the means of the Oldfields. By the great fireplace there are fire tongs and a pair of bellows ready for the fires of autumn.

Walk through to the parlour, and then upstairs to the other chambers on the first floor. Each contains a bedstead of some sort – quite a grand one for John and Phillis, with posts and curtains, plainer ones for junior members of the family and truckle beds which slide under the bedsteads for the servants – yet none of these rooms could be, or indeed is, called a bedroom. They are general storage rooms in which people also happen to sleep. John and Phillis have a feather mattress, a luxury item which is not available to other members of the household, who sleep on lumpy flock, made of waste wool. Similarly, the master and mistress have a feather pillow each, but a flock bolster is provided for everyone else.

Look inside the cupboards and chests in these rooms. They contain household linen – tablecloths, sheets, towels, blankets, coverlets, – and clothing – linen shirts and chemises, stockings, collars and ruffs, scarves, handkerchiefs, men’s drawers (women do not wear them), nightgowns and nightcaps. Scattered about the rooms are tables and benches, candlesticks, chamber pots, looking glasses, boxes of correspondence and legal documents,  a sewing basket and piles of mending, bundles of bills and receipts, and oddly, John’s muskets. He needs them for his service in the Trained Band, a local militia, which is compulsory for every able-bodied man between sixteen and sixty. Perhaps this is as good a place as any to keep them dry.

Finally climb a ladder from one of the chambers to the garret under the roof. This, like every attic in every age, is full of things which might come in useful one day: broken furniture, old tools, and, as the men who will one day come to take a probate inventory of John’s goods will record ‘old lumber and things forgotten’.