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 Number 20 -  Furniture

 The wills and inventories of 1547-1650, particularly in the second half of that period, included a good deal of information about the furniture in people’s houses.

 It might have been hoped that these documents, as elsewhere in the country, would inform us about their houses themselves. However, here this is not the case. Even so, some suggestion as to the sizes of their houses can be extrapolated from the amount of furniture they owned. For instance, the wealthy Roger Harrison from Castleton, who died in 1614, owned 4 featherbeds as well as 6 pairs of bedstocks (bed frames), 7 coffers, 3 tables and numerous other large items. Presumably his house had not less than 4 bedrooms, at least one parlour and a dining room, probably more. John Bockinge of Hope, who died in 1630, had 2 featherbeds and furniture for at least 2 living rooms. At the other end of the scale, although she was well-off financially, Elizabeth Saunderson of Hope, who died in 1636, had a chaff bed, a coffer and a dishboard, probably in just one or two rooms.

 This period saw many changes in the construction of furniture. The craft of joinery started in the late mediaeval period, whereby furniture was no longer put together with nails but with pegged mortice-and-tenon joints. Carpenters, who made the early simple furniture, were excluded from making joined furniture from 1632 onwards.  Joiners had the exclusive use of glue and the right to make dovetail joints.

 Turners also were separately identified through their livery company in 1604. The range of turned articles extended from treen tableware to limited varieties of furniture, especially chairs. They would have used either a treadle or a pole lathe and their work overlapped with that of wheelwrights.

 Cabinet makers were joiners who constructed large pieces of box-shaped furniture, such as chests, from dovetailed boards without a jointed frame. Such work, initially introduced by immigrant craftsmen, was often lavishly decorated with veneers and marquetry.

 In 1577, William Harrison noted that hitherto expensive furniture “now it is descended yet lower, even unto the inferiour artificers and manie farmers, who (by virtue of their old and not of their new leases) have (for the most part) learned also to garnish their cupboards with plate, their (ioined) beds with tapistrie and silke hangings, and their tables with (carpets &) fine naperie …”


Future articles will discuss different categories of furniture.

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Number 19 - Lead mining

 At the time of the wills and inventories from 1547-1650, North West Derbyshire was heavily industrialised and, despite the evidence here of an agrarian community, lead mining has been described as the only employment for many poor people. It is, therefore, one of the most striking facts to emerge from the study of these papers that documentary evidence of lead mining was rare.

 Five left quantities of lead and the owners probably dealt in lead, or were directly concerned with mining. Only John Bramall, who died in Castleton in 1640, was identified as a miner. Thomas Bocking, who died in 1615, also from Castleton, had an estate that was owed a fooder of lead (also foother or 19½ cwt) as well as 2 debts of “dishes” of “owre”. A dish was about 65 lb. of lead ore. All the others owned, owed or were owed pieces, piggs (ingots, usually 1/8 of a foother) and spiggets of lead.

 John Needham, from Castleton and dying in1615, had these items consecutively in his inventory: “One grove & meare of ground, one washinge sieve wth other toules, thertaine owre.” A grove was a lead mine and a meer was an ancient unit of length for mining a lead vein, locally 32 yards long. It could be of any width or depth. The sieve, in this context, was for sieving ore before washing or buddling. Sieving for this purpose is said to have been introduced in 1565 and was also used for scavenging small quantities of ore from spoil heaps. Needham also owned: “three kyne, one heyffer & ii Calves, three horses & mares & one fole, xxv sheepe.” The dearth of inventory items associated with mining and the almost invariable inclusion of livestock suggests that in this segment of society most led an agrarian lifestyle with only a suggestion that it was combined with mining.   Documented disputes arose between miners and farmers and there is no doubt that mining coexisted with, and went on beneath, the farmers’ fields.

 Local Justices did not have to make provision under the Poor Laws for those employed in lead mining. These documents reflect the economy only of a relatively well-off segment of society and their number is small. The bulk of those that died, as identified in the Parish Registers, did not leave wills and inventories, and these certainly included many impoverished miners.

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Number 18 - Working tools

The Wills and Inventories from 1547 to 1650 listed a wide range of tools although the numbers were often surprisingly small, considering that almost every testator was involved in agriculture in one way or another. There were 31 types of tool, mostly agricultural implements but some may have been for lead mining, notably augers, sieves and pickaxes.

The commonest tools for cultivation were spades (7), pitchforks (5), shovels (5), scythes (4), and mattocks (3), along with sickles, pickaxes, crowbars, wimbles, hoes, forks and rakes. Slightly more common were axes which were listed 7 times, with 2 hatchets. A wimble was probably a tool for twisting corn into a coarse rope for tying corn sheaves. The lack of tools for turf or peat cutting is consistent with the infrequency of peat and sleds in the inventories.

Spades came in many varieties with different functions, from a straightforward delving spade to turf and peat spades. The function of a pricking spade is obscure, but possibly was used for pricking out seedlings. Spade handles were usually made from ash and the blade from iron or wood with an iron sleeve. There was considerable regional variation as to their precise form.

Tools that were used by women, particularly those used for harvesting, such as rakes, were often lightly built. They were usually made from softwood and lightened further by bevelling or rounding the wood, even though iron tines might have been used to make the tool hard-wearing. Early pitchforks were also wooden, with the end of a pole split and held open with a wedge, before being superseded by iron.

The scarcity of scythes and sickles may have reflected their low value, but it is possible that their rarity reflected a shift away from arable to pastoral farming.

Also often listed were hand tools, the commonest of which was a nogar (auger) (6), but also hammers, mallets, chisels, saws and adzes. There were four inventories with ladders and one with a wheelbarrow.

Fitzherbert in 1534 was dogmatic as to the tools a husbandman should possess: “Also an husbande must have an axe, a hatchet, a hedgyngebyll, a pyn-awgur, a rest-awgur, a flayle, a spade and a shovell.” He acknowledged that these tools might have different names around the country. He also recognised the cost of buying tools and that the husbandman should “learn to make his yokes, oxe-bowes, stooles, and all maner of plough-geare”.            

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 Number 17 - Carts and wagons

Listed in Hope and Castleton inventories from 1547-1650, there were 31 with carts that had 2 wheels, and 6 wains, that probably had four. The wain was a wagon, although there is some doubt as to the difference. Some inventories indicated that carts could have differing functions: dung carts or peat carts for instance. 

In 1534, Fitzherbert emphasised the husbandman’s need for a “wayne”, made of oak, to “lode his corne”.   He also described carts which were made of ash “bycause it is lyghte”. Wains and carts might have had “carte-ladders bothe behynde and before”. The carrying capacity of a cart or wagon could be increased by the use of side boards and, starting in the mediaeval period, ladders that extended in front of and behind the body of the vehicle. At first carts had a simple pole for pulling, probably by oxen. Later, they had a pair of shafts as horses became the draught animals of choice.   The top was wider than the bottom to accommodate bigger loads and the back wider than the front to make unloading easier. Some were designed to tip. Their carrying capacity was up to around one ton .

The wagon developed in England in response to the change in agricultural practice away from subsistence farming to growing for the market.   The number of vehicles on the roads increased, as did the distance travelled and the need for heavy wagons. By the end of the seventeenth century they could carry up to eight tons, requiring as many as 12 draught horses. The development in the seventeenth century of lighter vehicles that had a moveable fore-carriage or pivoted front axle, and which was therefore more manoeuvrable, allowed the use of wagons on the farm.

Wheels were listed in 30 inventories. Wheels, by this date, were spoked for lightness and strength.   Fitzherbert noted: “If they be yren bounden, they are moche the better, and thoughe they be the derer at first, yet at length they be better cheape …”, although he recommended wooden tyred wheels on “marreis ground and soft ground” as they were wider.

All carts and wagons caused deep ruts in the trackways and because of this the vehicles were purposely designed with a standard width between the lower point of each wheel, usually 4ft 8½in, probably not coincidentally the same width adopted when the railways were built.

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Number 16 - Fuel

It would be surprising if we saw listings of wood and coal in a modern inventory. However, at the time of the Wills and Inventories from 1547 to 1650, keeping warm and cooking were high priority challenges. Nine inventories listed fuel, rarely by itself and often combined with peat and manure in the valuation, suggesting that peat was not the only fuel and wood played an important role as well.

The recommended month to lay in wood was May.  In 1534, Fitzherbert observed: “For than the waye is lyke to be fayre and drye, and the days longe, and that tyme the husbande hath leeste to doo in husbandry”. However he also suggested that trees should be lopped in winter so that “thy beastes maye eat the brouse, and the mosse of the bowes”.

Two listed coal. Coal was collected where it was found on the surface; just beyond the Hope Valley it was plentiful. At this time, primitive chimneys meant that coal burned poorly, producing dangerous fumes.

Peat was an essential fuel at this period of intense cold and was extracted and burned in huge quantities. In the fourteenth century, 34 million cubic metres were cut in the South Pennines. The amount burned by a household was between 5,000 and 12,000 turves per year and a peat stack could be as big as the cottage that would consume it. The calorific value of peat was one sixth of that of coal. Peat cutting was undertaken in a farm’s enclosed area, or hey, on the moorland above the cultivated part of the farmstead and pastures, or, for some farms, in unenclosed areas. The peat cuts and sledways are still visible in the landscape.

For an area that traditionally used peat for fuel, therefore, it is surprising that only 4 had it listed in their inventories. However, there were a further 4 with peat spades and 2 with peat carts. Only one sled was mentioned.

Porter, in 1923, wrote about the ‘Crookstone Peat and Stone Pits’ charity in Hope. Founded in 1691, it was based on land bounded by Henry Balguy’s: “The part of Crooksden is 160 statute acres besides 8 acres for slate and 40 acres for free stone and peats.” In 1711, “the tenants and freeholders of Hope aforesaid have liberty to dig get and carry away peats to burn in their houses in Hope aforesaid.”

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Number 15 - Manure

It may seem strange to relate that manure, or “meaner” as it was usually called, was important enough to be recorded in inventories from 1547-1650. Although it was not was not valuable in monetary terms, 12 appraisers saw fit to list it. The range of values was only 12 pence to 10 shillings, presumably dependent on quantity, which was never specified.

The science of fertilisers was unknown at this time but it was recognised that additives improved soil fertility and productivity. The number of bushels per acre of corn increased by around 100% between the 13th and the 16th centuries.

Barnaby Googe graded manure in 1614: “The first of Poultry, the next of Men, the third of Cattell”. Human waste had to be mixed with household rubbish, otherwise it was “too hot, and burnes the ground.” Urine was kept for six months before being used on vines and apple trees when it “bringeth great fruitfulness to the trees, and giveth a pleasant taste to the fruit.”  In 1534, Fitzherbert preferred cow dung to that of horses whilst noting that doves’ dung was the best “but it must be layde upon the grounde verye thynne.” Others agreed that “Pigion or Pullen-dung”, but specifically excluding goose dung, “… is the best of all other”.

Googe noted that “the dung that hath line a yeere, is best for Corne, for it both is of sufficient strength, and breedeth lesse weeds”.

It is possible that the term “manure” included other soil conditioners such as wood ash, lime and marl, which is a mudstone containing lime. In 1613, Gervase Markham noted that “if you finde this soile to be subiect to extraordinary wet and coldnesse, you shall then know that the ashes eyther of wood, coale, or straw, is a very good manure for it”. Further, “if then you take Lime and sow it upon your land … and then sow your corne after it, you shall finde great profit to come thereon.”   Importantly, he also said “…pulses, which both bring forth commoditie, and also out of their owne natures doe manure and inrich your ground, making it more apt and fit to receive much better Seede”. The importance of nitrogen fixing legumes such as clover in crop rotations was not fully recognised until after 1650, although clover had been imported from the Low Countries as early as 1620.


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Number 14 - Flax and hemp

Hemp, from the stem of the plant Cannabis sativa, was used for sacking and work clothes. Hemp was grown widely on a small scale, often close to habitations, and its gathering and preparation provided welcome employment after the harvest of main crops. It was also used in sail and rope manufacture and, therefore, of strategic importance.

In the Wills and Inventories of 1547-1650, there were only 3 inclusions of hemp or hemp fibre from the two villages, although there were several from surrounding hamlets.

Flax is from the linseed plant, Linum usitatissimum, and, like hemp, is extracted from the stem. There were 9 mentions of flax, 15 of “linnen” and one of “hardin” (harden) cloth, a material coarser than linen. Of the linen, in some cases the term was clearly in the context of napery and sheets, but 4 listed bolts of cloth between 2½ and 25 yards in length, and 2 others included yarn. Although flax alone is now the raw material for making linen, in 1623 Gervase Markham noted that “linen cloth, whether it be of hemp of flax, … from those two only is the most principal cloth derived…”

Markham advised growing them both in the same conditions as barley. “It must be pulled up by the roots, and not cut as corn is…” usually in July unless seed was to be preserved.

The preparation of both flax and hemp fibre was exhaustive. An essential component was washing in running water in bundles or “beats” then rotted or “retted” in still water to separate the fibres, before drying. Hemp was poisonous to fish and this had to be considered when choosing the best place for washing. Flax required a week of drying before beating and retting. The stems were then broken down with a “brake” but only after thorough drying. This process was very dangerous if, in damp seasons, a kiln was used. Finally a “swingle tree” was used repeatedly to break the fibres down further, followed by heckling or combing, until the required fineness was achieved. The best linen also needed rolling and plaiting before beating again and bleaching in ashes and lye before it could be woven.

It must be remembered that these tasks were expected of women, in addition to other work, much of it coinciding with a particularly heavy schedule in the seasonal agricultural cycle.

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Number 13 - Wool and wool cloth

Wool was by far the most important commodity this country produced in the late mediaeval and early Tudor periods. By the 13th century, English wool was pre-eminent in European trading. In Henry VIII’s reign (1491 – 1547), the wool cloth trade had surpassed that of the raw material, amounting to as much as 90% of all exports. English wool was generally regarded as of the highest quality and Barnaby Googe in 1614 noted that “the best at this day is the wooll of England.” William Harrison, in 1577, observed that “strangers succoured here from domesticall persecution”, that is Huguenots, had expanded the range of cloth to “sundrie other uses, as mockados, baies, vellures, grograines, etc.” The trade suffered with a general collapse of the continental market in wool, and the loss of Calais, which was an important entry point into Europe, in 1558. Thereafter, wool prices did not rise as much as those of other commodities and many husbandmen and farmers suffered greatly if there was a collapse in the price as in 1624, which was attended by starvation and a doubling of mortality nationally, and reflected also in the deaths registered in Hope. In the 17th century, protectionist policies attempted to remedy the position but other textiles began to be imported and the wool trade gradually lost its importance.

In the inventories for 1547 – 1650, 83% listed sheep and 13 recorded wool. As might be expected, the largest holdings were in the inventories of those with the most sheep. Woollen cloth was mentioned 21 times in wills and inventories, sometimes with several different categories in the same document: 9 wool, of which one was kersey, a particularly high quality material, 3 green and 3 russet, and 6 unspecified cloth (which may have been made of linen or other material).

Googe recorded that shearers “do commonly appoint for their season the tenth of the Moneth of June.” Once the sheep had been sheared, the husbandman’s responsibilities for the wool ended and the housewife took over. She had to clean it and toze (tease) it by hand before it could be dyed. The wool had to be carded and then he insisted that the wool was oiled with rape seed oil or goose or even swine fat so that it “draw well” on the spinning wheel. “The housewife hath finished her labour” by this stage.

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