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Hope Historical Society

STORIES FROM THE ARCHIVES

 

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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Number 12 - Milk, butter and cheese

We have seen already that there were more cattle than any other animal in inventories from the period 1547 – 1650. Surprisingly, therefore, very few listed equipment for milking or for making butter or cheese. Thomas Marshall from Castleton, who died in 1649, listed “8 milke basens” and only three inventories contained butter and cheese, always together. The likelihood is that its production was such a routine task, allotted to women, that the equipment was not regarded as worth listing, or that other vessels in inventories were used for the purpose but not specifically named as such. In this context, it is worth noting that 2 of the 7 widows with inventories owned a single cow which must have been for their milk.

 

Gervase Markham, in his 1635 book “The English Housewife” devoted pages to milking. It is noteworthy that he insisted that hygiene in the dairy was essential: “not the least mote of any filth by any means appear.” The same applied to the containers “which must be scalded once a day … and set in the open air to sweeten.” Milk was routinely “siled” or sieved through a “very clean washed fine linen cloth.” Barnaby Googe in 1614 reckoned that the best milk came from goats which was “the most comfortable to the stomacke” but no goats appeared in any of these documents. He added that “sheep’s Milke is sweeter, and nourisheth more, but is not so good for the stomacke, by reason it is fatter and grosser.”

 

Cream could not be kept for longer than two days in the summer, and four in the winter. The cream had to be churned for butter, and Markham gave specific advice as to timing, to fit with usual market days.

 

Rennet was needed for making cheese, and there were lengthy instructions as to how to make a rennet bag from the stomach of a suckling calf. In Markham’s opinion, the best cheese was “morning cheese” made from that morning’s milk together with cream from the evening before. He also recommended “nettle cheese” as the “finest summer cheese which can be eaten” He described “eddish cheese” made from milk from cows fed on the eddish or grass that grew after the harvest. As it was produced in winter and could not be dried and hardened in the warmth of summer, it was a soft cheese.

 

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Number 11 - Corn and Hay

 

One of the most frequently listed items, seen 43 times, in the Wills and Inventories of 1547 – 1650 is “Corn and Hay”, usually together. We have to assume these terms meant the same as they do today.

 

In well favoured areas, hay was grown in rich, lowland wetland meadows, fertilised by grazing animals. In uplands, however, the quality of this essential crop for overwintering animals was less and would have had priority over other crops.

 

Corn meant edible grain, both fodder and for human consumption. It is estimated that around 20% of grain grown nationally was for fodder. The Derbyshire Justices reported in 1620 that the county grew less than half its needs, and as a consequence grain was imported and tended to be expensive. The Justices sometimes had to intervene in the market to ensure adequate supplies although occasionally, for instance in 1631, there was a glut.

 

In 1613, Gervase Markham identified 6 varieties of wheat, 2 of rye, 3 of barley and 4 of oats but only one inventory here itemised wheat. Barnaby Googe in 1614 noted that: “wheat delighteth in a levell, rich, warme, and a dry ground: a shadowed, weedy, and a hilly ground, it loveth not” . Generally at this time wheat was not available to labouring people.

 

Barley was the most valued crop after wheat although only included in 5 inventories. Of the several varieties available, six-rowed barley, or bigg, was the worst but could be grown on dry, poor soils and was known to be prevalent in several northern counties.

 

Oats were the principal cereal component of the diet on the poor, wet soils of the north and west of the country but were a fodder crop elsewhere. They were the predominant crop in the High Peak. In these documents, oats in one form or another – grain, thraves (12 sheaves), or meal – were listed 7 times.

 

Meal or ground grain, malt or dried germinated grain, usually barley, and grain itself were included in 15 inventories. The usual unit of measurement was the bushel, hoop or strike, equalling 8 gallons of dry goods, or 4 pecks.

 

Very little information regarding local grain or hay prices can be gained from these documents but, in Derbyshire as a whole, wheat prices in the period 1538 – 1622 inflated by about 6 times, barley 6.5 times and oats 7 times.

 

 

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Number 10 - Pigs and Poultry

 

Pigs, always known at the time as swine, and poultry were occasional items in the inventories from 1547 – 1650.

 

Swine, never more than 3, were listed 20 times. This is surprising as pigs not only provided a source of protein and calories but also excellent leather. They could be kept on poor land and their meat was easier to preserve than beef or mutton. They were never worth a great deal, inflating from £0.3.0 to £0.12.6 (£0.15 – £0.65) during this period, in line with the rise in value of sheep.

 

The problem was the difficulty of overwintering them. Fitzherbert, in 1534, noted that “they cannot be rered in winter, for cold, without great coste.” Traditionally, swine were put out to pannage in the autumn, a mediaeval custom in which the animals were turned out into woodland from August to December to eat acorns and beech mast. The damage to oak woodland, now becoming a strategic asset for ship building as Britain’s sea power increased, caused Henry VIII to restrict this right. Perhaps in this period there was little pannage in the Hope Valley but, in any case, pigs were becoming more domesticated and useful farmyard scavengers. At around this time, improved nutrition and breeding permitted a cycle of farrowing to slaughter in a single year.

 

Swine of the period were not the large lop-eared animals with which we are familiar, but smaller, prick-eared and bristly. Pig husbandry later became commoner with the importation of an animal that was larger, fatter and with access to potatoes.

 

Poultry were listed in only 19 inventories, but there is the suspicion that they were more widely kept but not listed as they were of little value. Of the “feathered cattell” only chickens and geese were recorded here. Geese were regarded as easy to keep and Barnaby Googe, in 1614, noted that they were “more watchfull then the Dogges.” Googe gave much advice about the proper selection of chickens, noting in particular that white birds “are commonly tender, and prosper not, neither are they beside fruitfull, and are always the fairest marke in a Hawke, or a Bussards eye.”

 

All the writers of the period reckoned they were good animals for women to own, Googe saying: “the poorest widdowe in the Countrie is able to keepe them.” Here, only 3 of the 19 inventories with poultry were from women.

 

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Number 9 - Ploughing

 

In our exploration of the wills and inventories from 1547 to 1650 we have seen that oxen and horses were included in many documents, with oxen persisting as draught animals longer than in some parts of the country. Some authorities believe that, in upland areas, these animals were used mostly for pulling carts and wagons and for carrying heavy loads but here there is clear evidence that they were used for ploughing as well.

 

Six men, mostly in the upper range of inventory valuations, owned ploughs, although Thurstan Hall from Castleton was worth only £3 2s 6d (£3.13) at death. Early inventories did not usually list chattels and the earliest mention of a plough was in 1596. There were 7 yokes and 3 teams, or harnesses for attaching to a cart or plough.

 

Nowadays there is little evidence of historic ploughing in the area, although there is some ridge and furrow field marking near Hathersage. Without doubt, however, the valley bottoms at least would have been ploughed.

 

In the agricultural cycle of the time, land was left fallow for a variable length of time, depending on local conditions. Here, there might have been 2 to 4 years of arable, followed by up to 8 years of grass cultivation or “leys”. Ploughing had three functions: to break up the soil, to bury manure and to assist drainage. Ploughing fallow land usually took place in winter and was followed by three or four further ploughings in a year. If it was to be returned to arable, ploughed soil was harrowed or broken up with mattocks. Eighteen inventories included harrows.

 

Light soil was ploughed in two directions at right-angles, leaving no permanent mark on the landscape. Heavy soils required a strategy to facilitate water drainage. The land was ploughed in elongated ovals, starting in the middle and building up a ridge as the plough team worked to and fro around the oval. This created a ridge and furrow pattern. The ridges were orientated up and down any available slope so that water could drain into the furrows and be channelled away. They frequently had an S-shape, reflecting the distance needed for an ox team to turn. In subsequent ploughings, the farmer could either flatten the pattern of ridges and create new ones, or, in water-logged land, might emphasise the ridges, giving rise to the persistent pattern familiar today.

 

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Number 8 - Horses

 

Until it is remembered that they were the only means of transport in the period 1547 – 1650 as recorded in Wills and Inventories, it may be a surprise that 72% of the documents listed horses. After all, men and women from Hope and Castleton were far from wealthy. Of these 62 people, 20 listed only one horse, with a maximum of 6 in one inventory.

 

Frustratingly, there are few indications as to the breed or even function of the horses, whether they were beasts of burden, for pulling the plough, or for riding. However, inventories did list 11 pack saddles, 4 cart saddles, 3 hackney saddles and one side saddle. The hackney horse was for riding, and the side saddle belonged to the wealthiest inventory, that of Jane Savage from Castleton, who died in 1604.

 

By this time, horses were supplanting oxen for ploughing and pulling heavy loads, although some contemporary writers firmly opposed this trend. Fitzherbert, writing in 1534, noted that “the ploughe of oxen is moche more profytable than the ploughe of horses” and then listed many disadvantages of horses, even concluding that at the end of the animal’s life the horse was “but caryen”, unlike oxen which became “mannes meate, and as good or better than ever he was.” Gervase Markham, in 1613, noted that plough teams could consist of both horses and oxen.

 

The Rev. William Harrison, writing in Hollinshed’s ‘Chronicles’ in 1577, claimed that English draught horses “are commonly so strong that fyve (or six) of them (at the most) will draw three thousand weight” or 1½ tons.

 

Whilst there are few clues as to the horses’ breeds, active development of horses was taking place by this time. As noted, the hackney horse was widely used for riding, although it was smaller than modern animals. The Suffolk Punch had also been selectively bred by this time. Markham, in 1617, recommended that the best horses for husbandmen came from “Freeseland, Holland, and Artoys”. However, working horses in the Derbyshire lead mines were probably bred in Lincolnshire.

 

Horses in these inventories rose in value throughout the period by a multiple of 3½, the greatest inflation in price for any animal except pigs. The rise from £2 to £3 10s (£3.50) was particularly marked in the last decade, the 1640s, when suddenly they became strategically essential during the Civil War.

 

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