Thursday, May 30, 2013

Digression: Angelcynn at Stoke Potteries

Conroi De Vey is a member group of Regia Anglorum, covering life around the turn of the first millenium AD.

A number of us are also members of other groups, however, and so last weekend Toki, Osgyth, Tigwald, Rhelbert and myself headed over to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery to do a 650AD show with Angelcynn. This was a really exciting event for us all to do, as the Potteries is the current home of the Staffordshire Hoard, which is the biggest collection of bling found since Sutton Hoo was discovered in 1939.

650AD is still in the Migration Period i.e. after the Romans have left and when Angles, Saxons and Jutes are coming over from the continent and settling in Britain, or moving around and establishing new territories and relationships.  In contrast, Conroi De Vey's period starts the best part of 200 years later, when the Anglo-Saxons are the settled people, and it is the Vikings and later Normans who are new.

Although political relationships, social structures, religion, and dress  are fairly different to De Vey's period (pagan women don't wear wimples - hooray!), much of the technology we used in our display of daily life are effectively the same, and contingent on ability to transport it, appears at De Vey shows.

Pole-lathe. Photo by Caroline Williams.
Above you can see a pole-lathe, an ancient mechanism for turning wood to make e.g. cups, bowls and other cylindrical objects. At the bottom of the picture you can see the long pole which is the treadle. This  pulls on the long cord attached to the top pole, and turns the item you are turning, which is mounted horizontally.

You can see that better in the photo below, taken at a Regia event last year, and dated about 400 years later (hence Tigwald being attired as Brother Tigwald). The use of the pole-lathe to turn green wood continues today, although the vast majority of woodworkers now use power tools.

Tigwald using a pole-lathe at the St Alfege Millenium Festival, 2012.  Photo by Caroline Williams.

Toki brought along his collection of shoes that need repairing, bone to work, and various weapons. As Toki is a Viking name and we were pre-Viking for this show, he was answering to the name Tobias, which is the closest equivalent.
Tools for leather and bone work. Photo by Lancelot and Carol Robson.

Early medieval drill.  Photo by Caroline Williams.
If you look carefully in the pile of objects above, you will find two bow drills (what look like long spindles with a whorl at the bottom and a cross bar at the top). We don't have direct evidence for them in this period, but they were known in Roman times and they are cited by Theodosius in On Divers Arts  in the early 12th century. We do have finds of drill bits, however, so this is our best guess at what drills of the period would have looked like.

During this show, Toki focussed on making a bone fishing spear-head, shown below, to demonstrate to the public how bone was an every day material. He also worked on one of his bone needle-cases, demonstrating to the public that a poorly wielded drill will go through skin and muscle as bone.

Bone fish hook.  Photo by Caroline Williams.
Here's one he made earlier: a bone needle-case. Photo by Stephen Shepherd.
I was delighted to be able to use Angelcynn's quern stone, shown below. A quern stone is an ancient method of grinding grain, which only went out of use with the introduction of mechanised mills. This is a rotary quern-stone, which means you put the grain in the hole at the top, then turn the top stone (known as a hand-stone), which grinds the grain. The grain then comes out the sides, between the two stones, hence the cloth on the table. 

Quern stone.  Photo by Caroline Williams.
Mechanised mills, both water and wind, do become more common during the Anglo-Saxon period, but quern-stones would still have been in use well into Regia's period, as well as during the Migration Period.

I ground rye, since rye would have been a common grain in the area. From discussion with Osgyth, this ground much more easily than the wheat they have used previously, but it still needed two grindings to make it vaguely smooth. There's nothing quite like actually grinding grain to make you realise how laborious life was 1500 years ago. Approximately half the children who had a go proudly proclaimed that they definitely weren't tired, but I bet there were some sore arms the next day.

In addition to the quern stone, I had a display showing a selection of foods which would have been available, including some leeks, celery, carrots, onions and garlic, which are out of shot. These are all available in De Vey's period as well, as from this point on, we tend to get access to new foods, rather than losing existing ones (in contrast with the previous 500 years, in which we lose Roman foods and spices).

Apples, bread, eggs, salted mackerel, nuts, herbs, sourdough bread, sourdough starter.  Photo by Caroline Williams.
Note that this display is rather generous for the season. May is traditionally known as the "hungry gap" because it is the time when you have eaten your winter stores, but the new season crops aren't ready yet. Particularly with the weather we've been having, this would have been an extremely hungry gap as the new season crops have been significantly delayed by the cold weather. The diet would probably have involved more spring greens like those shown at the front, and distinctly fewer large shiny apples.

On the bread front, I took along a sourdough and a sourdough starter so that the public could see how even an every day substance such as bread would probably have smelled and felt different. This worked really well, as did having actual ground grain on site, showing how much lumpier and harder on the teeth bread was likely to have been...and why the smoother your bread, the richer you were. 

Butter churn.  Photo by Caroline Williams.
Another popular display was the butter churn, although sadly I didn't actually attempt to make butter due to the sheer volume of mess created as you pump the plunger up and down. This is another object which both dates back to ancient times and remains in use for at least 1000 years after the date of this show.

Again, this was a great hands on exhibit for the kids to have a go at. The butter churn is also worth of note for being the solution to a number of Anglo-Saxon riddles. When Tolkien wrote of hobbits loving riddles, he was drawing directly on the Anglo-Saxon tradition, where they were very popular. The solutions were also often rather rude...

Osgyth in front of her warp-weighted loom. Photo by Lancelot and Carol Robson.

Above, you can see Osgyth with her warp-weighted loom. Note that she is portraying a Christian character so she has covered her hair, although not as much as she would do were we several hundred years later. Sadly for blogging purposes I was so busy talking to people I didn't get the chance to listen to her talking about her loom, or the sprang she also had on display, so for now I shall tantalise you with a photograph, to be returned to another day...

Finally, just because it made me so happy, I can't resist a picture of me as a wimple-free woman. My hair is covered just so that I didn't grind my hair into the flour, but as a happy pagan in 650AD I was free from the Church's requirement that I cover my hair. Hooray! Use of the wimple was already starting to come in among those groups that had converted to Christianity though, and by Regia's period women would always have to cover their hair outside the home.

 Photo by Caroline Williams.

(No Toki's were harmed in the making of this post.)

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