Category Archive 'England'
28 Jul 2019

Boris is PM; England is Herself Again

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17 Feb 2019

Birmingham Then and Now

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14 Dec 2018

Reconstructing the Recipe for the Soul Cake

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Atlas Obscura:

Last month, a challenge from Durham University spurred bakers to whip up a soul cake, a bygone bun once integral to a medieval tradition of feeding the poor and honoring the dead. But, in the spirit of competitive baking reality shows, there was a catch: Nobody really knows how, traditionally, it was supposed to be baked.

We know generally what soul cakes looked like, and what was inside of them. We know that bakers crafted them into small, round, square, or oval buns—garnishing the top with currants in the shape of a cross. And we know its purpose: Giving a soul cake to someone in poverty allegedly freed a departed soul from Purgatory. But we’re still in the dark about its intended taste and texture, and exactly how to go about concocting a soul cake in true medieval fashion.

“We have a recipe from a household book from 1604 compiled by a certain Lady Elinor Fettiplace that includes a recipe for a soul cake,” says Dr. Barbara Ravelhofer, a professor of English literature at Durham University and facilitator of the soul cake challenge. “However, it doesn’t give us the quantities—nor does it tell us how long to bake it. So you have to work out for yourself what to do with the ingredients.” Spearheaded by Dr. Ravelhofer and the Records of Early English Drama North East team, the Great Northern Soul Cake Bake doubles as a competition and crowdsourcing project. By challenging the public to decode the bare-bones recipe, the research team hopes to understand and resurrect the original soul cake—as well as the tradition that surrounds it.

Soul cakes are connected to Britain’s early Christian celebrations known as All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, Halloween-like festivities commemorating the recently departed. On November 2nd, beggars would weave their way through the chilly darkness, rapping on wealthy homeowners’ doors in exchange for a soul cake. But obtaining it was no cake walk. To successfully soul, one had to sing for sweets.

Whether it be musical or theatrical, souling required performance in exchange for a cake—a tradition that looks a lot like modern-day trick-or-treating. And, though it’s impossible to definitively claim souling as the progenitor of tricking and treating, Dr. Ravelhofer says they’re certainly connected. However, she points out, there are key differences. “A soul-caker was somebody who did something to obtain something,” she says. “Whereas trick-or-treating strikes me as, ‘Give me something or else I’ll do something.’”

Demanding candy door-to-door, she posits, is a “slightly degenerated, commercialized form” of the All Souls’ Day transactions of medieval Europe. Souling, Dr. Ravelhofer adds, also had a strong connection to charity and memoriam. The act of doling out freshly baked goods, while thinking of a “poor, departed soul,” filled two needs with one deed, giving to the hungry and freeing a soul in question from Purgatory in one fell swoop.

While vestigial remnants of this practice can still be found in some parts of England, the tradition of souling, and the cakes that came with it, have since disappeared—until now.

To more fully understand the history and tradition of All Souls Day, Dr. Ravelhofer and her team devised the bake off. The technical challenge (the first of a series of three) called for readers to recreate a successful iteration of the festive bun using only Elinor Fettiplace’s 17th-century recipe, which reads:

    “Take flower & sugar & nutmeg & cloves & mace & sweet butter & sack & a little ale barm, beat your spice & put in your butter & your sack, cold, then work it well all together & make it in little cakes & so bake them, if you will you may put in some saffron into them or fruit.”

Folks from across the globe responded, submitting recipes, photographs, and anecdotes via email, Facebook, and Twitter, with results ranging from wild successes to valiant flops.
“We had proper food archaeologists who really got into the spirit of things, and then we had candidates who tried to microwave it,” says Dr. Ravelhofer.

David Petts, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at Durham University, posted about his soul cakes on his personal blog, likening them to “slightly dense hot-cross buns.” Another participant found that using a ruby or dark ale gave the cakes a soft, chewy texture. Yet another made a successful stoneground cake by adding rye, theorizing that medieval bakers may have used additional grains.

But cataloguing the failed cakes, Dr. Ravelhofer says, has been just as informative as admiring the more edible ones.

Understanding what doesn’t work, and why, allows historians to do detective work when it comes to understanding what the recipe may or may not have looked like.

RTWT

16 Sep 2018

Would You Surrender to the Germans?

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16 Jan 2018

Mourning Ring

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“The cruel seas, remember, took him in November.”

England, 1592

22 Mar 2017

Context 958 Lived in the 13th Century

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Facial reconstruction of Context 958 burial.

Gizmodo reports on the reconstruction of the face of a man who lived 700 years ago by Cambridge scientists.

[H]ere’s what we know about Context 958.

He was just slightly over 40 years old when he died. His skeleton showed signs of considerable wear-and-tear, so he likely lead a tough and hard working life. His tooth enamel stopped growing during two occasions in his youth, suggesting he likely lived through bouts of famine or sickness when he was young. The archaeologists found traces of blunt force trauma inflicted to the back of his head, which healed over before he died. The researchers aren’t sure what he did for a living, but they think he was a working-class person who specialized in some kind of trade.

Context 958 ate a diverse diet rich in meat or fish, according to an analysis of weathering patterns on his teeth. His profession may have provided him with more access to such foods than the average person at the time. His presence at the charitable hospital suggests he fell on hard times, with no one to take care of him.

“Context 958 was probably an inmate of the Hospital of St John, a charitable institution which provided food and a place to live for a dozen or so indigent townspeople—some of whom were probably ill, some of whom were aged or poor and couldn’t live alone,” noted John Robb, a professor from Cambridge University’s Division of Archaeology, in a statement.

Strangely, he was buried face down, which is rare but not unheard of in medieval burials.

Full story.

17 Jun 2016

A Muddled Business

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BadBookeeping

In The Story of a Norfolk Farm (1940), Henry Williamson recounts the story of his own less-than-successful efforts to straighten out the tangled business affairs of his bumbling brother-in-laws to be.

When Papa died, the Boys, as Loetitia called them, would have some money from the trustfund of their parents’ marriage settlement. One of them had an idea, How about trying to get some of that money now? Only a little part of it, of course, about one hundred pounds. It was fatiguing work, pushing on the treadle-lathe hour after hour. Now with a hundred pounds they could buy an oil-engine, and two more lathes, and turn out more work. Keen on the idea, they went to see a lawyer.

Certainly, said the lawyer, he would make inquiries on their behalf. The inquiries were so thorough that in less than a week he gave them the good news that much more than a hundred pounds could be arranged, if they liked. Why not sell all their reversions? Then they would have nearly three thousand pounds, with which they could enlarge their engineering shops more profitably. They thought him an awfully nice fellow to have taken such trouble for them, and agreed that it would be fine to have a big Works in the garden, right by the house, so convenient for business. So they signed the document; and a few months later, when Loetitia left to share the precarious life of an unknown and unconventional author, building began. They gave the job to a small local builder, to help them. There was no contract, no price agreed between them. When the building was finished, the little builder hired a cab, bought a barrel of beer, and drove around town visiting his friends. For a whole week the little man celebrated: the dream of his life had come true: suddenly he had a lot of money.

As for the Boys, inexperience and trust in human nature had resulted in a factory being erected with walls of only a single brick in thickness. Part of those walls fell down, and had to be rebuilt. Only the roof held them together. This had cost about £1600, but when the fire insurance inspector came to look over the completed building, he said that in the event of a total loss his company would indemnify them only to the full value of the building, which was £600.

Read the rest of this entry »

29 May 2016

Cambridge University App Tries to Identify English Regional Accents

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EnglishDialects

University of Cambridge Research:

A new app which tries to guess your regional accent based on your pronunciation of 26 words and colloquialisms will help Cambridge academics track the movement and changes to English dialects in the modern era.

Along with colleagues from the universities of Zurich and Bern, Cambridge’s Adrian Leemann has developed the free app English Dialects (available on iOS and Android) which asks you to choose your pronunciation of 26 different words before guessing where in England you’re from.

The app, officially launched today on the App Store and Google Play, also encourages you to make your own recordings in order to help researchers determine how dialects have changed over the past 60 years. The English language app follows the team’s hugely successful apps for German-speaking Europe which accumulated more than one million hits in four days on Germany’s Der Spiegel website, and more than 80,000 downloads of the app by German speakers in Switzerland.

“We want to document how English dialects have changed, spread or levelled out,” said Dr Leemann, a researcher at Cambridge’s Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics. “The first large-scale documentation of English dialects dates back 60-70 years, when researchers were sent out into the field – sometimes literally – to record the public. It was called the ‘Survey of English Dialects’. In 313 localities across England, they documented accents and dialects over a decade, mainly of farm labourers.”

The researchers used this historical material for the dialect guessing app, which allows them to track how dialects have evolved into the 21st century.

“We hope that people in their tens of thousands will download the app and let us know their results – which means our future attempts at mapping dialect and language change should be much more precise,” added Leemann. “Users can also interact with us by recording their own dialect terms and this will let us see how the English language is evolving and moving from place to place.”

The app asks users how they pronounce certain words or which dialect term they most associate with commonly-used expressions; then produces a heat map for the likely location of your dialect based on your answers.

For example, the app asks how you might say the word ‘last’ or ‘shelf’, giving you various pronunciations to listen to before choosing which one most closely matches your own. Likewise, it asks questions such as: ‘A small piece of wood stuck under the skin is a…’ then gives answers including: spool, spile, speel, spell, spelk, shiver, spill, sliver, splinter or splint. The app then allows you to view which areas of the country use which variations at the end of the quiz.

It also asks the endlessly contentious English question of whether ‘scone’ rhymes with ‘gone’ or ‘cone’.

Read the whole thing.

02 Jan 2016

English Soccer Chants

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Racist, insulting, off-key, obscene, but also often witty and self-deprecating, the English lower orders at their best.

11 Dec 2015

New Viking Hoard Found by Metal Detector in Oxfordshire

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WatlingtonHoard2

Telegraph:

A Viking hoard discovered by an amateur metal detectorist could prompt the re-writing of English history, after experts claimed it shows how Alfred the Great “airbrushed” a rival king from history.

Ceolwulf II of Mercia is barely mentioned in contemporary records and largely forgotten by history, only briefly described in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as an “unwise King’s thane”.

The hoard was found by James Mather, a metal detectorist, near Watlington in OctoberThe hoard was found by James Mather, a metal detectorist, near Watlington in October Photo: Julian Simmonds/The Telegraph

But as of today, his reputation might be rescued after a haul of coins dug up after more than 1,000 years suggested he in fact had a powerful alliance with Alfred, ruling their kingdoms as equals.

The hoard, made up of 186 coins, seven items of jewellery and 15 ingots, was found by amateur metal detectorist James Mather on his 60th birthday, after he uncovered it in a muddy field.

Guardian story

AlfredCeowulfCoin

13 Aug 2015

Color Photographs of England in 1928

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BritishSoldierRetired
A retired soldier sells matches on the street in Canterbury, Kent, 1928.

England in 1928.

08 May 2015

Walter Raleigh’s House For Sale

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Downton

You can buy a pretty decent house and a major chunk of history in Britain right now for a mere £1,600,000 ($2,466,543).

Winkworth Salisbury Estate Agents:

The Manor House in Downton is tucked away next to the church in a peaceful corner of this bustling village. It is said to be the longest continually inhabited house in the South of England, from its original foundation as a chapel in around 850, and later as a medieval hall house. In the 16th Century, Elizabeth I leased the house from Winchester College and gifted it first to Thomas Wilkes, Clerk to the Privy Council, and then to Sir Walter Raleigh, who made significant home improvements, not least to impress Queen Elizabeth when she came to stay at the Manor House in 1586. The Raleigh family remained in occupation for the next hundred years and the Raleigh coat of arms is still to be found over the fireplace in the drawing room (historically known as the ‘Great Hall’ or ‘Parlour’).

Via Country Life.

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