Tag Archives: Hearth Money

In at the Ground Floor: Exploring a 17th Century Home in South Derbyshire

Introduction

In this post (the second post in a series that considers everyday life in Early Modern England[i] through ‘archaeological stories’ that places historical evidence within a fictional narrative: see ‘Expedition into the Past: Tales of a 17th Century Derbyshire Manor House’ for a brief explanation of this approach),[ii] we continue to follow Samuel Beighton. This Constable[iii] is investigating ‘Upper Hall’ (a privately occupied dwelling in the Swadlincote area of South Derbyshire),[iv] in order to verify the number of chargeable fireplaces for the first Hearth Tax assessment, in September 1662.[v]

This post continues from ‘The Taxman Cometh: Exploring a 17th Century South Derbyshire Home’, in which Samuels examines the setting and front façade of the manor House. The real-life characters encountered within these posts are discussed (alongside other occupants and events connected with the house) in ‘From Yeoman to Gentleman: Peopling a 17th Century South Derbyshire Manor House’, which includes tentative ‘family histories’ to consider social relationships within and between the Hall and the wider community. ‘Living in the Early Modern Past: the 17th Century Home’ outlines the domestic environment and material culture of the typical yeoman household at this time, providing a backdrop and comparisons for the society and culture of Upper Hall. ‘Expedition into the Past’ provides background information, and discusses how this series uses written and materials sources to create a historically descriptive, but imaginary, tale. (Please see the endnotes for information on the sources used, and on the introduction of fictional characters and circumstances. Italicised text is used to denote discussion of later and features, and to present background information, outside the main narrative.)

Constable Beighton resumes his investigations as one of the servants reluctantly admits him into the property through the porch: he now stands within the entrance hall.

Entrance Hall

The constable looks about him as the servant hesitates over where she should first conduct the officious intruder. Muffled voices permeate a closed oak door to the right, which intrigue Beighton, though this room appears not to be their destination. Samuel can just see stairs to another floor through the opening in the wattle panels in front of him. Through another oaken door to the left, he glimpses what must be the kitchen.

Parlour-Dining Room

Though not visible to Samuel at this time, visitors in later years would have encountered a door to the left of that which led to the kitchen, which opened into an extension built in the late 18th or early 19th century, to the north of the porch. Its construction therefore postdates Beighton’s assessment of 1662, and the repeal of the hearth tax in the 1680s.

It will be seen below (in the section on the Hall) that the house has at several times been subdivided; this extension was most likely built as a parlour-dining room, after the south wing – and its dining room and parlour – was separated from the rest of the house. This modification appears to have been carried out in or after the late Georgian period (by which time the Benskin family had vacated the property), perhaps by the grandson of the third owner (William Cant), William Bailey (or ‘Bayley’) Cant (see ‘From Yeoman to Gentleman).  

The room is fitted with a fine (original?) late 18th – early 19th century style fire surround (perhaps made of what in the past was commonly called ‘deal’). Within the fireplace is a late 19th – 20th century cast iron combination grate, with transfer-printed ceramic tiles. The ceramic hearth tiles appear to be relatively recent additions, perhaps set on top of an earlier hearth-stone (possibly raising the level of the fireplace floor, in order to comply with modern building regulations for fitting a gas fire within the grate). To the right of the chimneybreast is an arched alcove (which may have once contained a carved wooden or plaster back), within which expensive possessions may have been displayed.

Fireplace in late 18th - early 19th century parlour-dining room

Fireplace in late 18th – early 19th century parlour-dining room

The room would most likely have contained a central mahogany dining table (perhaps of gate-leg design, so that it might be folded and placed against the wall when not in use), with upholstered and carved mahogany dining chairs, and perhaps a small mahogany sideboard.

For more information on, and descriptions of late 17th – 19th century parlour-dining rooms, see ‘Living in the Early Modern Past’; and the Geffrye Museum virtual display.

Here the servant-girl suddenly leaves Samuel, as a male servant approaches through the kitchen door to take her place, and grudgingly bids the constable to follow.

Kitchen and Cellars

Kitchen, viewed through hallway door

Kitchen, viewed through hallway door

Samuel is impressed by the modern and well-equipped kitchen, which has not one, but two, bread ovens (see ‘Living in the Early Modern Past’) within the brick inglenook fireplace – no sending victuals out to the village baker, as the less fortunate must do. One of the arched openings bears sooty traces from the flames and smoke of a previous fire.

The following is a description of the possible arrangements for the kitchen hearth at the time of the first Hearth Tax assessment. Inglenook fireplaces were built to contain open grate wood fires, whereas the central brick feature (enclosing a narrow flue) now visible was likely to have been inserted at a later date to burn coal (late 17th – late 18th century: closer examination might enable a more accurate estimate of the most likely date when this modification took place). Bricked in flues could more efficiently (and with less smoke, and fewer noxious fumes) burn fossil fuels; prior to this change, chimney flues were chamfered.[vi]  

The ashes from the fire (saved for cleaning purposes) part fill a deep brick-lined grate-covered pit (perhaps 2’ square) set in brick floor in front of the fireplace.[vii] A young boy brings in faggots from outdoors, in readiness for baking, and wood to keep the main fire alive, and eyes the constable warily, as the other servant departs – perhaps to consult with the master of the house.

Bread ovens within brick and stone inglenook fireplace

Bread ovens within brick and stone inglenook fireplace

Samuel takes this opportunity to look around the room. Like the treads of the stairs that he saw in the hallway, the massive oak lintel of the inglenook is a reminder of the substantial rooms above. The fireplace is conveniently equipped with side niches, which provide a dry place for the saltbox and sugar loaf between use, away from vermin that might have escaped the attention of the house cat.

Inglenook niche (right). Note pale blue distemper on the stone base of the bread oven (within which faggots have been laid)

Logs burn upon iron firedogs (see ‘Living in the Early Modern Past’) in the hearth; Mistress Benskin prefers to keep the blaze perpetually alight, for what seems to be a continuous round of cooking. (As the wife of a prosperous farmer, she has as much fuel as she might need – which is a good thing, considering the frustration that both she and the kitchen maid find in using the tinderbox to re-light an extinguished flame.)

Through his assessments of the tax, Beighton has noticed that some (albeit mainly the landowning gentry) have begun to burn locally mined coal within their homes, in place of wood. He suspects that this well-off household will soon make this change: he has seen grates adapted for this purpose by the placement of iron bars between the dogs (see ‘Living in the Early Modern Past’). With coalmines only a few miles away, transportation costs should not prohibit the use of this new fuel (which is often the case for even ‘middling’ families in other areas).

As Samuel hears the servant returning, his gaze quickly casts around the room, excepting the occasional trace, no lime-wash covers the walls, as is customary (though servants usually perform this task in spring, perhaps they have scrubbed them in readiness to receive a fresh coat).

A patch of pale blue tinted lime-wash is evident on the stone base of the right bread oven (see photo above). Blue was often added to whitewash on kitchen, pantry, cupboard interiors, external yard and passageway walls, and privy walls, and any other place where hygiene was particularly required (including the walls of children’s bedrooms) in the Victorian or Edwardian periods. This finish was thought to repel flies (though this belief had no basis in fact); for further examples of this finish, see posts on ‘No. 8’ – a later 19th century terrace house in Derby that was also examined by LIPCAP.

The room is simply furnished, with table, chair, benches and stool, a meat safe on the wall, and equipment suspended from the walls and hearth (see ‘Living in the Early Modern Past’ for a description of 17th century kitchen furnishings).

Cellar stairs

Cellar stairs

A kitchen maid accompanies the returning man; he motions to the constable to follow her as she moves towards a door leading from the kitchen. As she opens the door, Beighton sees a flight of stairs, down which he follows his young guide.

Stone mullion window in cellar

Stone mullion window in cellar

As Samuel descends, a breeze stirs the cool air, streaming in through an open window. On reaching the bottom of the steps, an unglazed stone mullion becomes visible (expensive glass would be wasted in these out-of-sight cellars). Though windows are barred to intruders, this precaution has clearly proved no obstacle to this unwelcome visitor.

Cellar room with brick thralls, showing brick-vaulted ceiling, and ceramic floor tiles of probable 18th century date

Cellar room with brick thralls, showing brick-vaulted ceiling, and ceramic floor tiles of probable 18th century date

Brick walls divide the cellar into barrel-vaulted rooms, the size of the bricks suggesting later insertions and extensions (built during or after the 19th century). In places, these walls top earlier brick courses. The size of the bricks used for the extant thralls suggests a later date (late 18th – 19th century) for these features.

Brick and stone cellar floor, indicating different phases of construction (17th century, with 19th - early 20th century modifications)

Brick and stone cellar floor, indicating different phases of construction (17th century, with 19th – early 20th century modifications)

The floors are paved with stone flags, and patches of early (17th – mid 18th century) and later (19th century onwards) bricks and ceramic tiles. The walls have at some point been lime-washed, the colour reflecting the limited light, and lime content of the wash acting as a disinfectant.

Cellar room, showing stone walling, and different phases of brick construction

Cellar room, showing stone walling, and different phases of brick construction

The serving girl continues to fulfil her charge from Mistress Benskin, and goes to fetch milk. She picks up a glazed yellow earthenware jug, made locally at Ticknall, which sits on the thrall (platform on which food, particularly dairy produce, was kept chilled) besides a large, wide, shallow, red earthenware bowl. The shiny black glaze that lines this pan can just be seen above the cream it contains.[viii]

(See ‘Living in the Early Modern Past for more information on 17th century material culture and practices associated with the home dairy.)

Black-glazed coarse red earthenware sherds - from (a) possible milk pan(s) and / or bowls - found in the topsoil of Upper Hall garden

Black-glazed coarse red earthenware sherds – from (a) possible milk pan(s) and / or bowls – found in the topsoil of Upper Hall garden

Though finding no hearths, Samuel can see that food is processed as well as stored in these rooms. Through an open door, a large stone salting trough is visible, in which a flitch of bacon is partway through the curing processes, in preparation for the rapidly approaching cold winter months.

(See ‘Living in the Early Modern Past’ for information on 17th century material culture and practices relating to meat preservation.)

Salting trough, in cellar room, above brick thralls

Salting trough, in cellar room, above brick thralls

This use of cellar space for household chores continues over the centuries, as land for housing becomes more precious: dwellings not only rise in height, but sink in depth, condemning many domestic servants – particularly young girls and boys, and women – to a largely subterranean life well into the 20th century, in the basements of middle-class households.

After responding affirmatively to the enquiry of the maid as to whether she could show him back to the house, Samuel follows her up the steps, which are (as with the other stairs) made of thick oak blocks. Rising from the dim underbelly of Upper Hall, he returns to the heat and light of the kitchen.

Cellar stairs to kitchen 

Cellar stairs to kitchen

By this time, the women have begun to prepare the next meal. Samuel’s mouth waters at the smell of roasting mutton (was it reared on Benskin lands?) and fresh thyme (likely picked from the garden). The serving girl takes over turning the spit from the weary pink-faced boy – an increasingly automated task in wealthier households by use of a mechanical spit jack. As the spit scrapes upon a wrought iron andiron, Mistress Maria pours claret from a squat bottle into a large bowl, into which she then grates nutmeg (using a recipe of the day for those sufficiently wealthy to afford meat. A bell-metal cauldron of bubbling pottage gently swings on the wrought iron trammel hook that suspends the vessel over the flames.

(For illustrations and more information on the above-mentioned kitchen objects, see ‘Living in the Early Modern Past’.)

Beneath this array of aromas, the tang of vinegar and rosemary is just perceptible. Eliza had earlier scrubbed the ash kitchen table – with some success; the Master and Mistress have spoken together of her progress – though not yet 9 years old, she is coming on as a maid.

Master John has distant childhood memories of his grandfather John – whose son John (the current Master’s father) built the house (see ‘From Yeoman to Gentleman’) – talking of a maid bearing the same name, who served his family in the previous century. Long gone, she has lain buried in the nearby church since 1602 (though not being of the gentry, her grave has no marker) (see ‘From Yeoman to Gentleman’). The couple hope that this young girl will prove as faithful as her namesake, for she is almost one of the family, having been part of the household for over a year now.[ix]

Handle of a coarse earthenware jug, of 14th – 17th century date, found in the topsoil of Upper Hall garden. There are possibly slight traces of yellow glaze (which might be clarified by closer examination); if certainly evident, this would suggest local manufacture in the 17th century.

Sherds from possible contemporary ceramics found within the garden of Upper Hall will be examined in more detail in a subsequent post.

PANTRY AND SCULLERY?

Samuel makes a note of the kitchen hearth, before the man who previously accompanied led him out of the room. The men pass a small room – or large cupboard, to the right of the kitchen; he can see through the door that no hearth lies within. This is perhaps a pantry, providing storage for precious ingredients that were more susceptible to damp (and more expensive), such as spices imported from foreign lands thanks to expanding trade networks.

Beyond is another small room, possibly a scullery for preparing food, and for other dirty household chores. Samuel can see no soft water cistern (often a T-shaped feature in stone), and supposes that water is fetched from a well in the yard outside.

(See ‘Living in the Early Modern Past’ for a description of 17th century pantry and scullery material culture.)

Early occupants would have to wait nearly three centuries for an indoor running water supply (though a washhouse is later built in the yard: see the forthcoming post ‘Out Back: Exploring a 17th Century Home in South Derbyshire’).

As the men move towards another closed door ahead of them, the suppressed clamour of children emanates from beyond; this is a familiar sound – perhaps the same he encountered earlier through another door, when first entering into the hall. The room hence is perhaps large, spanning the width of the house; Samuel consequently suspects that he is about to enter the hub of the house: the Hall.

The Hall

The Benskin family are gathered in the Hall, and eye Beighton as he enters the room. Sitting by the fire in an upholstered high-backed chair is the Master, Johannis (John)  a man of 62 years, referred to as ‘old’ John, to differentiate from his younger son who is in his early 30s; beside him sits his wife Maria, on a similar chair.

This is before the time of sofas and settees, which did not become fashionable within middle class homes until the end of the following century. In the mid 17th century, few common folk would have an upholstered chair, and often had to make use of a plain wooden stool or bench.

The Mater and Mistress have several children: two sadly died in infancy (as is commonplace – even within affluent households such as this), though seven have survived into adulthood, and have homes and families of their own. They also have many grandchildren, some of whom join them today, seated on stools about the room.

(See ‘Living in the Early Modern Past for information on derivation of, and material culture associated with, the 17th century hall; and ‘From Yeoman to Gentleman’ for further information on the family.)

Hall Fireplace

Hall Fireplace

A fireplace of large stone blocks, and lined with the small bricks of the period, almost fills one wall of the room. It inevitably captures the constable’s attention, and he makes a note of it for his assessment. Burning logs that rest upon a cupped andiron warm the room; the cast iron back-plate (designed to reflect the heat forwards) is decorated, though soot and ash obscure the image. Beside the fire is an inverted earthenware bowl – of a type known as a curfew – which a servant will place over the flames when the family later retire to bed. In this way, the wood will continue smouldering overnight in relative safety (and thus avoid the need to re-light the fire in the morning).

Cup-iron dog-grate, with ceramic curfew (to the left of the grate)

Cup-iron dog-grate, with ceramic curfew (to the left of the grate)

Larger bricks, most likely manufactured in nearby Measham, line the back of the hearth; these are later insertions (known by some as Gob, or Jumb, bricks), made in the late 18th – early 19th centuries.[x] Between 1784 and 1803, Joseph Wilkes made these bricks twice the usual size (up to 11” × 5 “ × 3 1⁄2 “ / 280 mm × 125 mm × 80 mm, reduced in 1801 to 10” x 5” x 3” , prior to firing, which usually led to substantial shrinkage), in order to limit liability for the new brick taxation.[xi] This charge was imposed by George III in an attempt to reduce the debt incurred by the failed American war of 1776-83.[xii] Although builders required fewer of these new style bricks than they had for the previously smaller bricks, the manufacturer aimed to maintain a profit by charging higher for the larger bricks; however, loses were made through the charge being set prior to firing – a process liable to include failures.[xiii] The tax was initially levied at 2s 6d per thousand bricks, but was increased in 1794, 1797, and 1805, ultimately reaching 5s 10d; it was not repealed until the middle of the 19th century.[xiv]

South wall of the Hall: location of blocked doors either side of the fireplace

South wall of the Hall: location of blocked doors either side of the fireplace

On either side of the fireplace would have been two doors (now blocked), leading to the parlours, in the southern wing of the house, which can be seen in the photo of the back of the building, below. This part of the house now forms the neighbouring property, to which the author has not had access. The following therefore provides only a description of features commonly encountered within the rooms that would have lay beyond these doors in the later 17th century.

North wall of the Hall, showing location of blocked doors either side of the central panel

North wall of the Hall, showing location of blocked doors either side of the central panel

Dining Parlour

The door to the left of the fireplace led to the Dining Parlour, within which Beighton would have found a further hearth. It would have been lined with oak panels, which were often painted during and after the late 17th century. The room would have contained an oak table, which may have had folding leafs to allow storage against the wall when not in use, and chairs (perhaps caned or upholstered), and an oak sideboard (see ‘Living in the Early Modern Past’) and perhaps a corner cupboard (which were often wall-mounted). In subsequent decades, mahogany often replaced oak in wealthy homes.

Although Chinese porcelain may have been used (or displayed) in particularly prosperous times, blue-tinted and polychromatic tin-glazed earthenware (imitative ‘Delftware’, imported from Holland, or English-made imitations, imported from Bristol, Liverpool or London) was more probably used, alongside locally produced wares. Glazed and slip-decorated wares were made at potteries located only a few miles away (nearby Ticknall was a significant production centre, and wares manufactured in and around Swadlincote (such as by TG Green and Sharpe’s) gained in prominence over the following centuries).[xv] Decorative wares may have been increasingly imported from Staffordshire potteries, made easier during the late 18th century with the development of the canal system. (With fewer breakages in transit reducing costs, the market expanded for regionally produced wares.) 

Artefacts found within the garden topsoil of Upper Hall, showing some of the material culture used by the occupants, will be considered in a later post. For more information on the fixtures and fittings and other material culture (such as dining sets) that might have been used within these rooms, see ‘Living in the Early Modern Past’.

Sherds of locally made slip-decorated ‘yellow’ earthenware, found in the topsoil of Upper Hall

Sherds of locally made slip-decorated ‘yellow’ earthenware, found in the topsoil of Upper Hall

Parlour

The parlour, in the early 17th century, often referred to as the ‘Hall’, would have been the best appointed in the house, and only used by the family and special guests. It would have had a timber floor, perhaps covered with a woven wool carpet, or rush mat, and may have in later years been dry lined with lathe and plaster, and perhaps wallpapered, and fitted with a plaster or painted wood cornice.

Samuel Beighton would have found another fireplace to add to his list. Mistress Benskin may have displayed her most treasured possessions within cupboards in the alcoves at either side of the chimney, or within a corner cupboard. The windows, facing on to the road, may have been fitted with shutters, for warmth and privacy.

The room perhaps contained a small table, and several chairs, where of an evening the Master and Mistress, and perhaps the occasional close friend, passed their leisure time in polite conversation, or playing a fashionable card game, away from less refined company. Master Benskin and his sons may have smoked tobacco in their clay pipes (sherds of which have been found within Upper Hall gardens: see above) within this room – or perhaps, deemed offensive to ladies, this pursuit was restricted to the dining room after meals. 

Clay tobacco pipe bowls of 17th – 18th century date, found within the garden of Upper Hall

Clay tobacco pipe bowls of 17th – 18th century date, found within the garden of Upper Hall

For more information on, and descriptions of, late 17th – 19th century parlour-dining rooms, see ‘Living in the Early Modern Past’; and the Geffrye Museum virtual display.

The light is fading fast, and soon the household must retire to bed. The constable is ushered out of the door (not permitted by law to continue his search after dark), but will return tomorrow to explore the floors above…

Next: ‘Onwards and Upwards: Exploring a 17th Century Home in South Derbyshire

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Notes

[i] This series of posts use the common definition of the Early Modern period in Britain as covering the mid 16th to mid 18th centuries; see the endnotes of ‘Expedition into the Past: Tales of a 17th Century Derbyshire Manor House’ for a brief discussion of the term, and of categorising historical periods.

[ii] For a brief discussion of the archaeological story-telling approach, see ‘Expedition into the Past‘.

[iii] For more information on the 17th century Petty Constable, see ‘The Taxman Cometh: Exploring a 17th Century South Derbyshire Home‘.

[iv] In order to retain the privacy of the occupants of this house, the full address of Upper Hall is withheld.

[v] Samuel Beighton is named as the constable responsible for assessing the in the Hearth Tax returns (see an online transcription of the 1662 Hearth Tax return for the village). For more information on the Hearth Tax, see Hearth Tax Online.

[vi] Philip Heath, ‘Farmhouses and Cottages, Derbyshire’, Derbyshire Archaeological Society Talk, 20 March 2014.

[vii]  The hearth pit was a common feature during this period, although fitted carpet now covers the floor within this building; it is at this stage therefore uncertain whether this fireplace has this feature (ibid.).

[viii] For example, see Janet Spavold and Sue Brown (2005) Ticknall Pots & Potters from the Late Fifteenth Century to 1888.

[ix] This character is fictional, introduced in order to consider the role of servants at this time.

[x] With thanks to the owner of the property for highlighting the presence of Measham bricks.

[xi] See e.g. Robin Lucas (1997) ‘The Tax on Bricks and Tiles, 1784-1850: its Application to the Country at large and, in particular, to the County of Norfolk’, Construction History Vol. 13, pp. 29-55.

[xii] Richard Holmes (2013) ‘The American War of Independence: The Rebels and the Redcoats’, BBC History Website, Accessed 9 November 2014.

[xiii] Lucas, op. cit..

[xiv] Ibid..

[xv] See Spavold & Brown, op. cit..

The Taxman Cometh: Exploring a 17th Century South Derbyshire Home

Introduction

This is the first ‘archaeological story’ in a series of posts that explore everyday life in the 17th century through an early modern manor house in South Derbyshire:[i] ‘Upper Hall’ – a private home, recently visited by the author.[ii] We take an imaginary tour around the dwelling in 1662, by following (unseen) a visitor to this building: Samuel Beighton, the petty constable.[iii] Written sources indicate the responsibility of this person for assessing the Hearth Tax in this year.[iv] Though fictitious, archaeological and other historical evidence informs the tale.[v]

Brief discussion of this approach, background information and on Hearth Tax, is outlined within the previous post ‘Expedition into the Past: Tales of a 17th Century Derbyshire Manor House’. The preceding post ‘From Yeoman to Gentleman: Peopling a 17th Century South Derbyshire Manor House’ investigates the early residents of the house, using written evidence to produce ‘family histories’, and to consider social relationships between and within the families that occupied the Hall, and the wider community. An earlier post, ‘Living in the Early Modern Past: the 17th Century Home’, provides a backdrop for this series, outlining the domestic environment and material culture at this time for the typical yeoman household.

In this post, we follow Samuel as he approaches Upper Hall, and considers the impressive façade.

Location, Location, Location…

It is Michaelmas, in the 13th year of the reign of Charles II (were it not for the Puritan Purge of the Commonwealth) – September 1662. Those whose property he had hitherto protected from ne’r-do-wells had soon come to scorn Samuel Beighton: he now aroused enmity from poachers and landowners alike. The Hearth Tax[vi] (or Chimney Tax, as some call it) has not proved a popular innovation, devised (it is said) to sustain the recently restored monarch in his indolence and debauchery.[vii]

Parish Constable in Elizabethan Jacobean

The Elizabethan – Jacobean Petty Constable (Source)

Undoubtedly, it is only proper that the constable should search the humble hovels in which he suspects are concealed stolen goods (for the theft of game and sheep rightly deserves stiff punishment – the branding that many receive is far too lenient).[viii] But the very notion that Beighton is now empowered to intrude within the homes of reputable families – who by their good grace elected the man to his office – is contemptible. Surely, any fool can determine the charge by counting the number of chimneys that rise above the rooftops. (Those with sham pots deserve to pay for their pretensions.) Yet he can compromise the liberty of honest men, and encroach upon private life in search of hearths – despicable. Moreover, this petty constable puts the honour of gentlemen to the test, whose word regarding the number of hearths within their own home is no longer considered adequate – an intolerable state of affairs.

Having collected his documents from the parish chest,[ix] Samuel Beighton starts out on his route around the village, to check Hearth Tax assessments submitted by local residents.

St Peter's Parish Chest

Parish chest, St Peter’s Church, Hartshorne, Derbyshire (©Grassroots Heritage 2014)[x]

He is heading for the manor house, which he can see a short distance away. Two chimney-stacks rise from the roof (which is fashionably – and expensively – tiled, and not thatched, as a common dwelling); the seven pots in all surely indicate the provision of bedroom fireplaces: such extravagance for a yeoman farmer (Samuel cannot help but wonder at the decadence he might encounter within the dwelling). He suspects that all the information he really needs to know is now before him, but the opportunity – nay, duty – to inspect this dwelling, in order to ascertain the accuracy of Master Benskin’s assessment, compels him to continue.

Nonetheless, he must tread carefully. He only retains this responsible and respectable position thanks to their acknowledgement of his merits, and meeting the requirements (he scorned the assertion that this noble office was generally given to the “poorest and weaker sort“, and was reluctant to admit that he only came to office because it was his turn, considering where he lived). Sometimes he considered paying a deputy his £3 to fulfil his tasks as a constable – this unpaid position was often more trouble than the authority it conveyed. However, at other times (perhaps such as this) he might consider serving beyond the obligatory year – after all, few could command the authority conferred by the post as he did (and he would receive 2d. in every £1 collected).

Will the family at the manor house take kindly to such an intrusion? He knows of the Benskin’s prosperity – and of their litigious reputation, in trying to hold on to their wealth. The constable finds this new ‘middling sort’ often less amenable than the landed gentry – though they too often express indignation at such government interference; the tugging of private tax collectors at their already stretched purse strings is even more distasteful to these purveyors of taste.

The constable walks down the hill, soon meeting the main thoroughfare. He must quickly step back to avoid a laden cart, the sneer upon its driver’s face suggesting to Mr Beighton a deliberate act of malice. Be-splattered by mud from the wheels on the waterlogged track, he gains some comfort from the obstacle that the cart would meet further down the road: a shepherd, and the straggling remains of his flock (likely returning from the beast sale), visible a moment ago from his vantage point on higher ground.

Abandoning his attempt to brush away the dirt from his woollen knee breeches, the constable resumes his journey. As he walks, Samuel considers the name of Upper Hall. It is no ordinary farmhouse (and positively no cottage), to be sure, but the principal residence of one of the two manors that make up the village. He contemplates the grandeur of the house and, with wry amusement, notes that, though built on a far smaller scale, it yet imitates the houses of the gentry. He looks forward to taking a closer look.

Other carts pass by before he reaches his destination – despite the short distance of his walk. The route is busy, used to carry bricks between nearby Measham and burgeoning townships beyond, and from Swadlincote and Ticknall potteries to various markets (the clattering carts suggesting that not all of their contents will be delivered intact).

Samuel soon arrives at the gate to the Hall; before him are several stone steps leading to the main entrance, elevate above the road. With not a little trepidation, he ascends the path to the front door.

Outside Upper Hall

Upper Hall: rear elevation (©Grassroots Heritage 2014)[xi]

Constable Beighton knocks with the tip of his staff upon the door (both in announcing the official nature of his call, and in anticipating that his knuckles would make little sound upon the thick oak). As he awaits an answer, he steps back slightly to take in this impressive dwelling, and casually glances around to take it in.

The timber box frame – the skeleton of the house – is made of good straight oaken beams (of the sort coveted, and he expects paid for dearly, by the Navy for its ships). The frame rests upon several courses of large stone blocks (this ‘half-timbered‘ form of construction still fashionable for the homes of the well-to-do yeoman: see the previous post on 17th century housing, which also discusses social terms). The lime-washed plastered panels of ‘wattle and daub‘ that fill the spaces between the beams reflect the bright sunlight.[xii]

The gabled wing to the right brings a gentrified air to the building, which together with the extravagantly glazed windows (and the numerous chimneys that remain within his thoughts), proclaim the modernity of this comfortable house. He again reflects upon how tall this house is when compared to nearby low cottages: not one but two storeys, with the slope of the roof suggesting further accommodation in the loft (for he sees no small holes or narrow windows to suggest that the top floor is used to store cheese or doves). Built above the level of the road, the provision of generous cellars is also to be expected.

Beighton hears sounds from within, as (he suspects) someone is coming to answer his knock. Before they reach the door, he considers who might greet him. He recalls the family pious, prim, and proud in all their finery in their prominent pews in the church, and considers what grand garb he might encounter today. But he expects that one of the servants shall first be sent to attend to him, and that he shall only meet Master Johannes or Mistress Maria if and when necessary.

Porchporch graffiti

Graffiti, front porch (©Grassroots Heritage 2014)

As the servant opens the front door, Beighton peers around the girl into the porch. (What he cannot know is that, seven years hence, some resident – or perhaps a visitor idly waiting for attendance – would leave their mark on the wall to the left: ‘W. A. 1669’, the culprit   exhibiting some degree of literacy, as well as a sense of their own importance, despite – or perhaps because – these grand surroundings.)

The porch is generously sized, and provides an impression of what might be seen beyond. The servant reluctantly bids Samuel to follow her into the building, indignant on behalf of the Master and Mistress…

Constable Beighton begins his search of the house in the following post ‘In at the Ground Floor: Exploring a 17th Century Home in South Derbyshire: ’.

Notes

[i] Within British archaeology, the Early Modern period is typically seen as beginning in the mid 16th century, and ending in the mid – late 18th century. For a fuller discussion see the previous post the preceding post ‘Expedition into the Past: Tales of a 17th Century Derbyshire Manor House’.

[ii] For information on the circumstances of access to the property, see ‘Expedition into the Past’ (op. cit.). The full address of this property is withheld in order to retain the occupant’s privacy.

[iii] For background information on the petty constable, see E. Trotter (ed.) 1980 Seventeenth Century Life in the Country Parish, p. 83 ff.; also see William Edward Tate (1969: 3rd Ed.) The Parish Chest: A Study of the Records of Parochial Administration in England, pp. 176-87.

[iv] For information on the Hearth Tax, see Hearth Tax Online.

[v] For more information on the ‘story-telling’ approach, see ‘Expedition into the Past’ (op. cit.). Italicised text is used to denote discussion of later and features, and to present background information, outside the main narrative.

[vi] For Hearth Tax records see the National Archives online catalogue.

[vii] See Tim Harris (2005) ‘Charles II: The Reality Behind the Merry Monarchy’, History Today Vol. 55. Iss. 6.

[viii] See note iii..

[ix] For information on the contents and historical value of the parish chest, a classic text Tate (op cit.).

[x] For more information on the photographs of Upper Hall, see ‘Expedition into the Past’. All images of the building and associated artefacts may not be reproduced without the express permission of the LIP project and property owners.

[xi] The front of the property is not illustrated in order to retain the privacy of the occupants.

[xii] Wattle and daub was frequently composed of woven rods of the flexible hazel, covered with clay containing binding material, such as horsehair, straw, and dung. Though most commonly off-white in colour, organic pigments such as ochre (to give a buff hue), or iron oxide (to give an earthy red hue), were sometimes added to lime-wash to tint the finish.

Household Tales: Home Life in a 17th Century Derbyshire Manor House

Home Life in the 17th century posts: Introduction

Where, When and Why

This introductory post is the first in a series that discusses home life during the 17th century, through standing buildings and contemporaneous domestic material culture (some of which archaeological excavations have uncovered, and some of which survive in situ in houses that are still standing), considering a range of written evidence alongside material sources. This series was inspired by a recent visit to an early 17th century private home (‘Upper Hall’), built in the Swadlincote area during the 1620s to house a prosperous farming family.[i]

The unusual level of preservation of Upper Hall, with many surviving historic features (most likely due to the presence of tenants limiting 20th century modernisations), makes this building a particularly interesting topic for investigation. Furthermore, the current owners are clearly sympathetic to the historical significance of the building, and have sourced fixtures, fittings, and furnishings compatible with the period of construction, and with modifications made in the 18th and 19th centuries. Though a comfortable living home today, this attention to detail brings alive the history of the dwelling, capturing aspects of the domestic material world for the well-to-do householder in the Early Modern period.[ii]

The primary aim of writing this series is to disseminate information on this property. Through viewing the interior, much might be learnt about domestic life; the residents not only went to the trouble of taking us around their home and pointing out (and explaining) historic features, but also of showing us the artefacts that they had found in the garden, sharing a wealth of knowledge during our visit. They have very kindly granted for LIPCAP consent to display photographs taken during the visit on our website.

This visit (and the writing of these posts) provided a useful opportunity to revise knowledge of early modern domestic contexts,[iii] which when considered alongside other bodies of evidence – such as burials and mortuary memorials of this period – potentially enables a more rounded consideration of life in the early modern past.[iv]

What and How

As research into the property developed, the wealth of readily available relevant sources soon became apparent: family histories, Hearth Tax returns,[v] and records relating to several chancery cases, suggested the possibility of going beyond basic analyses and historical contextualisation of material evidence. The content of easily accessible written evidence opened up the possibility of attempting a form of detailed interpretation that, though less frequently adopted within British archaeology than by archaeologists in North America and Australia, holds the potential to provide a perspective on the past in a format that might be more meaningful than is usual.

Posts describing the property will adopt an ‘archaeological story-telling’ approach – an unconventional, but well-established, genre that brings the material culture of the past back to life through imaginative rendering of historical contexts.[vi] The resultant ‘tales’ differ from historical fiction in both method and intent, presenting detailed, accurate archaeological and written evidence (usually incorporating primary research) within a fictitious narrative. This process aims to interpret sources in a way that might capture the historical imagination of a wider audience than are usually attracted to academic texts (though an academic audience is not excluded). Though set in the mid 17th century, the stories will at times jump forward to later periods, in order to consider features of historic interest that date to after this time.

This particular endeavour represents only the early stages of research: time and financial constraints, restricted mobility, and limited access to resources, have not permitted examination of previous archaeological reports, which the author hopes to achieve in the future. After further research (and taking into consideration any feedback that readers might provide), this series of posts will most likely be modified, and may be developed within a collection of similar articles addressing a range of historical domestic contexts (hopefully including sites of particular interest encountered through LIPCAP fieldwork). For the time being, these narratives incorporate preliminary evidence, as seen during the visit to the property; information provided by the occupants; data within the Historic Environment Records;[vii] information from reports outlining archaeological investigations carried out within the immediate vicinity of the building;[viii] and that derived from independent investigations into family, local, regional, and wider histories.[ix]

Posts will use the photographs of interior historic features taken during our tour of the house,[x] with interpretations drawing upon what remains of the early fabric of this building, and the material culture used within comparable housing (i.e. dwellings in this area, and elsewhere of similar and lower status). This approach enables the consideration of everyday domestic life and environment during the early phases of occupation within this dwelling, although in a less detailed way than might be achieved by a more detailed archaeological standing building investigation. Although it considers buildings and other material from outside the East Midlands (including artefacts manufactured in Britain but discovered through excavations in former British colonies), the series concentrates upon Derbyshire – in particular, the southern districts of the county. Being rich in early modern buildings, and incorporating LIPCAP study areas, this area is of special interest to the Living in the Past Community Archaeology Project.

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For those who might wish to know a little more about housing and household material culture in the 17th century, a supplementary post ‘Living in the Early Modern Past: the 17th Century Home’ considers the typical artisan house, outlining domestic life for the family of the less wealthy ‘yeoman’.[xi] This may be used as a comparison for the more affluent home we are about to visit, highlighting the high status of those who lived within Upper Hall, and the relative splendour of their home environment. This supplement also considers the influence of late medieval halls upon the dwellings of yeomen, and the development of different social categories, in the 17th century. Where descriptions of the interiors, objects, culture, and society within the narrative posts do not go into detail, readers may refer to the supplementary and other posts for further information.

Though what follows represents only preliminary work (as it has not yet been possible for the author to obtain copies of previous publications), it lays out the initial stages of multi-disciplinary historical research that holds potential to go beyond descriptions of domestic material culture and environment, and the practicalities of home life, in the early modern period. Feedback from readers on the ‘story-telling’ method (or other issues) will be welcome, so that the process might be refined, although it may not be possible to respond individually to comments.

The next section of this post will provide an outline of the series, should readers have an interest in any particular aspect of the topic.

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An Expedition into the Past: The Upper Hall Series

Following on from this post, ‘Living in the Early Modern Past: the 17th Century Home’, considers housing for those categorised at the time as ‘yeoman’ – the social group to which the person who built Upper Hall attested as belonging.[xii] During and after the 17th century, the ‘middling sort’ essentially developed from this group:[xiii] artisans, trades-people, and small holders, with means beyond those of the poor husbandmen, but not as high status (nor often as wealthy) as the landed gentry.[xiv] This expanding group both benefited financially and enhanced their own comfort (and increasingly social position), through recent and continuing growth in trade and commerce – concomitant consumerism, providing a broader range of household material culture, with more opportunities to emulate that of wealthier and higher status homes.

This post acts as a counterpoint to those describing the Hall, and illustrates and discusses domestic material culture found in less substantial homes, through to more high status households.

From Yeoman to Gentleman: ‘Peopling’ a 17th Century South Derbyshire Manor House

The third post examines family and social relationships within and beyond the village, considering inheritance, including (through numerous chancery court records) disputes over land ownership, and perhaps possession of the Hall. Although the latter concerns ostensibly tedious and complex legal disputes, by studying this material alongside archaeological evidence and other historical sources, we may ultimately learn much about everyday life and death in the past. Such information holds the potential to elucidate the mutability of family ties and social bonds at this time: family and community cooperation and conflict emerge from this body of evidence. It is therefore a useful source with regard to attitudes towards group identities and individuality, the acquisition and transference of ‘goods’ (and perhaps the growing power of consumerism), and processes by which social status is constructed and transformed during this transitional period.

The Taxman Cometh: Exploring a 17th Century South Derbyshire Home

The fourth Upper Hall post begins the archaeological story-telling posts, using documentary sources to contextualise the material evidence encountered at Upper Hall. We follow the petty constable Samuel Beighton as he approaches the manor house in 1662 in order to carry out checks for the first Hearth Tax.[xv] His journey provides opportunities not only to consider the appearance of house, but also the social and cultural environment of the day.

In this first story, Samuel travels from the nearby church and along the main road of the village, encountering traffic en route to market. When he arrives at the property Samuel knocks at the front door and looks at the outside of the building, reflecting upon the status of the resident family – the Benskins, and comparing this grand house to neighbouring buildings.

In at the Ground Floor: exploring a 17th Century Home in South Derbyshire

In this second archaeological narrative, we follow Samuel around the ground floor and cellars of Upper Hall, during his visit to determine whether the Master of the house, John Benskin, has been honest in his tax return. This provides constable Beighton with an opportunity to see how those with good fortune live: he sees servants about their daily tasks, and gazes upon the decor and fine things that fill the manor house, as he is shown each room. But with dusk approaching, Samuel must leave to return another day…

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As Christmas draws near, and time must be applied to other LIPCAP tasks (including a second 1930s House Xmas Open Day – see what happened last year here), there will be a break in Upper Hall series. If sufficient interest has been shown in the above posts, and if other commitments permit, the series will continue in the New Year with:

Onwards and Upwards: exploring a 17th Century Home in South Derbyshire

Out back: exploring a 17th Century Home in South Derbyshire

The third story (‘Onwards and Upwards’) will follow Samuel Beighton when he returns to Upper Hall in order to investigate the bedrooms of the first floor, and attic rooms, in order to search out hearths that Master Benskin might be trying to conceal so to avoid paying the twice-yearly tax on these features.

The final archaeological story (‘Out back’) examines the back of the house and outbuildings, in search of further hearths. As in the other stories, we travel forward in time to explore later buildings, such as the washhouse and privy.

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We hope that you enjoy these posts – please let us know if you do, or if you have any thoughts on how they might be improved.

 In the mean time, sign up for the blog email list, to receive notifications of new articles – including extracts from a Victorian book on folklore in Derbyshire, which shall this time look at Christmas customs, beliefs, and rituals.

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Notes

[i] In order to retain the privacy of the modern occupants, the full address is withheld. Should this information be sought for genuine research purposes, please contact the project (using the website form), so that the author might pass on enquiries to the residents (who are, however, under no obligation to release this information).

[ii] There are various definitions for the term ‘Early Modern’ within and between the different fields of study concerned with historic buildings and domestic material culture. Archaeological studies in Britain tend to see the Early Modern period as beginning at the start of the post-medieval era (which itself is accorded different points in the late 15th – mid 16th centuries). The termination of the Early Modern era is usually seen as coinciding with the widespread effects of the ‘Industrial Revolution‘, i.e., broadly the late 18th century. Here, the beginning of the post-medieval period, as defined by English Heritage and Historic Environment curators, i.e. AD 1540, will be adopted as a very general starting point for the Early Modern era. However, it must be made clear that this historical period, as with others, has been defined by historians for analytical purposes, and does not necessarily reflect the way that people at the time saw themselves as situated within an era of specific cultural change or continuity.

[iii] During undergraduate studies (long, long ago…) the author was given the opportunity to conduct a standing building investigation of a 17th century cottage in Lincolnshire, which both provided grounding in detailed archaeological building surveys, and sparked an interest in early modern vernacular housing (for more background information, see note iii, ‘Living in the Early Modern Past: the 17th Century Home’)

[iv] Photos taken by the author of memorials within several churchyards in and around Derby are accessible here.

[v] For more information on the Hearth Tax, see Hearth Tax Online – the website of the Centre for Hearth Tax Studies at the University of Roehampton. For hearth tax records, see the National Archives online catalogue.

[vi] The ‘story-telling’ approach is applied and considered within a range of works (e.g. Gibb, James G. 2000 ‘Imaginary, But by No Means Unimaginable: Storytelling, Science, and Historical Archaeology’, Historical Archaeology 34(2), pp.1-6; Beaudry, Mary C. 2005 ‘Stories That Matter: Material Lives in 19th Century Lowell and Boston, Massachusetts’, Post-Medieval Archaeology, Monograph 3, pp.1-20). This method presents the facts uncovered through the study of historical material remains within a narrative framework intended to convey the social and cultural environment to the modern reader; the author has found such an approach most effective when teaching archaeology in adult education, and to the general public.

[vii] HER online databases are available here. In order to retain privacy, this information is not cited in detail here, due to its inclusion of the address.

[viii]watching brief consists of the observation by archaeologists of construction work within historically sensitive areas, to see what historical information might be revealed through excavations, and as a precaution against damage to any hitherto unknown buried remains.

Various archaeological reports are freely available on the ‘grey literature’ (unpublished reports) section of the  Archaeological Data Service (ADS) website, here. In order to retain the privacy of the current occupants, this information is not cited in detail here, due to its inclusion of the address.

[ix] Sources includes parish records and other material associated with the nearby parish church; brief investigation of local industries, particularly ceramics; contemporaneous taxation reports; family history information obtained from public sources, and extended through independent research, e.g. using parish and ecclesiastical records, and documents such as wills, apprenticeship records, and chancery court records, obtained from the National Archives, and other sources. Several unpublished archaeological reports have been completed on the property: should the opportunity subsequently arise to access these documents, this post may be updated with additional information, or a new update post published.

[x] The images of Upper Hall that illustrate the narrative of this series were taken during an open day in Autumn 2014, preventing use of tripod, scale and technical photographic techniques, and precluding the production of a representative archaeological record (in order to avoid obstructing other visitors and residents, and with limited time). Photographs are displayed on this website with the kind permission of the residents of this property; in attempting to avoid the exhibition of personal belongings, some areas, or sections of rooms, were not photographed. All images of the building and associated artefacts are ©LIPCAP, and may not be reproduced without the express permission of the LIP project and property owners.

[xi] Those categorised, and self-identifying, as ‘yeoman’ belonged to a broad social group that ranged from the tenant farmer of modest means, to the better-off, land-owning, farmer. However, in comparison to terms previously used to denote social status (e.g. see here for the 16th century) those used in the 17th century (such as within wills and inventories) are less easily defined. The changing nature of commerce, economy, and social organisation at this time may have resulted in greater ambiguity surrounding the terms ‘yeoman’ and ‘husbandman’, as opportunities to accumulate capital beyond landownership expanded. For example, potters of the late 17th century might be defined as yeomen, presumably due to their independent social position and accumulation of wealth through trade (e.g. see Lorna Weatherill 1971 The Pottery Trade and North Staffordshire, 1660-1760, p 148). However, in representing landownership (the ‘yeoman’ being of the higher status, as a freeholder), the term yeoman appear to remain significant well into the 19th century.

[xii] See note xi.

[xiii] Freely accessible research on the development of the ‘middling sort’ includes ‘The Search For The ‘Middle Sort’ of People’ In England, 1600–1800‘, by H R French (2000); and

in Google Books, sections of Margaret R. Hunt’s 1996 The Middling Sort: Commerce, Gender, and the Family in England, 1680-1780.

[xiv] Husbandmen were typically small-scale tenant farmers, and farm hands, i.e. of lower status, and less well off, than the yeoman. The ‘gentry’ – ‘gentlemen’ – often owned large areas of land, and / or held professional positions (e.g. lawyers, doctors, and some clergy).

[xv] For information on the petty constable, see E. Trotter (ed.) 1980 Seventeenth Century Life in the Country Parish, p. 83 ff..