Nope, I didn’t spell that wrong and you have seen it right.
In the 15th century ‘carpenters’ where known as ‘carpenders’. We
actually speak and write a little differently from the modern language you know,
but that’s for a whole different page and discussion. Let’s get back to Pete.
Firstly, to become an accomplished carpenter, like Pete, you
need to know the different types of wood. Pete is an expert at this, he can
spot a sycamore, from a beech, oak, birch or ash at 50 paces. Knowing the wood
is important and each wood behaves in a very different and unique way. When you
start to carve away at the wood you need to understand the grain and the
strength of the wood. Some woods are soft and easy to manipulate, whilst others
are harder and the piece takes longer to achieve. However, these tend to be the
pieces that last throughout history.
Pete has made from scratch and by hand most of the furniture
you see around the camp. He has carved stunning arches, picturesque caskets and
cabinets. He made, carved, painted benches, tables and so much more.
Watching Pete work is cathartic. He makes it look simple and
easy, we often joke about counting his fingers as he swiftly and nimbly chops
away with his axes and chisels. He can see a beautiful finished piece of
furniture, box or chair out of, what looks to me, like an ordinary chunk of
wood ready for the fire.
Carpenters, or indeed carpenders are vital in the 15th
century. Most of what we sleep on, when not sleeping on the floor, what we eat
on, or off, comes from wood. Rich lords and nobles want only the most exquisite
pieces to adorn their homes and this often starts with a lovely carved solid
oak door. There is always more work for Pete than there is time for. As a
result, he’s often busy from sunrise to sunset. Please take some time to stop
and watch Pete, he will inspire you and he is always more than happy to talk to
you about everything 15th century. His knowledge in this period of
time is amazing. When our captain isn’t making a masterpiece from firewood he’s
also creating and making bread ovens and helping our Master at arms train the
young ones ready for their first battle.
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Blacksmiths are highly regarded in the 15th
century. They play a vital role in any village and especially during the ‘War
of the Roses’ period. The blacksmith would have endless jobs to do, often waking
early to light the forge and working the whole day long. Keeping the forge lit
at an incredibly high temperature is no easy job and often takes two people working
non-stop to pump the bellows. We have large bellows that use a long wooden pole
to ensure maximum efficiency. Its hot and physical work you don’t really want
to exert more energy than you need to. To give you some idea of the heat, we
can set a large cauldron of water on the forge to boil and it will take less
than a few minutes, certainly a lot less time than a modern kettle or saucepan
on a stove.
Paul uses rods of steel that he heats up in the forge,
usually in the middle where the fire is at its hottest. He keeps them there a
few moments until they glow red. He makes this look so easy but leaving them
there too long and the steel will be useless. Not long enough and it will
shatter. Once out of the heat Paul has a short time to bend, hammer, mould,
twist and turn before having to return it to the heat. Paul’s understanding of just what can be
achieved is boundless. He creates the most stunning examples of steel work to
be seen, please feel free to take a look at one of the events.
During times of battle Paul is commissioned by our lord, Walter Devereux, to make arrow heads and mend armour. Paul can make a long
bodkin very quickly and within 5 minutes he has one made fully, another one in
the heat and a third beginning to take shape. We have many examples of this
process and we would be delighted to demonstrate and talk you through the
process. Mending the armour after a lucky, or unlucky, scrape takes quite a lot
of Pauls time. The rivets that are used to hold all the pieces in place and
allow movement are really quite fiddly.
One thing a mobile blacksmith wouldn’t have been able to do
would be to make swords. These require a much bigger forge for starters. The
process of making a fine reliable blade would take months of laminating (adding
layers of steel), heating, hammering, smoothing and so on. Noble men and
knights are judged by the design, make and condition of their swords, so you’d
want some care and attention given to the blade, you certainly wouldn’t want it
to break on its first outing. Often
swords were named, what name might you give to a sword if you had one?
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Mike uses a pole lathe to produce rounded items in wood, making him ‘the turner’. Wood that has been turned can be made into anything from spindles, candlesticks, spurtles to bowls and plates.
To turn the wood the wood turner needs, first of all, to fashion the pole lathe. The Lathe is used to secure a piece of wood, called a blank between two pins. A cord is wrapped around the wood, down to a treadle and up a springy pole. Pressing down on the treadle pulls on the cord and rotates the wood. Mike then carefully and skilfully uses sharp chisels to create the object needed.
This type of pole lathe has been around for a long time. Earliest evidence of pole lathes have been found in Ancient Egypt. The lathes were very popular with the Vikings and the design doesn’t seemed to have changed a great deal until Leonardo Da Vinci’s design of the treadle lathe in the late 15th century.
15th century wood turners had to be very organised. Wood is a difficult resource to get right. Its easy to find, especially in the 15th century, but not as easy to store and turn. The wood used is usually freshly felled and unseasoned, in other words straight from the tree. Although that sounds great, it smells divine, it splits and warps. The wood turner would usually need to dry the wood out slowly throughout a number of months, turning and carving a little each month. On warm days the wood dries very quickly and usually splits whilst being turned, after 2 or 3 hours of turning and expertly carving in the 15th century, that would have been a costly thing to happen. One thing woodturners are not and that’s a bodger. Please don’t call our woodturner a bodger, he gets grumpy. These are totally different breeds of wood workers. Mike will happily demonstrate and show you all you need to know about wood turning in the 15th century.
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Becky will happily show you and discuss all things
calligraphy and the slightly more impressive pyrography. Pyrography, as its
name suggests is calligraphy with fire. She starts by placing into a fire,
usually the forge, what looks like a medieval soldering iron. Once heated and
glowing an impressive red she then scorches the wood or leather with the heated
The pyrography dates all the way back to Ancient Greece,
indeed this is where it gets its name from. Pyro meaning fire. Pyrographing
your belongings is similar to labelling your things now and the reasons are
very much the same. Sometimes it is for status and others, just so they don’t
get lost. As a travelling band of craftsmen and women, following the armies of
the Plantagenet kings, we travel as light as we can. In other words, if you
only have one bowl to eat from, you don’t really want to get it lost.
We are often asked about the jobs of women and would they
have written, let alone burnt words. Well, where there is a woman there is a
way. I believe that women just haven’t been included in the texts about history
the same way as the men have. Certainly, bones of ancient woman have been found
to contain inks and semi-precious elements in the plaque of their teeth,
suggesting that they chewed the quill or brush they used to write with.
Becky is quite happy to talk to you about many things 15th
century, some nice and some not so nice. She will demonstrate how pyrography
works and the skills needed to burn wood smoothly and effectively. If the iron
is too hot the marks will be blotchy, too cold and no mark is left. Even the
same piece of wood needs different heats and attention as you find hard
sections, knots and tough grain. All of these are posed to leave large burnt
holes should you not expect them. There are many examples of pyrographed pieces
on the camp, included the children’s game box.
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If you have in your mind the idea of the spinning wheel from
Sleeping Beauty or Rumpelstiltskin then you can’t be far wrong. Spinning wool
into a yarn conjures up many a romantic vision from tales of old. Everything that you see in the 15th
century has been made by hand, but not just the finished product all the pieces
in between. Helen is an accomplished spinner and this takes years of practise.
She makes it look effortless and yet there is a rhythmical beauty to timing and
the feeding of the yarn on to the large wheel and spindle.
To even get it ready for the wheel Helen begins her process elsewhere.
Firstly, she takes a short fleece, by this we mean wool from a sheep or similar
animal. She sorts the fleece according to its best use. Some will become the
yarn and other will be used as rags, all be it stinky ones. She then needs to
scour it in order to remove the lanolin, this is a waxy substance that comes
from the sweat glands of wool-bearing animals. That’s a little horrid I know, but
even that can be used elsewhere. Like most things in the 15th
century there is very little waste and the most is made or re-used from
everything that we do.
After the lanolin is removed, Helen then carefully combs or
‘cards’ it ready for spinning. Carding gives the yarn a fluffy, hairy
appearance, whereas combing produces a smooth worsted yarn. Worsted yarn is an
easier yarn to use and is popular in the 15th century. Helen spins
wool in a variety of ways, for convenience she may choose a drop spindle as
these are easier to take and carry from place to place. If however, the Ferrers
Household are stationed for some time she prefers to use her large spinning
wheel. This is so much quicker and effective. It’s also a great form of
exercise as she walks back and forth next to the wheel to drive the spindle.
Helen’s knowledge of fleeces, yarns and spinning
are second to none. She always welcomes help spinning that huge wheel and in
return she’ll answer as many questions as she can.
Master At Arms
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Master At Arms
The first question you might want to ask Tony is ‘just what
is a Master at Arms’? No, it's not that Tony has many arms, although that is
always a bonus. Tony is a professional man at arms, A knight or esquire from the lesser nobility Tony has learned his craft in service as a man at arms on the battlefield, He is skilled with almost every fighting weapon and like many others in our company we are glad he is on the Yorkist side and deployed to protect us.
The Master at Arms main duty is to train men, woman
and children in the art of combat. Children from the age of 8 are taught
archery and simple combat skills. Whilst the Lords sons receive additional training in the art of the sword. The Master of Arms is responsible for leading the men into battle taking the role of captain, ensuring the men under Lord Ferrers fight, stay alive and follow the tactic of the battle.
Sir Walter Deveraux, Lord Ferrers, commanded a detachment of spear men at the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 which led to this knighthood but most of the fighting men prefer the billhook to fight with, so Tony will train all of the men to fight as part of a bill block. The commands and skills needed to provide a force to be reckoned with are simple and easy to understand and each fighting man is drilled to listen for them on the battlefield. A bill is not a nice weapon and with the right training is extremely effective on the battlefield.
As the most experienced man on the battlefield, it falls to Tony to take command should Lord Ferrers be unable to. He is responsible for ensuring that all of the weapons and armour are in perfect condition and maintained for warfare.
A Master of Arms would have, under his direct command a body of men at arms, professional soldiers, fellow knights and esquires that form the households main fighting force, charged with defending the Lords holdings and person during times of peace and forming the front line of the Lords army in times of war.
The rules of chivalry are simple and are based on the
Christian values of decent behaviour. The first being that the men show bravery
in battle. When the battle is won that mercy is shown to the defeated
adversaries. To defend to the weak and show courtesy to women.
As an expert in all things deadly, Tony will be
happy to demonstrate weaponry, how to behave like a knight and to uphold
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Dave is a pewter caster, it’s a little like sorcery and
takes years of expert practise to get it right. Dave starts by making a mould
out of soapstone. The soapstone is carved into the desired shape needed to make
household liveries (badges and logos). These liveries are vital in the 15th
century and on the battlefield, as it helps identify friend, foe and the lord
you belong to.
Wanderers, and those on pilgrimages, would collect badges as
memorabilia as they travelled from town to town, the more badges you have the
wiser and travelled you are. Let’s face it, even the in 21st century
we still like a good story and storyteller.
Now for the magic, the pewter. Dave makes a fire, which
needs to be kept at a constant heat, without modern thermometers and heat
sources this is no mean feat. The temperature is important that even the
weather, wet or hot, can have a detrimental effect on the casting and finish.
Over this heat Dave warms a mixture of tin, antimony, copper and bismuth known
as pewter. Once heated to exactly the correct temperature he then skilfully
pours into the moulds. Some of which a minute and very intricate. The pewter is
then allowed to cool. Once this process is complete the mould is removed, and
the pewter badge revealed.
There are very few pewter casters that are able to use the
traditional methods. Dave would be more than happy to show you the moulds, demonstrate
the process and answer all the questions you have.
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Tony is one of two bow makers and professional fletchers in
the household. Bow makers, called ‘Bowyers’ would make the war bows, a famous
15th century weapon, from woods like yew. These are the strong woods
that enable the bow to be placed under tremendous pressure and tension. Bows
carry a poundage. The bigger the poundage, the pulling strength, the better and
more dangerous the bow. The archers on the field were formidable soldiers and
highly skilled. They would start being trained from the age of 8 and by
adulthood would have strongly developed arms, chests and backs.
The arrows used on the battlefield would have been
‘fletched’. This is the process given to adding the feathers to the arrow
shaft. This is a skill in itself as each feather is perfectly placed, angled
and cut for a desired effect. Each feather is glued in place using a 15th
century resin and a yarn is used to secure firmly in place. Arrows were made
and designed for different purposes, so a hunting arrow would look much
different to a battlefield arrow or those used for practise. The arrow heads,
made by our blacksmith, would be one difference, the feathers the other. Why
not ask Tony, Captain of our archers or the blacksmith to explain and
demonstrate in more detail.
There are many sayings that have arisen from archery in the
15th century. Sayings such as ‘keep it under your hat’ and ‘that’s a
cock up’. To find out more about these sayings, fletching, bow making be sure
to ask Tony or Ken at one of our events or follow this link for more