Thursday, 13 September 2012

Tretower Court

Tretower Court, near Crickhowell, Wales, is a hidden gem! This fortified house has a beautiful peaceful rural setting, and the atmosphere of the house itself is wonderful.  Cadw has dressed some of the rooms to show how they might have looked in 1485, so here are some glimpses and explanations.

The kitchen has a bread oven (in the wall behind the ladder), and a large fireplace for cooking.  Here, meat would be spit roasted (in front of, not over, the fire) and some poor boy would sit near the fire turning the pit for hours on end, making sure the meat cooked evenly.  One side of his face and body would be hot and red, the other cold!  At least he could drink unlimited ale while he was turning the spit!

Food was prepared on the kitchen table; in summer the (male) cooks would be busy not only cooking the daily meals but also preserving food ready for the winter.  Hams would be salted and hung, ells caught and smoked, and fruit and vegetables brined and pickled, jams and jellies and cheeses made. Long hours and hard work through the season of fruitfulness, methinks. But, when you can't just pop to the supermarket, you need to plan how to ensure the household has enough to eat all year round.

Just off the kitchen is the buttery, presided over by the Butler, who was responsible for the making and purchasing all the drinks for the household.  The buttery was so called as it was full of Butts, which we usually call barrels these days. Fine wine was imported from Europe in large barrels bound with iron, cider was made from the apples in the orchard, and beer and ale were made daily.  The ale - a very weak beer, was made and drunk by almost everybody, as the brewing process killed all the micro-organisms in the water and made it safe to drink. Milk was too precious to drink, it was needed for butter and cheese making, but it was also considered only to be fit for infants and the elderly.  

Just off the other side of the kitchen is the pantry, presided over by the Panter or Pantler.  This was where dry necessities were made - bread, candles, cheese & butter.

Between the kitchen, pantry & buttery and the Hall is the servery.  Prepared food was brought here and laid onto the tables, ready for the serving staff to take through to the tables in the Hall. Once the food had been taken out, the tables would have been used for the kitchen and other servants to eat their meals. The steward sat at the red chair and writing slope, and watched all the foodstuffs coming into the Court through the window, and all the cooked food coming form the kitchen to be served.  The steward was responsible for the provision of all food and drink for everybody who lived here, and the cook, butler and pantler reported directly to him. The steward also kept all the accounts relating to the provisions.

You can see a selection of food on the table, waiting to be taken into the hall - a roast suckling pig, a boiled calf's head, a roast duck, and a poached pike. All destined for the top table, methinks!

This piece of furniture, in the servery,  is called the towel.  It is where towels, crockery and 'plate' were stored when not being used.

One of the lower tables in the Hall, fully set and waiting for diners.  The table is laid with plain linen tablecloth and serviettes, wood trenchers, bowls, cups and spoons, and earthenware bowls of pease pottage. There are jugs of wine and ale, and brown bread loaves. Ten people could eat at this table, seated on the benches. When not being used for serving food, these trestle tables would be dismantled and stored in a nearby passage, and the benches moved to the sides of the Hall.

I may post pictures of the Hall decoration, and the top table, on another day.  I hope you enjoyed your virtual visit - which is not a patch on the real thing.  You need to go there yourself,  to smell the garden herbs, and kitchen spices, and to soak up the atmosphere.

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