Tudor Monastery Farm 3/6 (Wednesday 27 November)



Historian Ruth Goodman and archaeologists Peter Ginn and Tom Pinfold turn the clock back over 500 years to run a farm at the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum in West Sussex exactly as it would have been in 1500, during the reign of the first Tudor King, Henry VII.

It’s the height of summer and the team are carefully monitoring cereal crops from which they’ll make the staple foods of everyday Tudor life: bread and ale. Records show that it wasn’t unusual for a person to consume a two-pound loaf and drink eight pints of weak ale a day.

At the farm, while Ruth makes ale for the workers, Peter is in the monastic bakehouse using flour ground in a Tudor-style windmill to make three types of bread: unleavened communion bread for use in church, fine white bread for the Abbot, and much coarser wholemeal bread for the monks. Another commodity required by the monasteries was wax, essential to make church candles, which Tom helps the monastic beekeepers to produce.

The programme concludes with Midsummer Eve - in 1500 a special and mystical time. Peter, Ruth and Tom celebrate by building a fire of bones, a bonfire, to ward off evil. Fire was also used to predict the farmer’s fortune. A cartwheel wrapped in straw was set alight and rolled down a hill and if it reached the bottom still burning, it was believed that a good harvest was ensured. If not, the crops, vital to producing the staple foods of bread and ale, would fail.

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