The heritage apple trees are still not producing much fruit and I’ve scoffed what there was. But the old Bramley in our garden has given us many fine apples. Last year, we stored a good number but the rats, not surprisingly, made a bee-line for them (surely you can’t have too many animals in a metaphor) and deprived us of several trays of good apples.
Al, being the hero that he is, has reinforced the apple store, which lives in one of the guard-rooms in the gatehouse, with wire mesh. This is of course not historically authentic! Vermin-proof food storage will have been a perennial problem, with grain stores raised on ‘mushrooms’, sealed pits and other strategies used with presumably varying degrees of success.
I almost filled the store with the best apples, as they should keep for longest. We still have a good number in the kitchen that need to be used up asap. Stewed apple for breakfast, crumble for supper…it’s a rough life.
The orchard continues to be a mystery to me…the apple and pear trees planted in 2018 are still not producing significant fruit. This year the pears flowered profusely, there were no late frosts, but nevertheless, the fruit that set all fell and we have no pears. The Wyken Pippin has a few apples, and the Hambledon Deux Ans produced one solitary apple – but it was large, much larger than its few fruit last year.
Reluctant to pick it before it ripened, I left it on the tree; the Hambledon is supposed to be a great keeper. But the other day, it had vanished off the bough, and I found it on the ground – fortunately intact. I therefore cut it up and ate it. Some of the flesh was already discolouring, so it clearly wasn’t a great apple and wouldn’t have kept any longer. But the flesh that was ok tasted nice; it’s been described as a cooking apple, and I found it a bit sweeter than a Bramley but quite tart.
What’s up with the trees? I don’t know. The mature eating apple tree in the orchard (variety unknown) has some excellent fruit but many small and malformed fruit. Is this a disease? Is it too warm in the winter? It’s not been a drought year, nor has it flooded, so it’s a mystery to me. I keep hoping that *next* year, the new pears and apples will start to produce.
Just around the corner from St Frideswide’s monastery in Oxford, a small group of dedicated nuns met in September of 923 to wonder at illuminated manuscripts and marvel at Rumwoldstow’s most precious holy relic, the skull of the infant saint’s own faithful duck companion, Ducky.
You remember the COVID-19 lockdowns in the UK, back in 2020 – 2021? No? I guess you’re too young…well I won’t bore you with oldster ramblings about pulling together or wartime spirit or any of that rubbish and anyway by the time you read this sadly there will be new and worse crises. But honestly at the time it was rather a big deal and ONE of my challenges was to try to help people buy starter re-enactment kit when everything was closed. There were lots of good online shops and retailers doing mail order, but there seemed to be few offerings of good Anglo-Saxon jewellery, especially from the later, Christian period. Everyone wants to be a Viking. There were a few nice little disc brooches available but the selection was seriously limited, compared with reproductions of Viking finds.
The original disc brooch is made of cast openwork silver, inlaid with niello, and with five riveted bosses as extra decoration. The openwork design with stylised creatures is in the late Anglo-Saxon ‘Trewhiddle’ style and is dated to 9th or early 10 century CE.
I include extracts from the curator’s comments below:
…part of an expanding group of 9th century early-medieval brooches that are broadly characterised by their openwork, cross based form, often decorated with Trewhiddle-style decoration enhanced with the use of niello.
There are currently 15 examples known to the author, 12 of which are silver, the remaining being gilt copper-alloy. Most take the form of an expanded-armed cross with second cross set at 45 degrees; the three brooches described here are the first examples where the crosses are instead formed of concave-sided lozenges.
This brooch hoard fits with the pattern of deposition seen in the corpus of Type 16 brooches. For example other hoards with multiple brooches of this type include the Galloway Hoard (National Museum Scotland), the South Norfolk Hoard (Norwich Castle Museum), and the Beeston Tor hoard (British Museum). These brooches are usually found in the east of England. However, these three, and an example from Nannerch, Wales (PAS LVPL-30A793), and the Galloway hoard further north, now create an interesting North West group, perhaps suggestive Viking activity.
Non-destructive X-ray fluorescence analysis of the surface of brooch 1 and one the fragments, indicated silver contents of approximately 94-97%, the rest being mostly copper, with traces of other elements.
I find the curator’s comment about the items being usually found in the East of England confusing, as the style is named for a hoard from Trewhiddle in Cornwall which is as West as it gets in the UK!
I bought my replica from the wonderful Northern Traders in Spain. Their website includes a link to the original find – bless them! So I can add the brooch to my early 10th century outfit with confidence. Trewhiddle-style items have been found in a number of places including Abingdon, Cornwall (the eponymous Trewhiddle) and Norfolk (Pentney), so I’m happy that my abbess near the borders of Mercia and Wessex could have a fancy piece in this style.
These disc brooches generally have a fairly light-weight pin, as do the equal armed brooches, and I am not sure how good they would be at fastening a shoulder-slung rectangular cloak of heavy material; I think that penanular brooches are better for this purpose. However, the disc brooch is ideal for fastening a circular or semi-circular mantle, as worn by Anglo-Saxon women.
My replica is of copper alloy (bronze) and the five “bosses” have been glued or soldered on, not riveted. The bosses are lightly silver plated so the brooch closely resembles the current appearance of the original brooch; if I wanted to be super authentic I could silver plate the whole thing? But I like it fine as is, and it’s great to see a wider variety of Anglo-Saxon replicas for sale, most especially as this is a recent find with a recorded location!
It’s been a long time since Rumwoldstow opened its gates to visitors; we had an event planned for June of this year but PLAGUE STRUCK! (We finally got COVID-19). Fortunately we were blessed by St Rumwold and recovered relatively quickly, as these things go.
Our rebooked date was 22 July and the event was marred only by heavy rain and a train strike. A number of people came along despite the rain and we enjoyed a fire and barbecue supper in the gatehouse once our various guests had departed. Many thanks to those members of The Vikings who visited as peaceful traders and even brought their own awning to shelter from the persistent rain. Kudos to the fighters who trained with and demonstrated medieval weaponry out in the open.
I recently visited St Matthew’s Church in the company of the mighty Wychwood Warriors, all praise to them. We saw a number of interesting ancient sites in the Cotswolds to the west of Oxford but this was the stand-out from an Anglo-Saxon viewpoint. The most obvious feature of interest is the socking great stone tower dating from the 11th century, built by Anglo-Saxon masons even though they may post-date the Norman Conquest.
The porch includes two Anglo-Saxon stone rood reliefs, but they are repositioned and their original sites are not known. The one on the east wall of the porch is 8th century and has lost its head. The one on the south gable of the porch is 10th century and has been assembled with Christ’s left and right arms swapped over and the figures of Saint Mary and Saint John the Evangelist also transposed. (source: Wikipedia article linked above).
There is further speculation that the carvings were re-used, perhaps from an earlier church on this site, and that ignorant masons got various bits the wrong way round.
We also found two delightful sets of paintings of saints depicted against Oxford scenery. My favourite was of course St Frideswide herself. Sadly I have found no information about these paintings, but they look Arts and Craftsy to me?
The mantle is one of the most characteristic and yet mysterious of early mediaeval garments, one that seems to be a woman’s garment. You can read the beginning of my adventures with the mantle in earlier posts:
We have no archaeological evidence for the mantle, only literary references and manuscript illustrations such as the picture below showing Saint Æthelthryth.
I’ve now completed two versions of the mantle – one for every day, and one for high days and holidays.
The plain mantle
My plain mantle is a semicircle of grey wool, hemmed around the curved edge, and using the selvedge of the fabric along the straight edge. This is the same shape as an ecclesiastical cope.
The wool is a little scratchy and I very naughtily sewed a strip of nice smooth linen along the inside of the cloak where it touches my neck. A real nun would leave the wool plain and accept the discomfort. Honest.
The mantle in illustrations shows no opening, and for this version I sewed the front closed up to about my breastbone, so you put it on over your head. It’s a warm and comfortable garment, very cosy if you are working from home and it’s a bit chilly; it keeps one’s body and legs warm, and you can easily put your hands up under the front hem and I think this gives an appearance in keeping with the manuscript illustrations. The straight edge can be folded over to make a collar and it keeps the back of my neck warm.
Would an artist have drawn the seam down the front? Or would they have just drawn the overall shape, as we see it in illuminations?
For any serious labour, you would want more freedom of movement and I think that’s where the scapular (a tabard-shaped apron) would come into its own both for warmth and to protect your main garments from dirt.
The fancy mantle
I wove a decorative band to go round the neck of my fancy blue wool mantle which Abbess Cyneswithe will wear when there are posh visitors to Rumwoldstow, such as Bishop Godfrid (whether or not he is having an ascetic moment). The design for the tablet weaving is inspired by brocaded tablet-woven edges to the vestments of St Cuthbert (Durham textiles) and embroideries on the Llangorse Fragment, woven in a technique known from Laceby, Lincs and also one of the Durham textiles. Birds, clumsy lions and plants seem to have been familiar high-status motifs.
The band is woven in find wool, which I moistened and ironed to help ease it around the curve.
My blue mantle is a full circle and is open-fronted. I found that a light, ansate brooch is entirely adequate to close it – there is less weight on the pin than there would be with a heavy rectangular cloak. The front edges naturally overlap and are really very stable. And again, the opening is not, I think, very obvious.
This garment is even more snuggly than the plain mantle, being a soft, lightweight wool.
Both the plain and fancy mantles are high status garments as they are made by cutting away fabric and discarding it, to create a half or full circle.
The mantle is often reconstructed as a poncho with rounded corners, but the poncho design (a flat fabric with a hole cut in the middle) doesn’t seem to relate to cloaks from around this time, whereas the semi-circular cloak is known from finds such as Leksand and lived on in the ecclesiastical cope. The poncho could be regarded as a wider scapula with curved edges – it’s a totally valid interpretation – but I went with the half- and full-circles to see what they’d be like.
The circle has the advantage that you don’t have to put it on over your head. The half circle uses less fabric and keeps your neck warmer, also you don’t need a clasp. Both are good, warm, practical garments and I think fit the iconography well enough.
OMG it’s the end of the first quarter of 923, the equinox is past and here I am writing just after the Feast Day of that most learned and well-travelled princess Saint Hildelith, abbess of Barking. The black hellebore or “Christmas rose” is flowering in fine style. This is a plant of complex character, a winter flower bringing hope of spring, a medicine and a poison. I read that:
Treating intestinal worms lasted into the 18th century. The only drawback was that the patient might end up being killed together with the worms.
This comes as a surprise to me; I deliberately avoided planting what I knew to be toxic plants such as foxglove and aconite in the Rumwoldstow garden, but hellebore passed me by, partly because the hellebore is such a garden staple. So, erm, whoops! It is out of place in the food-and-flowers garden, and belongs in a medicinal garden with health warnings. It reinforces the message that you should be awfully cautious of eating random plants from the garden…
Moving swiftly on, here are some snaps of the light snowfall we had earlier in March, as viewed on a walk through Rumwoldstow to the end of the orchard and back.
An orchard in February doesn’t look like much, but there are promises of spring appearing – snowdrops, catkins, and swelling buds on the trees. High time to prune those apple and pear trees!
Our first task was to prune the older tree, which we’ve been gradually reshaping to a proper ‘tree’ shape (it had grown very siiiiiiideways due to the light from the south being blocked). We went at it somewhat cautiously, pruning a bit at the ends, and removing branches that crossed each other, or went too much straight up.
The variety is unknown but it produces nice eating apples.
The Hambledon Deux Ans got a bit of a trim, as did the Wyken Pippin. This latter is such a sturdy tree now, and has kind of gone sideways, so Al removed the protective frame around it. We’ve kind of decided to keep livestock out of the orchard now, as it’s clear that the fruit will always be low enough to be munched even by sheep. And the frame was very rickety. But it may be reused later.
Candlemas has been and gone, marking the beginning of the end of winter, and the first signs of spring as the days lengthen. Indeed the name of the coming Christian period of fasting, Lent, derives from the Old English ‘lencten’ meaning ‘lengthen’.1 Although rats ate most of the good eating apples in the apple store – and this would be a disaster in a farming community, and we’ll have to rat-proof the store for next year – the Bramley apples proved less tempting and although there were some depredations, most were left for our use. Their keeping properties were mixed, with some surviving well and others decaying. By January they were mostly showing their age with brown fibres appearing in the flesh. On the 29th January 2023 we brought the remaining apples in to the kitchen.
Over the last week I’ve worked through them, and about one in three has eatable flesh now. If I’d been more organised I could have stewed and bottled or frozen vast amounts of good apple, but I just didn’t have the time and energy. I started eating the Bramley apples in August of 2022, as they were sharp but OK cooked, and they made excellent jelly then as they contain more pectin while unripe. So the tree has kept me in apples for about six months.
The trees now need pruning, and I have of course no idea what kind of harvest we will get this year, but I hope for a few more of the new apples, and that I’ll manage to look after the fruits better.