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May 25, 2024

The Tudor Monastery Farm s01.

(Originally broadcast: 2013)

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. The first episode finds the farm team arriving at Weald & Downland in West Sussex. There are domestic tasks to tackle, from lighting fires with flint, making meals with depleted crops during the Hunger Gap and using a tread wheel to fetch water from the well. Peter and Tom set about building a pig house - without nails - and try to master a new skill; ploughing with Oxen.

The Monasteries in 1500 were the biggest landowners in England and Wales after the King, and this placed them at the forefront of early Tudor technology and farming. This episode focuses on wool production - known as 'the jewel in the realm' of the English economy, it accounted for around half the country's wealth. Ruth gets to grips with the farm accounts - an essential task for any farmer in the period as they became increasingly aware of maximizing their ability to profit from the land efficiently. Peter makes a shearing bench - a medieval labour-saving device - which involves bending wood by steam. To seal any wounds that might occur while shearing, Tom makes an economy salve out or broom, suet, brine and urine. Peter and Tom then herd the sheep to a pond where they are thoroughly washed. And Tom gets his first taste of shearing sheep.

In episode three the team focus on preparing the staple foods of everyday Tudor life: bread and ale. A hard-working Tudor farmer could consume a two pound loaf and drink eight pints of weak ale in a day. With the monasteries owning much of the farmland Ruth, Peter and Tom are well aware of the importance of praying for a successful harvest. They join their fellow parishioners in the tradition of 'beating the bounds' - circling the parish boundary while praying for a good yield. Life in a Benedictine monastery was based around a strict routine and time management was vital. Tom and Peter meet Abbot Aidan Bellenger to find out how this was done. Tom visits a foundry to help in casting a new bell, while Peter visits the British Horological Institute to see how a 13th-century mechanical clock works. Peter helps bee expert Paul Hand harvest the beeswax used to make candles for the monastery. Paul shows him how to make the candles whose pure, clean flame represented the light of God.

The team are working under the eye of a monastic landlord, learning to master the landscape away from the farm in order to supplement their income. The monasteries' lands covered a variety of terrain, which would need to be exploited by the tenant farmer to raise income for themselves and the monastery. Lead was an important building material and Tom and Peter mine their own using Tudor techniques, while Ruth makes a stained glass window. Later Ruth makes baskets to catch eels in and sets about trying to find some. Back on the farm, the team learn how aspirational tenant farmers would have decorated and embellished their farmhouses, and Ruth produces a wall hanging. Meanwhile, Tom experiments with a camera obscura so his portrait can be produced in the Renaissance style that was becoming all the rage in Tudor England.

Tudor Monastery Farm s01e04

With no provision for the poor from the state, the monasteries played a key role in providing welfare and charity for those in need. But funding charity also meant extending hospitality to wealthy donors. The monastery enlists the help of the team to restore a corrody room which would have been granted to an elderly worker as a form of pension. The room needs a new floor so the boys gather and roast limestone in order to make lime putty. Ruth is in charge of the home comforts and harvests rushes from the river to make a mattress. The Abbot is planning a big feast to entertain a patron - a good way to encourage the wealthier members of society to make large donations. In preparation, Ruth sets about tackling the monastery's laundry, before taking on the cooking preparations. Tom oversees the production of a book to give the patron as a gift. First he must learn how to make linen paper. He then experiences an exciting new technology - the printing press with moveable type - before embarking on the final stage of the process, book-binding.

It's harvest time, and the days are getting shorter. This episode the team will be bringing in the barley and celebrating with a harvest feast, to give thanks for their bounteous crop. To celebrate all their hard work over the course of the seasons the team put on a mystery play, a travelling show that would go from town to town. The plays were organized by religious guilds, like the Farming Guild set up by the team at the beginning of the series. While Ruth and Tom make props and costumes, Tom makes fireworks with an alchemist before preparing to take the stage as Beelzebub in a production of a fitting Tudor favourite, 'The Harrowing Of Hell'. As the team prepare to leave the farm they reflect on what they have learnt and contemplate how the landscape of Britain and the lives of its people were forever changed by the end of the monastic era, marked by the Dissolution.

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