The Nosegay Blog Too
The nosegay experience continues, and as promised in the first instalment, we will be visiting alternative realities, plus jumping hoops and drinking mud (participation is optional).
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The wonder of Barley Hall transported a family there. A love of oak and craftsmanship in wood in general brought recollections of a few places, one of which is the swing bridge in Whitby. Fine old oak props were being admired when a plaque was noted: someone had bequeathed in their will one oak; this tree being for the repair of the bridge as required.
Mention of Whitby brought us the meeting of a man in Whitby who claimed to be the first person born in the town whose parents were from opposite sides of the river. At one time in this coastal town which is split in two by the river Esk the people of the north side of the river would have nothing to do with the folk of the other side and vice versa. So separate were they that at one point the locals of this split in two town were practically two distinct races. Then a young couple dared to meet upon the bridge, and of course, they fell in love. When this was discovered they were chased out of their meeting place on the south side of the river, were not accepted by the other side and for a while were stuck upon the bridge.
From Whitby we return to our topic of wood craft where we are told of Alfred the Great. He saw a man coming out of the forest and stopped and asked him what he was about. He was a house maker and he saw a part of a house in every tree ‘That’s not a forest to me, it is a town’.
A landscaper who manages an arboretum verified this. She worked her eye across the Barley Hall beams seeing how they had been selected for their shape. Tree which are allowed to seed and grow naturally tend to shape more than the closely planted trees of modern woodland.
When you saw a light ahead of you it was to be sure you were about to be safe, safe in the centre of the great vale, safe within the walls of the great cathedral city itself. For there were risks along the way. If asked, your list of concerns would be a jumble of the real and the mystical; creatures, vagabonds, spirits – all looked upon equally. There were other worlds and one could step through to them, or fall through or possibly be lured. Scarborough Fair sings of the herbs I have here. The older version of the song advised stuffing your pockets or pouches with them as a protection, a way to avoid being lured away. Small wonder that one upon arriving at the great city was willing to step through the hoop.
It is all well and good saying the walls kept you safe but on arriving you would be fore warned of the dangers by the leak! The stream flowing out from the walls was a sewer and a rubbish dump; a hint of the stink and the suffering within.
Rumour would also warn you of the plague-ridden nature of the world within the stone. At the city gate you would be offered an alternative. No, two alternatives. Many believed in the power of the nosegay but for others the way to keep well was to experience the bad smells. You might not want to join then, as every morning, so I am told, they gather by the stream of leakage and take a good deep breath.
The second alternative by the gates is much sweeter, cute almost. There by the King’s Way stands a girl, who for a small fee, offers a cure which is quite entrancing. She holds a large hoop all gaily decorated with garlands. If you were to choose to step through it would be to a better world, an alternative world where there is no plague. A perfect way to keep safe.
Once you are through the gates you might benefit from the guided tour that I have been on; one provided for me in the comfort of Barley Hall parlour. My guides are my visitors who tell me favourite places; one of these being Duttons for Buttons, the top floor is medieval with beautiful beams, others strongly recommend the House of Trembling Madness, up in the bar above the beer shop you are transported back in time. I cannot say which is the better experience, but I do recommend that if you visit you buy something, so from one you may buy a button and from the other a glass of ale – you choose.
Barley Hall is of course by far the favourite, yet a visit to the pearl of York is also a high priority. St Margaret is said by some to be still present in her shrine on Shambles and may well whisper sage advice.
Others tell us of the Castle Museum, one lady who knew a great deal about medieval cookery volunteers there doing demonstrations so she knew a lot of the herbs. Gingerbread was her current activity, although not exactly bread: ginger, rosewater and marzipan – very good for sculpting edible roses.
Looking at the area of medieval gardens brought reports of enormous orders of seeds; twenty pound weight per seed type. When one visited a royal palace a huge travelling retinue was needed, around three hundred. They all needed to be fed and many such groups would visit. There was postulation that the idea that the rich did not eat vegetable was brought into question. If they were growing that many then it seemed logical that they were eating them too. That would be a lot more healthy than a cooked peacock put back in its raw skin!
One of the things they would not be eating at that palace was Morne bread. You could only get that in York, we were famous for it. Kings would return especially for the bread, or write to say they would not come unless there was some on offer. What was this bread? What was the recipe? I think we should bring it back. Let us have a campaign to discover the recipe.
It was not, as described at Barley Hall at one time, a spice bread we are informed. There was a council proclamation that bakers of the city must start baking it again and it had gone into decline since the in-coming of more modern spice breads. So it must have been a plain bread, and presumably the wonder of it was in the baking technique.
That would be nice with your live frog or your elephant’s horn, well maybe not. Both I am informed are cures for pestilence. There is talk of people swallowing frogs in old wives tales, and claims that this is where the expression having a frog in your throat came from. A visitor tells us they were not for eating in medieval times, they were for wearing in a gay (Gay meaning ornament). A live frog in a container on a chain round your neck would keep the plague away, so if you are afeared of turning purple or developing buboes in the lymph you might want to give it a try.
As for the elephant’s trunk, don’t try it. It’s a trick. As you come through the King’s Way there will be an apothecary and they will call you in. They will desperately seek to sell you a cure for the plague; ground elephant’s tusk in honey wine. Don’t drink it. Not because it is bad to eat their tusks. Don’t buy it. It is a fake. This is just mud in beer! That won’t do the trick surely.
Besides drinking beer might qualify you to visit the hound of hell. There he is right above us in the parlour. Up high is the Madonna and child but at the bottom of the lamp is that hound. He is baying for your soul.
The underworld is guarded by a hound of some sorts in a few cultures. In medieval times he was the gateway to hell. Theatre of the time was very often in the round. So round in fact there was hardly room for the audience. As well as a space in the middle to step forward to there was a circle of scenarios. Here was heaven, here a tavern, here an orchestra, here the hound, They were stationed all around looking inwards, so presumably you moved around to look across at the action. There was also the Jongler with his cane; like a baton and he would read from the script and point. When the cane pointed at you it was time to take action; play music or scream in a hellish way.
The screams came from the hound’s mouth. Deep inside were the lost souls and they would scream and wail in an eerie way. There are reports of many demons too. Often known by name. One, who made an appearance and who has been reconstructed as a costume was terrifying indeed. As well as being a demon with the horns and redness etc etc he also had demons all over him, his whole body was angry nasty fierce faces all screaming at you to follow him into the pit of vanities. There you would burn for sure.
All a jolly good show.
(On a lighter note in Nosegay Blog Three there will be a gift of flowering herbs from Uther Pendragon himself, the Lancelot of gardening will also make an appearance, Iranian and Native American history will join with Viking sagas and you will be warned about leaping into bed with your lover…)
a little bit more in this new blog
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