Tudor Disregard for Health and Safety at its Peak in the Summer

Professor Steven Gunn of Merton College Oxford is leading a project to sift through 9,000 sixteenth-century coroners’ reports from all over England held in the National Archives and has found that most fatal accidents occurred between April and September. On Tuesday 24 September at 7.30pm he delivers the Teulon Porter Memorial Lecture in Shaftesbury Town Hall when he promises examples of Everyday Life and Accidental Death in Tudor Dorset and Wiltshire. The lecture is free to members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society while non-members may pay £5 at the door. Prof. Gunn is one of our leading scholars of the Tudor period with numerous books to his name and delivered the prestigious Ford Lectures in 2015.

He said: ‘Most people are enjoying the recent warmer weather but this wasn’t always good news in Tudor England, in which nearly three-quarters of all fatal accidents in 1558-60 occurred between April and September when farming work was at its height.

‘Deaths happened in various and unexpected ways – some were straightforward accidents with scythes or cart crashes, but other unfortunate people are recorded as mangling themselves in the machinery of windmills or watermills, turning carts on top of themselves when loading them with barley, falling out of trees when gathering fruit and nuts and even falling asleep by piles of hay that collapsed and suffocated them.

He added: ‘The autumn was a bad time for pig-famers, though, as October was the prime month for falling out of oak trees when collecting acorns to fatten up swine for slaughter.’

Today building and mining rank alongside farming as dangerous industries to work in and it was just the same in Tudor England. Miners were suffocated by coal-damp in Staffordshire and Yorkshire and workmen fell from roofs in Huntingdonshire and Westmorland. Timber was important for building and firewood and 14% of work accidents involved cutting or transporting wood.

Prof. Gunn said: ‘Tudor lumberjack technique seems to have been a bit wanting. Men in Bedfordshire, Cumberland, Hampshire, Somerset, Westmorland and Yorkshire were all hit by ash, oak or poplar trees they were cutting down. John Broke, a cloth-maker from Dalton in Yorkshire, was particularly unlucky because he was building a fence when an oak tree cut down some time before suddenly rolled downhill and hit him.’

The increased use of machinery means that nowadays only one per cent of fatal workplace injuries are caused by livestock, but animals were a major cause of fatalities in Tudor England. Prof. Gunn said: ‘We have found fatalities caused not only by horses and cattle but also by sheep and pigs. One five-year-old boy from Huggate in Yorkshire was attacked by the pigs he was herding. But horses were the most dangerous animals, causing 93% of livestock injuries by throwing their riders, kicking people, dragging them into water or running away with carts.

He added: ‘The crowded streets round London must have been a particularly dangerous place to ride. One poor butcher’s boy, William Randall, fell into a pit at the side of the road in St Martin-in-the-Fields parish at eight o’clock on a February evening trying to carry a calf slung across his horse’s saddle back to his master’s shop in St Clement Danes.’

Fatal accidents in the outdoors became such a problem that handbooks were even made to warn people of unexpected dangers. Prof. Gunn explained: ‘Dealing with pests was just as risky. Tudor farming handbooks advised caution when climbing trees to kill crows in their nests. It sounds like health and safety gone mad, but given that we have found several men who fell to their deaths doing just this, perhaps it was necessary!’

The project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and its website can be accessed by clicking here

Annual Garden Party 2019

Perfect Weather for Garden Party

The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society chose one of the hottest days of the year for their Annual Garden Party on Tuesday 23 July. At the preceding AGM, Chairperson Elaine Barratt paid tribute to the indispensable contributions of numerous Society members and volunteers, including retiring Trustee Claire Ryley who would continue to volunteer for both Museums in the town. Unfortunately the Society had lost a former Chairman in Terry Atkins, a former President in Geoffrey Tapper, and a regular steward and cataloguer in Jill Wilkins. Elected as Trustees were Elaine herself, Ian Kellett and Paulette McManus. The meeting decided not to increase annual or life membership subscriptions, which remain attractively priced at £15 and £75 respectively for an individual; and £25 annually for a family or partners at the same address. It was agreed that the Trustees would look at the possibility of more flexibility in the starting times of some lectures in the 2020-21 season. The 2019-20 programme is already arranged and visible on the Gold Hill Museum website. With the business of the AGM concluded in little over half an hour, members were delighted to socialise alfresco while admiring the handiwork of the team of garden volunteers.

Mary Arden's Farm

Tudor Accident of the Month: Making and Taking Worming Powder

July 2019. Intestinal worms were an unpleasantly common affliction in sixteenth-century England. In his book on horsemanship in 1566 Thomas Blundeville explained that one of the three kinds of worms affecting horses was ‘long and rounde, even lyke to those that children do most commonly voyde’. In June 1580 at Lawshall in Suffolk fourteen-year-old Anne Wyffyn resolved on drastic action to cure herself. She ground up some ratsbane – arsenic used as rat poison – into a very fine powder, mixed it into a pot of ale and drank it, aiming to kill the worms and not suspecting that she would poison herself in the process. She soon fell ill, however, and two days later she was dead.

Professor Steven Gunn of Merton College Oxford is co-director of the ‘Everyday Life and Fatal Hazard in Sixteenth Century England’ Research Project. On Tuesday 24 September at 7.30p.m. in Shaftesbury Town Hall Professor Gunn will deliver the Teulon Porter Memorial Lecture, when he will focus on ‘Everyday Life and Accidental Death in Tudor Dorset and Wiltshire’. This talk is free to members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society while non-members may pay £5 at the door.

Perce-pierre or rock samphire

Tudor Accident of the Month: Gathering Rock Samphire

June 2019. Rock samphire is a succulent coastal plant, nutritious to eat but dangerous to harvest. In Shakespeare’s King Lear, Edgar and Gloucester look down from a cliff and spot ‘one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade’. John Pantridge was practising that trade at Freshwater on the Isle of Wight on 18 June 1576 at a place on the cliffs called ‘peppers mede’, perhaps near Old Pepper Rock. He fell 170 feet onto the rocks below and broke his neck. One month later, on 20 July, the same fleshy, spicy treat lured John Turle to his doom at Fairlight, Sussex. He fell only 13 feet, but it was enough to break ‘his hed and scull’. And women as well as men braved the coast for samphire. At Weston-super-Mare in Somerset on 27 May 1587, Joan Davys fell on a rock and broke her neck when gathering ‘Sampyer’.

Professor Steven Gunn of Merton College Oxford is co-director of the ‘Everyday Life and Fatal Hazard in Sixteenth Century England’ Research Project. On Tuesday 24 September at 7.30p.m. in Shaftesbury Town Hall Professor Gunn will deliver the Teulon Porter Memorial Lecture, when he will focus on ‘Everyday Life and Accidental Death in Tudor Dorset and Wiltshire’. This talk is free to members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society while non-members may pay £5 at the door.

Charles II Needlework Decorative Box

Dorchester Privilege Visit for S&DHS Members

The 2019 Summer Outing for members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society took them to two Dorchester Museums, one presently closed for a massive redevelopment and the other recently opened in 2018. The Dorset County Museum received one of the last large Heritage Lottery Fund grants of £11 million. Members were able to view the ongoing building works from the rear of the site. Clearly marked were the locations for the concrete piles which will be driven 15 feet into the ground and support a new five storey structure. Collections Manager Elizabeth Selby then kindly opened up one of the object stores and showed a handful of the Museum’s four million artefacts, including a late seventeenth century box decorated with exquisite needlework depicting Charles II and his Queen Catherine of Braganza.

Elizabeth Selby shows stored artefacts
Elizabeth Selby shows stored artefacts

The second venue was a short walk away at Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum, which had been ably described in the February lecture of the Society’s winter programme. Here members could explore the cells which had once held the Tolpuddle Martyrs and follow in the original courtroom the trials of such unfortunates as Shaftesbury petty criminal Elijah Upjohn or Elizabeth Martha Brown, whose public hanging in 1856 was witnessed by the young Thomas Hardy. The afternoon concluded with tea or coffee and cake in Shire Hall’s tea room.

Please click here for details of membership of The S&DHS. A preview of the 2019-2020 winter lecture programme is available here

BBC South re-create the Hovis ad

TV News Crews Flock to Gold Hill

On Monday 03 June the famous Ridley Scott Hovis ad was re-launched on ITV. Both Meridian and BBC South contacted Gold Hill Museum and sent reporters to mark the occasion. Part of the BBC South Today evening bulletin was broadcast live from Gold Hill, with chair of Shaftesbury & District Historical Society Trustees Elaine Barratt adeptly fielding questions from Matt Graveling.

Matt Graveling and Cameraman
Matt Graveling and Cameraman

Earlier the intrepid BBC newshound had raided a local charity shop for a flat cap and borrowed an apron from the Salt Cellar restaurant so that he could reprise the part of the baker’s boy. Most of a recorded interview with Trustee Ian Kellett ended up on the digital cutting room floor; indeed the Meridian reporter said that he was only looking for 15 seconds of usable material.

Anything a 13 year old could do
Anything a 13 year old could do

Carl Barlow, the child actor in the original ad, was 13 in 1973 when he flew down the dangerous cobbles of Gold Hill with his feet off the pedals. Both Matt Graveling and his Meridian counterpart attempted the same feat, though understandably and sensibly over much shorter distances.

While it is nearly half a century since Ridley Scott made the Hovis ad, it appears to have become a significant landmark in British popular culture. It is certainly figuring in a forthcoming BBC documentary by Andrew Marr. It is constantly revisited by modern advertisers, most recently by a company promoting electric bikes. Gold Hill Museum would be pleased to see any material relating to the making of the original ad.

Please click here for the ThisisAlfred report on the remastering of the 1973 Hovis ad.

Byzant Procession 2019 (2)

Byzant Ceremony Revived For Second Year During Food Fair

Gold Hill Museum volunteers and supporters were prominent among the re-enactors of the Byzant Ceremony during the 2019 Shaftesbury Food Fair. The procession formed up at the Gold Hill Museum stall near The Commons and made its way down Tout Hill to Enmore Green, the location of the springs which once supplied most of the town’s water.

Byzant Food Fair Stall
Gold Hill Museum Food Fair Stall

After one of many blessings en route the procession was greeted by the Lord of the Manor of Gillingham and his Lady, who offered refreshments. The symbolic rent for access to the springs was handed over, and in the case of the mace-like Byzant, returned to the representatives of the town. Other elements of the payment in kind included a calf’s head, a pair of gloves, a cask of ale, and bread.

Byzant Offerings to Lord of the Manor
Byzant Offerings to Lord of the Manor

Music and dancing followed, after which the procession somewhat wearily ascended the steps to Castle Hill and made its way along Magdalene Lane to the Westminster Memorial Hospital, and the War Memorial on Park Walk – the limit of the numerous stalls of the thriving Food Fair – before terminating in Holy Trinity Churchyard.

The original Byzant can be viewed in Gold Hill Museum. The story of Shaftesbury’s water supply is traced in one of this year’s intriguing temporary exhibitions. Gold Hill Museum is open every day 10.30a.m. – 4.30p.m. until 31 October, and admission is free. Thanks to ThisisAlfred for the photograph of the head of the Procession.


Tudor Accidents of the Month: May 2019

Tudor England was a dangerous place. There were plagues and wars, perilous childbirths and shocking infant mortality. But what risks did people face as they went about their everyday lives? Steven Gunn of Merton College and Tomasz Gromelski of Wolfson College are investigating this problem using evidence from coroners’ reports preserved in the National Archives. The four-year project entitled ‘Everyday Life and Fatal Hazard in Sixteenth-Century England’ is based in Oxford and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, with support from the Faculty of History and Merton and Wolfson colleges.

Professor Steven Gunn is the 2019 Teulon Porter Memorial Lecturer. At Shaftesbury Town Hall on Tuesday 24 September at 7.30p.m. he will give an illustrated talk on ‘Everyday Life and Accidental Death in Tudor Dorset and Wiltshire’. This event is free to members of The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society while non-members may pay £5 at the door.

May 2019. Mining has always been dangerous. Although tin mining was one of Tudor England’s major extractive industries, accidents are not well recorded. This was because for much of the sixteenth century the coroners of Devon and Cornwall were less efficient in sending in their reports, and perhaps in holding their inquests, than those of other counties. Yet when fatalities do crop up they are eloquent. May 1571 brought the death of Ewen Taylor, struck in the stomach by an iron bar while mining at Ilsington, and Oliver Hannaford, wounded with his ‘tynhoke’ while digging for tin at Ashburton.

The depth of some tin works, reached by long ropes, caused the deaths of two other victims more indirectly. At Polgooth in St Mewan in Cornwall in February 1591, Thomas Hicke, tinner, was working at the tin mine when the ‘wynder wyndinge rope’ caused him to fall into ‘the Tynworke poole or pitt’, where he drowned. At St Neot in December 1588, Michael Tapnell hoped to exploit the depth of the mine to avoid arrest for debt when his creditor turned up from St Blazey to take him into custody, bringing two other men to help. He let himself down into the tin working on a rope, intending to slip away into the furthest part of the mine, but suddenly his hands slipped and he fell to the bottom of the pit and broke his neck.

Extracts from the website of the Everyday Life and Fatal Hazard in Sixteenth Century England Project by kind permission of Steven Gunn.


Shaftesbury Camera Club Exhibition 04-10 May 2019

Shaftesbury Camera Club return for their fifth Annual Exhibition in the Garden Room at Gold Hill Museum, opening at 1p.m. on Saturday 04 May and running until, and including, Friday 10 May. Entry to the Exhibition is free at any time during the normal opening hours of the Museum (also free to enter), between 10.30a.m. and 4.30p.m. Access to striking and original images is guaranteed.

“Me and my mate” photograph by courtesy of Sue Boddington of Shaftesbury Camera Club.