Category Archives: History of Science

Weather Forecasting: An English Virtue

Meteorology: the seasons, autumn. Engraving by A. Collaert . Credit: Wellcome Collection.

One of the readings from our class’s seminar caught my attention as an exciting topic to observe from the perspective of an early modern household. The suggested reading was a chapter within the first book of The English Husbandman (1635) by the prolific writer on domestic advice, Gervase Markham. As you can probably guess from the title, the chapter was regarding, ‘… other vertues, as namely how he shall judge and foreknow all kinde of weather and other seasons of the yeare.’ The reason it was of interest was due to the lack of consideration I had placed on weather and seasonal predictions with its specific relevance to the household, before this source. The revelations described by Markham and my own personal curiosity have led me to comment on why this ‘skill’ was something husbandmen would aim to possess.

Defining the fore-telling of the seasons and weather as a ‘vertue’ and devoting a whole chapter to this skill shows the importance Markham placed upon a man’s ability to know the future climate. Initially, this seemed strange, referring to weather watching and season prediction as a virtue in early modern England. I presumed the accuracy and belief in weather prediction would have been minimal in a society which had yet to enter the period of scientific enlightenment. However, the specific instructions Markham presents to predict weather and seasons suggests that ordinary husbandmen had some investment in these beliefs which to the modern reader appear incredibly abstract. It required the husbandman to be in tune with the natural world around him, relying on cues in the environment.

The English Husbandman (1635) p. 19.

One method which was used before the emergence of the barometer in the late 17th Century was natural astrological theory, judging the weather by looking at the celestial bodies.[1] These movements and the weather produced from them were believed to be directly linked to human physiology.[2] The renaissance revival in the humoral theory connected the weather conditions and more specifically astrology to effects on bodily fluids.[3]This mirroring was a key aspect of Markham’s weather and season predictions. The latter part of the chapter concerns the reactions a husbandman should have to the prediction of a poor year in health, rather than solely foretelling weather as the title suggests, Markham integrates monthly medical intervention with general observations which impacted on agricultural wealth. (See example above)

The other technique which Markham gives the husbandman for long term weather forecasting was using the weather experienced during the first twelve days of Christmas as a guide to the weather over the whole year, each day corresponding to each month. This was a conventional technique used in Western Europe, although the first day of observations varied regionally, with some nations choosing the New Year to mark the monthly weather.[4] This would have been a simple way for a husbandman to predict monthly weather patterns. It would have been more accessible to the ordinary man compared to the astrological practices which could be sophisticated and require calculations.[5] Nonetheless, the visible celestial changes such as moon phases and eclipses were expected to be observed under Markham’s instruction. This popular astrology could indirectly influence mortality through the weather changes; it was advisable to take note.

The English Husbandman (1635) p. 16.

Agricultural society in this period was vulnerable to adverse weather conditions, extremes in seasons could result in reduced crop yields, and traditional farming methods did not have a way to protect against these or absorb the losses adequately. Knowledge of weather would have been useful for planning, to prevent or promote the available farming methods. A good understanding of weather would lay the foundation for successful agricultural practices and allow the husbandman to hone his skills on the later parts of the book, such as planting, grafting and harvesting.

The majority of the advice given seems extremely rational and practical for the English husbandman, such when to expect ‘good yeares’ by observing where frosts fell, and plants bloomed at certain times during the year.

A woodcut representing one month from the peotry work by Edmund Spenser, “The shepheards calender : conteining twelue æglogues proportionable to the twelue monthes : entituled, to the noble and vertuous gentleman, most worthie of all titles, both of learning and chiualry, Maister Philip Sidney” (London, 1591) p.55. Credit: Internet Archive Book Images

Ordinary early modern families were reliant upon favourable weather conditions to ensure they avoided spells of dearth and famine. Weather could, therefore, be something which determined life and death for many communities. Knowledge of weather and changes of the season’s patterns and adapting to future weather would have been extremely desirable in this period. Finding ways to harness the natural world would give the husbandman some feeling of control. In times when people were susceptible to serious illness having some forward knowledge on the health of your family to plan for sickness would have been beneficial, even if the source of such knowledge was questionable. In hindsight, the importance Markham places on weather knowledge is reasonable; we take accurate weather forecasting for granted in the modern world.

Luckily the stakes are not as high in today’s society. Nonetheless, it is interesting to see the importance of weather prediction in this period. Perhaps the fact that some of these weather beliefs still exist shows how ingrained the confidence in personal weather forecasting is in the English psyche.

[1] Jan Golinski, ‘Barometers of Change: Meteorological Instruments as Machines of Enlightenment’ in William Clark, Jan Golinski and Simon Schaffer (eds.), The Science of enlightened Europe (Chicago, 1999), p. 82.

[2]Patrick Curry, Prophecy and Power: Astrology in Early Modern England (Princeton, 1989), p. 23.

[3]Golinski, ‘Barometers of Change’, p. 70.

[4] Stephen Wilson, The Magical Universe: everyday ritual and magic in premodern Europe (London, 2000), p. 53.

[5]Curry, Prophecy and Power, p. 11.

Becoming Michael Fish: using Early Modern methods to predict the weather

The weather forecast plays an arbitrary role in most of our day to day lives as a segment on the news or something to quickly check on an app. It only really becomes important when planning a day out or looking out for severe weather warnings. Weather is not something most people are concerned about unless in extreme conditions or if the weather is predicted incorrectly, such as in 1987 when Michael Fish assured viewers in his lunchtime weather broadcast that there was not a hurricane on the way. However, in the early hours of the next day, the south coast of England faced gales that reached 115 miles per hour.[1]

‘Michael Fish revisits 1987’s Great Storm’, BBC News, 16 October 2017.

For people in the early modern period, especially those who relied on agrarian method for their own produce and business, the weather was pivotal in ensuring their survival. Gervase Markham includes a section in his book The English Husbandman (1635) about how to read signs from the sun, moon, clouds and air to help the reader predict the weather, with a focus on rain. The fact that it was included as part of a book that ‘contained the knowledge of Husbandly Duties’ shows how vital it was to have some understanding of the weather in early modern society.

Stephen Wilson highlights that weather prediction was not a new practice in the early modern period and that it took place in the Ancient world as well and could be linked to divine beings.[2] Weather in the early modern period was not perceived as just a natural occurrence but also influenced or controlled by other forces such as God, saints, demons or humans with specials powers such as witches which allowed for its unpredictability.

For five days, I have used Markham’s guide to reading signs about the weather to see if I could successfully forecast the weather or become the next unfortunate Michael Fish. On Thursday, around lunchtime, the day seemed grey with a thick blanket of cloud covering the sky.

‘If there you shall at any time perceive a Cloud rising from the lowest part of the Horizon, and that the maine body be blacke and thicke, and his beames (as it were) Curtaine-wise, extending upward, and driven before the Windes: it is a certaine and infallible signe of a present shower of Raine, yet but momentary and soone spent, or passed over : but if the Cloud shall arise against the Winde, and as it were spread it selfe against the violence of the same, then shall the Raine be of much longer continuance.’

Gervase Markham’s ‘signes from the cloud’

Checking Markham’s ‘Signes from the cloud’, the cloud did seem to start at the horizon and cover the sky but did not seem particularly black or thick. As a black and thick cover of cloud is a sign of a brief rainy shower, I forecast that there would be a light shower later in the day , more of a drizzle fitting to the pale clouds. I was wrong – at about 3pm, the sun was shining, and the sky was blue and clear. Going back over my notes, I realised I should have noticed the lack of waterfowl on the lake – if the ducks and geese would have been on the lake then it would have been almost certain to have rained.



‘If you shall perceive water-Fowle to bathe much’

After falling short reading cloud signs, I turned to Markham’s more definitive signs. Markham suggests that salt becoming moist when placed in a dry place is a sure sign that rain will follow. So, I placed salt on my bedroom windowsill, in an attempt to limit the effects of modern-day insulation and left it overnight. When checked the first two mornings, the salt had remained dry which was consistent with the fine, spring weather forecast, however on third morning the salt had become damp, forming clumps that suggested rain was on the way – although I could not spot the neighbour’s cat washing behind her ear to confirm with a sign from a beast, rain did follow.

‘If Salt turne moyst standing in dry places’

While my readings of Markham’s signs were not always accurate, the empirical reasoning behind the signs are identifiable. By observing the moisture levels in salt, dampness in the air can be visibly seen which suggests incoming wet weather. Empirical observation is also seen in the various descriptions of cloud colouring that suggests rain, an understanding which is common today with dark clouds in the day suggesting that rainfall is due. Markham, like Michael Fish, used the tools he had to best predicate the weather and educate others of the best way of doing so. Markham’s work shows how early modern people running households sought to bring order and predictability to their lives. Through reading signs in order to predict the weather, the good husbandman would have been able to prepare and plan in order to best provide for his household. While weather forecasts may not play such a pivotal role in all our daily lives, except for businesses where work takes places mainly outside, the impact when it is predicted wrong can be catastrophic, just ask Michael Fish!

[1] Joe Shute, ‘Weatherman Michael Fish on missing the Great Storm of 1987: ‘when I saw what happened I thought, ‘oh s***’’, The Telegraph (12 October 2017), https://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/weatherman-michael-fish-missing-great-storm-1987-saw-happened/ [accessed 1 April 2019]

[2] Stephen Wilson, The Magical Universe: Everyday Ritual and Magic in Pre-Modern Europe (London, 2000), pp. 57-58.

Gervase Markham, The English Husbandman (London, 1635), pp. 10-13, http://historicaltexts.jisc.ac.uk/ [accessed 25 March 2019].

The Creation of the Kitchen

By Tracey Cornish

The reading for this week’s seminar was a topic that I had not thought much about before.  Just as I had never really thought about recipes and their meaning in the early modern period before I began studying this module.  The topic in question is kitchens.  I suppose I had thought that kitchens had always existed in the way in which we think of kitchens now.  When you visit castles or stately homes there is always a kitchen where the hustle and bustle of daily life took place.  The kitchen in Hampton Court is indeed huge.  It was built in 1530 and was designed to feed at least 600 members of the court, entitled to eat at the palace, twice a day.

The kitchens had master cooks each with a team working for them.  Annually the Tudor Court cooked 1240 oxen, 8,200 sheep, 2,330 deer, 760 calves, 1,870 pigs and 53 wild boar.  That is without mentioning the chickens, peacocks, pheasant and vegetables which were also on the menu.[1]

Hampton Court Kitchen plan

Interestingly, Hampton Court Palace also has a chocolate kitchen.  The royal chocolate making kitchen which once catered for three Kings: William III, George I and George II is the only surviving royal chocolate kitchen in the country. Recent research has uncovered the precise location of the royal chocolate kitchen in the Baroque Palace’s Fountain Court. Having been used as a storeroom for many years, it is remarkably well preserved with many of the original fittings, including the stove, equipment and furniture still intact.[2]

 

Chocolate Kitchen in Hampton Court Palace

The only original 17th century kitchen to be preserved is at Ham House. In the basement  there are several small rooms comprising of the kitchen, the scullery, the servants hall, a laundry, several pantries, a wet larder, a still house, a wash house and a dairy room. All these rooms would have had servants working in them and would have made the workings of the kitchen easier as it would have provided room to prepare and cook food.[3]

Original 17th Century kitchen

Of course, this is an example of a palace so what about everyday houses?  Peasants in the middle ages lived in one room which served as a room for cooking, general living and eating.  It consisted of a hearth stone, a fire with a pot of the top.  Sara Pennell suggests in The Birth of the English Kitchen 1600-1850 that kitchens in the early 1600’s were ‘unfixed and at times contested’[4] and that it wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century that kitchens were ‘distinctive yet integrated spaces in the majority of households.’[5] Food could be prepared in any room with a table and could be cooked in any room with a fire.  However it was the need to provide space for the works of the kitchen and other ‘food’ rooms such as pantries, larders and sculleries which reallocated eating to its own distinctive space.[6] Pennell argues that histories of the domestic interior and its evolving design neglected the kitchen and yet arguably the kitchen is and was an important room in a household. [7]

Margaret Baker never mentions in her recipes as to where the production of the recipes should take place, one just imagines that she is in her kitchen trying out the recipes (the ones which she did try) and writing them down.  Of course, the fact that her kitchen would have been nothing like our kitchens today should also be taken into account if a reproduction of one of her recipes takes place.  As Florence mentions in her  blog,  Replicate, Authenticate and Reconstruct Baker uses ‘learned knowledge’ in her recipe book.  There would have been no modern oven to set to a certain temperature as they would have used a fire.

17th Century Kitchen

Evolution of the kitchen was linked to the invention of the cooking range or stove and the supply of running water.  The living room began to serve as an area for social functions and became a showcase for the owners to show off their wealth.  In the upper classes cooking and the kitchen were the domain of servants and the kitchen was therefore set away from the living rooms.

The kitchens of elite households were not originally in the basement.  In fact basement level kitchens were almost unheard of in England before 1666.  Yet by 1750 kitchens were found in the basement.  One could argue this was to keep the kitchen staff out of sight of the main household and to ensure that the kitchen smells did not overwhelm the main living accommodation.

A 17th Century Distiller

So what about the medical and scientific recipes?  Many kitchens or basements formed laboratories for people to experiment and write down their medical recipes.  It was popular for higher class women to have stills and alembics in their kitchens for making essences. .  Even the lower classes would gather herbs together and make remedies in their kitchens.

Experiments took place in many places such as coffee houses, laboratories and universities but the private residence was a popular place to experiment.  Many renowned scientists used their kitchens as a ‘laboratory’ including Frederick Clod who was a physician and a ‘mystical chemist’ who used his father in law’s kitchen to experiment. [8]

It could be argued that the design of kitchens have come full circle with many people preferring to have open plan living areas which include the kitchen with people enjoying socialising whilst cooking and enjoying all those cooking smells.

References:

[1] http://www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/visit-us/top-things-to-see-and-do/henry-viiis-kitchens/#gs.R6K2E18 accessed 20th March 2017.

[2] http://www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/visit-us/top-things-to-see-and-do/chocolate-kitchens/#gs.tJhj8mM accessed 20th March 2017.

[3] https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house-and-garden accessed 20th March 2017.

[4] Sara Pennell, The Birth of the English Kitchen, 1600-1850, (London, 2016) p.37.

[5] Ibid p.37.

[6] Ibid p.39.

[7] Ibid p.38.

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Clod accessed 21st March 2017.

Images:

Hampton Court Kitchen plan – http://www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/visit-us/top-things-to-see-and-do/henry-viiis-kitchens/#gs.R6K2E18 accessed 20th March 2017.

Chocolate Kitchen in Hampton Court Palace –  http://www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/visit-us/top-things-to-see-and-do/chocolate-kitchens/#gs.tJhj8mM accessed 21st March 2017.

Original 17th Century kitchen –  https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house-and-garden accessed 20th March 2017.

17th Century Kitchen –  http://www.homethingspast.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/cotohele-kitchen.jpg accessed 20th March 2017.

A 17th Century Distiller – https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/f1/6f/b0/f16fb0f555b48fd576bf6dc1621a041d.jpg accessed 21st March 2017.