Monday, February 25, 2013

Today's research snippet. Fuelling the fire:

 A few notes on wood as fuel:

In the high middle ages, great households had an 'Office of the Wood yard' whose responsibility it was to provide wood for the fires, sometimes from the familiy's estates, sometimes from outside contractors.
Quite often the clerk of the kitchen would see to the contracts for the provision of firewood at agreed rates, which would mean that expenses for fuel could be predicted.
Domestic chambers were heated as a general rule from November 1st to 25th March - which must have meant some cold times indoors for those not privileged by rank to have a fire as and when they chose. Fuel for the service part of the household such as the bakehouse, brewery and kitchens remained constant and was delivered daily in predetermined allocations. The clerk in charge was often the avenor. The latter was a title given to the person with responsibility for providing fodder and bedding for the stables and kennels, and who would have knowledge of the woodyard. John the Marshal, father of William Marshal held the title of avenor at the court of King Henry I. Wood yards were enclosed and guarded to prevent pilfering.
Ordinary folk, if the were lucky, might have the right to fuel-collecting privileges and be allowed to gather underwood and dead wood from their overlord's woods and parks. But living wood tended to be out of bounds and protected as a valuable commodity. 
Not all woods were equal either. Ash, beech, hornbeam and willow burned well, but elm and poplar did not.
In towns where access to wood was limited, there were 'woodmongers' who had become an organised body by the 14th century. In London the wood was brought in barges on the Thames, shipped from the Weald via the ports of Kent and Sussex and then brought upriver to London.
Commercial wood fuel was cut to regulation size. The biggest fuel wood, known as a billet was 3ft 6ins long with a circumference of 15 inches. (this was the measurement of an Essex billet). Spit the piece in two and it became known as a shide. These were good for sustaining fires for roasting and general cookery. Timbers of lesser thickness were known as 'astelwood', from the Latin 'hostella' for a thin stick. The smallest branches and longer twigs were bundled together and tied with two wooden bands to form faggots.


More another day as this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Today's photo - Medieval tools including a spade and pitchfork, Museum of London.

1 comment:

Lisa Palone said...

God they're heating rules sound like a condo association.