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Tudor Monastery Farm: The animals were the stars

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I have been friends with my Tudor Monastery Farm co-presenter Peter Ginn since university.

Afterwards we worked together as archaeologists in Hampshire and this friendship laid the foundations, no pun intended, for building the pigsty for the BBC documentary series Victorian Farm.

Little did I know that six years later I would again be responsible for further porcine housing at the monastery farm in West Sussex.

A new class of business savvy farmer was thriving in the Tudor era

Along with the historian Ruth Goodman, Peter and I took on the work of tenant farmers during the reign of Henry VII, the first Tudor King, using only the tools and resources the farm workers had back in 1500.

As I think back to November in 2007 in Shropshire where the ground was frozen most mornings and it got dark around 4.30pm, it is hard to compare the Victorian Farm experience to the incredible summer we’ve just had this year down in Sussex.

However, as before, the animals were so central to our time on the farm, bringing a range of personalities to complement Peter and myself. And I like to think that our favourite animals reflected who we are.

In Peter’s case he loved the cows (they are docile, sometimes bolshie and like their food) and I on the other hand, was a fan of the horse (Peter thought he was a show-boater), the dog (limited attention span and on occasion hard to control) and the small pigs (ever curious with a tendency to roll around in mud).

The animals were definitely the stars of the show with an instinctive feeling for camera angles and slapstick comedy.

Our cows Gwen and Graceful were given to diva moments whenever they decided they were hungry or bored.

Ruth Goodman drives the plough while Tom Pinfold and Peter Ginn motivate and guide the cows

One memorable moment saw them stop in the middle of the museum market place after we had just carried out a difficult turning manoeuvre surrounded by members of the public.

I am not sure whether they were waiting for applause from the aforementioned public but much like a car that has overheated, they refused to move, and Peter and I could do little but stand there for five minutes making small talk until decided they would proceed slowly (but only to stop us looking stupid, not because they wanted to).

Sparky the horse was always well-behaved until there was a photo opportunity and then you better believe he would be vying for centre stage, on one occasion almost knocking me out in his desperation for a headshot alongside myself, Peter and Ruth.

Centre of attention: Peter, Ruth and Tom pose for a photo with Sparky

He also had a tendency to lick my face just before the two of us had a photo together. As I turned to look at him in disgust he would face the camera and there would be a click sound.

Once again, Sparky had cemented his place as the star while I was the bloke facing the wrong way with horse dribble running down the side of his face.

However, I think I can safely say none of us liked the geese.

Least of all Giulia Clark, one of our directors who, while giving us some much needed guidance stepped too close to a goose Peter was holding and was bitten on the arm in a particularly aggressive manner leaving a bruise that lasted several days.

They were cantankerous, camera-shy and above all disinterested in any plans we had for them.

No love lost: Tom and Peter with the grouchy geese, whose feathers were used to make quill pens

Maybe the most pertinent point about keeping animals in Tudor times is that animals were not pets, they were part of the farm team.

You could develop affection for them but in Tudor times if you had a dog you would have to feed it meat - meat you would have to take off the plates of your family.

If the dog did not earn its keep, it was worthless. I have grown up with dogs and I love them, so it is hard to think of them in such clinical, unforgiving terms.

I can truly say every day on Tudor Monastery Farm was different and challenging, the days were long and busy.

Working with a wide range of contributors added real flavour to our experience.

There were those who were gentle guiding lights, and then there were those who, when given the brief that Peter or I were akin to apprentices, were happy to play up to the role of master.

Consequently, Peter and I, two men in our thirties, could find ourselves getting told off!!

Luckily broad shoulders and a sense of humour can get one through most trials... all in all it was a fantastic time.

Tom Pinfold is an archaeologist and presenter on Tudor Monastery Farm.

Tudor Monastery Farm is on Wednesday, 13 November at 9pm on BBC Two and BBC Two HD. For further programme times please see the episode guide.

More on Tudor Monastery Farm
BBC Breakfast: Turning back to Tudor times: Interview with Ruth Goodman, Peter Ginn and Tom Pinfold
The Telegraph: Behind the scenes on BBC Two's Tudor Monastery Farm
University of Exeter: Exeter academic guides BBC2's new living history series Tudor Monastery Farm

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Comments

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  • Comment number 36. Posted by Tom Pinfold

    on 25 Nov 2013 11:02

    Thank you grannysage and Martin Casey, good and positive feedback is always appreciated!!! I believe that we actually have more and more interesting activities coming up so hopefully the programmes will get better and better too!!!

    A word to angelicsunday; I appreciate where you are coming from, however we are used first and foremost as archaeologists and/or historians not as TV presenters, we do not learn scripts which is pretty much unique in television these days and we attempt to impart information in as informal a manner as the subject matter will allow. If at times we are seen talking off camera that is in fact a ploy to include the audience, and not, please believe me, ignore or insult them. Our main emphasis is to keep working and it can be a lot easier to look up as we work at a person than try to locate a camera lens. Our directors are very keen to film actuality rather than a series of staged pieces to camera. I hope on some level that explains the way we do things.

    So many of you are right! I’ll be honest, the unglazed floor ventilation technique was a real eye-opener for me too. Moments like that are when Ruth really comes ‘into her own’ and makes one marvel at the simplicity yet effectiveness of the ‘old ways.’ One of the great challenges of these programmes is working with what you have, and the example of the unglazed tiles shows that what we have is sometimes great!!

    And sgwbsyci, I think if you had Bear Grylls, Ray Mears and Ruth Goodman on your team, you might not even notice that civilisation had ended!

    And finally, Janet, I think you will enjoy episode 5 enormously as we look at the role of the monasteries as providers of alms and centres of social support for the less-fortunate and the old.…

    A big thank you to everyone for their thoughts and feedback!

  • Comment number 31. Posted by Rae79

    on 21 Nov 2013 14:23

    Great second programme. Ruth, Peter and Tom's enthusiasm for every task they take on is very infectious.

    I personally never fail to be amazed at the ingenuity of our ancestors and, for example, how people first found out that by smoking wood it made it pliable or adding water to the tiled floor of a buttery would keep the temperature down. I imagine it was discovered by accident or pure observation but it shows how removed we are from such a time. You want a cool environment for cheese making, you get a refrigeration system, etc., etc. How someone found out that adding the product of a sheep's stomach helped in cheese making though I will never understand!

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  • Comment number 21. Posted by Tom Pinfold

    on 18 Nov 2013 20:55

    Thank you all for commenting on the programme. We had a fantastic time, it’s incredibly hard work, but when you stand back and think “we did that”, it’s all worth it. The learning curves are always steep but constantly rewarding too. And the fact that things like the pigsty still stand, despite numerous inhabitants, mean that we continue to take satisfaction from these projects.
    We would never pretend what we do is comparable to what our ancestors experienced, but in our own small way we would physically test ourselves, and be tested, on a daily basis. Many external factors helped us greatly, we had a very long Summer and we were lucky to film in some stunning and uplifting locations around the country including Gloucester Cathedral and the Weald and Downland Museum. The locations are so central in helping us focus on our heritage and really tie the programme together.

    Peter and Neal, you were both a pleasure to work with! Great banter mixed with a great work ethic made you both a pleasure to be around, on the good days and the bad. Unlike the geese, who are the divas of the farm world, and rarely a pleasure full-stop. They know they look good on camera though… Suzie, I’m sorry you got on their bad side also.

    For those of you who are missing Alex; he was also missed during the making of the programme but he had many other commitments. However, I am pleased to let you know he is now a Dr.

    As for some of the issues raised about the term ‘British’ regarding this period; of course historically at this time we were not British, but these programmes are intended to be inclusive, in the same way that we are based mainly in Sussex that does not mean what we are doing is not applicable to other parts of the England, and there would be some similarities in lifestyle, crafts and housing between parts of England, Wales and Scotland. However, you make a fair point, thank you. We strive to be correct on all points but every now and then accuracy can get away from us.

    On a personal note, I’d like to thank Rae79 and Janet amongst others for their very kind words. It has been a rollercoaster experience, everyday was different with new challenges but I wouldn’t swap what I went through for anything!!! When one is making the programme you are in a sort of bubble, and then the release date comes along. It is a surreal feeling to see yourself on screen as part of a Tudor story but hopefully this series will entertain and please as much as previous programmes. And Janet, there is plenty of information to come on floors in Episode 5 so I won’t reveal too much now, but thank you for all your comments.

    And on a final note, please forgive me if I make no comment or observations about Peter’s cod piece. There are certain things between friends that never need to be discussed (or indeed thought about)!!

  • Comment number 13. Posted by Janet

    on 15 Nov 2013 10:47

    I noticed that there seemed to be no rushes on the floor of Bayleaf although most authorities that I have read seem to insist on their presence in medieval halls. I have always wondered whether these same writers have ever attempted to walk on them, or, that they might be a fire risk given that they would surround an open hearth. In my limited experience medieval halls were floored with beaten clay, or flagstones, the problem being that few survive to be examined. I stand to be corrected.

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  • Comment number 1. Posted by Peter Ginn

    on 13 Nov 2013 17:34

    "He also had a tendency to lick my face just before the two of us had a photo together" - for a second I thought you were talking about me Tom! I was going to say I really don't remember doing that! But it was such a wonderful and busy year I can't remember everything we did together. All I know for certain was it was fun and a pleasure to be on a tudor adventure with you!

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