Tudor Monastery Farm: The animals were the stars

Wednesday 13 November 2013, 14:01

Tom Pinfold Tom Pinfold Presenter

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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.

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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, Peter Ginn and Tom Pinfold 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.

Peter, Ruth, Sparky and Tom 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.

Tom and Peter holding geese 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. 

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    Comment number 61.

    Hello everyone!!

    And a special hello to Janet who is our regular blog visitor! I think a multitude of visits to Bayleaf is a must for you. As a building the ground floor is divided up into a buttery and a pantry adjacent to each other, then the large open area you see us eating in, and then there is a further room, with double bed, clothes chests and a large spinning wheel. Basically everything you could need after a big meal…. Thirty yards from Bayleaf is Winkhurst which houses the Tudor kitchen, with cooking displays most days and the opportunity to try some food… The seating arrangements that you also refer to are very much a question of status and the male/female divide in this period. With an open mind one can look back and see how important the roles were of both men and women in keeping the farm going but as the men did the big jobs and dealt with other men in business they, rightly or wrongly, were perceived to be more important. All I know is; without Ruth, we would have had a very rough time. And the female headdress covering the women’s hair was to protect their modesty and not let their hair turn men’s heads. Conservative as that might seem, women’s dress is still a point of discussion in modern-day Britain.

    I’m really glad you’re enjoying the programme koala_girl. I think the thing to remember is, taking wattle and daub as an example, it was a process that was around before the Romans arrived so a lot of techniques would have been passed down by word-of –mouth. And I think it is human nature to experiment with everything, and building/construction techniques are just the same. Couple that with necessity, such as what building materials does one have available, then one can kind of understand where these innovative ideas originated and evolved. I’m also glad to hear that the pig sty stands, it took a lot longer to construct than the programme suggested so we hoped it would continue housing piglets and their mothers for a long time yet.

    A curious side effect Rae_79, is that, when you do a project like this, any misconception one has about our lifestyle and how evolved we are, is instantly challenged. We have become very consumer focussed, we tend to look for things that will do all sorts for us, with a long-term aim of savings us time. However, to pay for these ‘luxuries’ we spend more time working. Maybe the Tudor way of only working with what’s in front of you, while the sun is up, actually made them more efficient than we could ever hope to be, purely out of necessity.

    Michelle and jay88, the costumes were our constant companions through out the programmes. And in the case of Peter’s and mine, ended up taking thorough batterings on a regular basis (but mainly due to lead mining as you will see in Episode 4). Our costumes were made by a number of different people but based upon drawings of the time, though Peter’s costume was bob on for the period, his shorts were a later introduction to preserve modesty. And my costume was of slightly later Flemish origin, dare I say it, but I am a trend-setter. Forgive me if I don’t comment on Peter’s cod-piece specifically, after several months in close proximity to it, it makes me feel nauseous.

    I am pleased to report LizzieG that both the cold remedy and the sheep salve worked! Happy and healthy was what we were after and I’m pleased to report that both Peter and sheep were doing well! And Peter and I enjoyed copious amounts of cheese to celebrate.

    With regards to the case of wording in the commentary and the Mass as mentioned by Markcd, I think the emphasis is that, at this time all the English were Catholics, but not for much longer, so the commentary is not saying that Catholics reference these things differently now but, with the change to Protestantism in England during Henry VIII’s reign, beliefs and practices were about to change back then and as a Protestant country now, there is a difference. There was no intention to imply the practice of Catholicism has changed.

    Richard C, you are preaching to the choir, Peter and I would have loved to set a load of children to work while we took a more supervisory stance but since Tudor times, employment laws have been tightened up somewhat and we weren’t allowed to harness the power of the youth! As we did not have that option we looked like crippled, arthritic adults ourselves by the end. Still, all an experience.

    And finally Dingus54, while we could ask some contributors not wear their glasses, it had to be done on a practical scale based on how badly they needed them… I appreciate that spectacles looked out of context but we’d rather that occurrence than we injure and maim most of the Tudor experts in the country, at the very least our programmes are meant to be fun and relaxed so we needed people to feel comfortable. I hope you understand.

    In Episode 4 you will see Peter and I lead mining which we thought was epic, very tough in the height of Summer in Tudor clothing, but one of our best experiences we had while filming so I hope you enjoy it too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Hello Tom. It is ten years since we visited the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, to try to make sense of the strange layout of our home, which we subsequently learned dates from the early fourteenth century.. We knew virtually nothing about medieval domestic life and barely understood the significance of what we saw. Since then we have learned enough to know just how little we actually know.. So, you can imagine how fascinating 'Tales from the Green Valley' was to us. Seeing life as it was, for ordinary folk, in 1620. But, to go much further back, way, way back into the misty time of the late Middle Ages, well, that is incredible. Half a millennium distances us from the world you revived, revealing the ways of the days that really mattered to those far away folk.

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    Comment number 63.

    Just caught up with the first of these on the iPlayer and am absolutely loving the series! So interesting. Like other commenters, I wondered about the spectacles but know I'd find it incredibly difficult to manage without mine. I do wonder whether our sight gets worse though as we become so dependent on them in modern life.

    Anyway, being a bit of a Benedictine geek, one small correction: unlike most other monastic orders, Benedictines don't, and didn't then, take vows of "celibacy, poverty and obedience". They vow stability (lifelong commitment to the individual monastic community they have joined), conversion of life (lots of different translations, but broadly fidelity to a prayerful monastic life) and obedience (which of course is the same and means obedience not only to the Abbott or Abbess, but to the Rule of Benedict and the Benedictine way of life). Celibacy and poverty are implied, not explicit.

    I love what Ruth says about there being something of the sacred in the daily ritual of eating a meal. Much more difficult to be aware of now with food coming out of the microwave.

    And that brush for illuminating lettering made out of a pared down feather pulled through the tube of the quill - such simple genius!

    Now off to watch the second one!

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    This is a good series, and authentic in parts. A trip to Kentwell Hall at Long Melford would go a long way to making it truly authentic. It is a little depressing to see a person dressed in Tudor costume wearing 21st century specatacles, when it would be so easy to make an authentic pair of 'Venetians'. It is also worth noting that a 'common' person of that period would not have been able to afford spectacles unless he or she was lucky enough to have a sponsor amongst the gentry or merchant class.

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    Comment number 65.

    'Winkhust' was, I understand, initially thought to be a medieval dwelling and was only correctly identified as a separate kitchen by David Martin, (Archaology S E, Institute of Archaeology, UCL) and I believe, it was re sited to be adjacent to Bayleaf. Incidentally, that posh name of 'Winkhurst' is a tad ironic, given that it was originally a place of toil for women and servants. Also, Ruth is seen there using a wall mounted brick hearth and stack, but, this is almost certainly a late c16th/17th modernisation, replacing a timber and daub Smoke Bay. This would have been very obvious to the her medieval predecessors. However, it is easy to point out details. Much later buildings are seen in background shots, firelight glints in the modern glasses perched on someone's not so late medieval nose and no one speaks in late medieval English. Problem is, if they were so 'authentic', would we understand much of what they were saying - and more importantly - how many of us would give up and change channel? Working within a limited budget, Ruth, Tom and Peter have brought a long, lost world to life. That is good enough for me.

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    Comment number 66.

    I've just been told that the 'Smoke Bay' in the Kitchen was reconstructed and presumably Ruth was using it.

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    Comment number 67.

    I love these series but miss Alex's cheeky smile and comments. I think this one is my least favourite - it jumps about too much from farm to monastery then the mill, then somewhere else. Too much background narration, it's like having a lesson. Miss the banter between Ruth, Peter & Alex/Tom. We don't see them in daily life, cooking, eating, sleeping. Am still watching though.

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    Comment number 68.

    The hats are fantastic! Can I have one when the series is finished?
    But I have a serious point too: the guys are doing the hand sowing all wrong. I was taught by an old man 40 years ago: it's a sweet flowing motion, forehand.

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    Comment number 69.

    Polly has got a good point on the disjointed narrative. We are not seeing actual day to day life unfold quite as the programme title would lead us to expect. The monastic overlords, for example, are given considerable attention, but were essentially background to the seasonal struggle of farming folk to live and raise families. Monks and mud did not happily mix. Perhaps the essence of the problem is the real lack of detailed knowledge of the day to day lives of everyday people. It is still within the province of archaeology. Contrast this with the huge volume of information available to the writers of, say, 'Victorian Farm'. Our knowledge of ordinary medieval lives is patchy. Even the reconstructed buildings at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museium contain elements based on a certain amount of informed guesswork. These programs are part of this learning process.

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    Comment number 70.

    I do hope someone actually checked that the mine was safe before you went wandering into it, they can be dangerous. It must have been cold and damp, judging by your breath.

    flawsman - I know people who make hats and would happily sell you one. In fact I suspect my reed sunhat was made by the same people who made the reed sunhats that they are wearing in the program.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Great series but I was sorry to hear Ruth repeating the mistaken belief (common among historians I believe) that the alcohol in ale was what made it safe to drink. The 4% (possibly as much as 8%) in ale would not kill any sort of infection ( about 70% by volume is used in medical circles to do that). Even in wine making where it reaches about 14% it stops the yeast from working but doesn't prevent the wine from spoilage by contaminated corks. It is the heat treatment used in the brewing process that renders well water safe to drink. Boiled water would be just as good albeit less nutritious and certainly less popular.

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    Comment number 72.

    Boiling kills the bugs alright and ale is full of calories and goodness. Trace minerals etc kept folk healthy. Centuries later, the success of the Salvation Army in their campaign against beer drinking resulted in a rise in malnutrition.

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    Comment number 73.

    I missed the explanation regarding the covering of women's hair. Was it related to religion or lice?

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    Comment number 74.

    An excellent programme , spoiled by errors and incomplete info . Tudors did not bathe because they feared infection, they knew nothing about it. The episode about the blast furnace was so cut down as to be meaningless. This type , if a working model ,which I doubt , would produce cast iron and would have to be worked further. The fulling mill would need a supply of stale urine to produce enough ammonia. Yeast is a micro-organism, not a bacteria. Hops keep beer fresh, ale goes off and has to be made afresh. The latest one , was a joke, someone describing how to make white lead, a basic carbonate, only gave half the process. The lead sheets were placed over bowls of vinegar stacked in a pyramid and covered with spent tanners bark and manure. The covering supplied the heat and carbon dioxide needed to make the lead carbonate. Red ochre is not a clay, it is iron oxide. Please get someone who knows to check your scripts

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    Comment number 75.

    Why is it that no one seems to be able to use a hammer properly, The episode in the mine was hilarious , give him a club hammer next time. The fire they built to smelt lead was overkill. It was reckoned that lead could be smelted on a kitchen fire. What exactly was done in the refining, a few green twigs would have processed the metal. At Enfield , copper was refined by poling, using saplings.

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    Comment number 76.

    Hello ellenGB. The explanation for the covering of women's hair was that, I think, of 'modesty'. Bit puzzling because, apparently in medieval times, unmarried women wore their hair down and uncovered. Have seen contemporary pictures confirming this. Upon marriage, the hair was worn up and covered, but, even this was not universal apparently.

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    Comment number 77.

    And hair was often tied up to avoid dirt and dipping it in whatever you were doing..

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    Comment number 78.

    Norman, you can make lead carbonate exactly the way they described, I've done so. What you describe is an industrial method (one that sounds different from the medieval one which I have read of) which of course would not be used by the average artist.

    Moreover, whilst you are right that the lead smelting wasn't done properly, that's not because their fire was too big, although arguably it was for the small amount of lead they had, but because they didn't build a proper wall around it- medieval lead boles were done with a 3 sided enclosure, the open one towards the wind. You needed over 600C, which can be achieved on a very good kitchen fire, although nobody likes the sulphurous fumes I fail to see why you would want to try it on a kitchen fire (They didn't say that the lead ore was lead sulphide, galena, that I remember).
    The poling of copper is different from lead purification, different metal, different method. Poling is the later part of purifying copper, after you've oxidised all the impurities in it; by adding the green timber you create lots of gases which reduce the copper oxide formed previously in the air blast. Oxidising your lead in a blast of air isn't very helpful. The purification after the bole was quite right, albeit on a rather oversized furnace/ bellows setup.

    The blast furnace certainly wasn't made enough of, given it's importance at the time, a very new technology to England at the time so worth emphasising, especially given its importance in the Weald for well over a century.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    The programmes are good entertainment, but if they are to be truly educational they need to be more accurate. Some of the cast members belong to the Hadden Hall group so there is no excuse for inaccuracies.
    Not sure about having to use a lens to invert the picture in the camera obscura.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Hi , really enjoying the programme. It is good to see you all having a laugh together - historical and informative but good fun too. Every time we watch it my partner says " I love their straw hats", and as I haven't got anything sorted for xmas I wondered if you can tell me where they were from and if I can buy one? Cheers


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