Tudor Monastery Farm

Tudor Monastery Farm (credit BBC/Lion Television/Laura Rawlinson)

Historian Ruth Goodman and archaeologists Peter Ginn and Tom Pinfold turn the clock back over 500 years to run a farm at the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum in West Sussex exactly as it would have been in 1500, during the reign of the first Tudor King, Henry VII.

The biggest land-owners of the age, other than the king, were the monasteries. These ancient religious institutions dominated the landscape, not just in matters of worship but almost every aspect of life, from education and crafts to commerce and the main industry of the era: farming.

With the lives of monks dedicated to prayer and religious rites, they needed ordinary people to supply the agricultural labour on their lands. Ruth, Peter and Tom will be doing the work of tenants on a farm owned by the monastery, using only the tools and materials of the age. At a time when faith provided an explanation for everything, from the state of the weather to the growth of crops, the team take on new challenges to raise livestock, cultivate period crops and master new crafts under the watchful eye of their monastic landlords.

The turn of the 16th century saw England emerging from the medieval Dark Ages. Under the first Tudor monarch, the country was enjoying a period of peace and stability after years of plague, famine and war. And a new breed of enterprising farmer was boosting food production and profiting from the land as never before.

In Episode one, the team arrives at the farm to tackle domestic tasks, including lighting fires with flint, making meals with depleted crops during the Hunger Gap and using a treadwheel to fetch water from the well.

Peter and Tom set to work to move the sheep to fresh grass, build a pig’s house with no nails and plough with cows! Ruth makes a tallow light out of rushes and sheep fat. To equip the kitchen, she visits Robin Wood, one of the few men in Britain who can transform a log into a wooden bowl. Then, making the favourite Tudor dish of pottage, Ruth performs the ritual of laying the table, an act full of Christian symbolism. The team follows a key custom of the time in setting up a religious guild, dedicated to the patron saint of farming, St Benedict.

They also celebrate one of the most important religious events of the year - Palm Sunday - which signalled the coming of Easter, a time of much merry-making, where foliage was blessed by a priest and hung over doors to ward off evil spirits and misfortune. It also requires Peter to dress up and play the role of a prophet.


Confirmed for BBC Two on 13 November at 9.00pm to 10.00pm

Ep 1/6

Wednesday 13 November



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