The Abbot’s Table, Glastonbury Abbey, Friday 13th June 2014

3466856343[1]The Abbot’s Table on Friday 13th June 2014

Chaired by Professor Roberta Gilchrist

(University of Reading and Glastonbury Abbey Trustee)

09:30 – 10.30 Registration and coffee

10.30 – 10.35 Welcome

10.35 – 10.45 Introduction

10.45 – 11.15 Professor James Clark (University of Exeter): ‘Eating and the monastic life in late medieval England’

11.15 – 11.45 Stewart Brown: `Recent archaeological work’

11.45 – 12.15 Coffee break

12.15 – 12.45 PhD student paper

12.45 – 13.15 Peter Brears: ‘The Form and Function of the Medieval Kitchen’

13.15 – 14.15 Lunch

14.15 – 14.45 Professor Chris Woolgar (University of Southampton): How far can we talk about cuisine in the Benedictine monasteries of late medieval England?

14.45 – 15.15 Coffee break

15.15 – 15.45 Marc Meltonville (Hampton Court Palace): ‘Cooking in the King’s Kitchen. The reconstruction and experimental use of the kitchens of Henry VIII at Hampton Court.’

15.45 – 16.30 Discussion & Questions to the panel from delegates

16.30 – 16.45 Summary

16.45 – 17.00 Closing address


Speaker Biography and Synopsis

Professor James Clark (University of Exeter)

‘Eating and the monastic life in late medieval England’

James Clark is Professor of History at the University of Exeter and Director of the Centre for Medieval Studies. He has published widely on monastic life in medieval England and makes regular contributions to radio and tv documentaries, most recently as series consultant on BBC2’s Tudor Monastery Farm.

‘Monastic glory’s known to one and all: their treats are reading, tears and dinners small!’(anonymous couplet in a medieval English manuscript). Monastic life was expected to be
hard on the mind, the spirit and the body. This was not lost on the monks of late medieval England but unlike the pioneers of early times from whom they had inherited these precepts, they were the residents of well-appointed – even modish – communities which had the benefit of many of the small comforts, and at least some of the great luxuries, available in the outside world. Their investment in food for themselves and their honoured guests was considerable, and, if the bickering chit-chat of the visitation records is to be believed, their preoccupation with it was constant. Yet it would be wrong to represent the last generations of monastic England as wholly given over to high living, whatever the savage portraits of Chaucer – or the sheer scale of their kitchens – might suggest. In reality, these men and women still sought to reconcile the customs of the secular table with the ascetic ideals of the cloister.

Stewart Brown
Stewart Brown is a field archaeologist (MIFA). He has been an independent archaeological contractor since 1988. He began his career with the Exeter Museums’ Archaeological Field Unit (1972-9), then won a scholarship to attend the Oxford `In Service Training Scheme’ run jointly by Oxford University and the Archaeological branch of the DoE (now English Heritage). From 1982-8 he was Archaeologist and Interpretation/Education Officer at Buckfast Abbey

Excavation of the present 14th dating from the first stone kitchen on the site, as well as one wall footing from an earlier timber structure. Building recording revealed evidence for lost features of the kitchen, as `Recent archaeological work’ -century kitchen’s interior uncovered floors and hearthswell as a hitherto unknown phase of makeshift structures having been erected against
he kitchen’s north and south walls, probably in the early post-medieval period.

PhD Student
This part of the day will offer the opportunity for PhD student/s to deliver a paper.

Peter Brears

‘The Form and Function of the Medieval Kitchen’

Peter Brears is one of Britain’s leading food historians and a winner of the prestigious international Andre Simon Food Book of the Year 2009 for his book ‘Cooking and Dining in Medieval England’. After a distinguished career in museums, including the directorship
of the York and Leeds City Museums, he became a freelance museum and historic
house consultant and food history writer in 1994. Since then he has undertaken a wide range of research and development projects for Historic Royal Palaces, the National trust, English heritage and others. In 1986 he was a founding member of the Leeds Symposium on Food History and Traditions, in addition to producing separate books both on this subject, and on museum collections of domestic artefacts. In all of these he has demonstrated his skills as an illustrator, his drawings greatly adding to the reader’s understanding and appreciation of our culinary heritage.

Medieval kitchens were carefully planned so as to be as safe and efficient as possible. Using comparisons with other great English kitchens, their buildings and fixtures, this lecture will use their evidence to demonstrate how the Abbot’s kitchen was intended to be used and explain some of its lesser-known but revealing features.

Professor Chris Woolgar (University of Southampton)

How far can we talk about cuisine in the Benedictine monasteries of late medieval England?
Chris Woolgar is Professor of History and Archival Studies at the University of Southampton, where he is Director of the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Culture. His books include The Great Household in Late Medieval England (Yale University Press, 1999), The Senses in Late Medieval England (Yale University Press, 2006) and a volume, edited with Dale Serjeantson and Tony Waldron, on Food in Medieval England: Diet and Nutrition (Oxford University Press, 2006). He is currently writing a book on the culture of food in the later Middle Ages.

If, at first glance, it may seem an unpromising line of enquiry to focus on cuisine in monasteries, there is good evidence to show that the scale of the investment in foodstuffs, in cooking and in the kitchens and bakehouses of the great Benedictine abbeys of England was impressive. The Abbot’s Kitchen at Glastonbury is indicative of monastic interest not only in food, but in cuisine. Cooks of distinction prepared the piquant sauces that formed an important component of elite dining, bakers produced a bewildering variety of loaves, of different size and fineness, from a range of grains; and the quality of ingredients was carefully judged. High-class cookery came with a style of dining that would not have been out of place in the households of the upper ranks in late medieval England. In this pattern of consumption, the monastic world was at its most receptive to secular ideas.

Marc Meltonville (Hampton Court Palace)
The reconstruction and experimental use of the kitchens of Henry VIII at Hampton

Marc has worked in museums for over 20 years in education, exhibition design and more lately interpretation. A chance meeting with a noted food historian led him to be involved with the first experiment with live historic cookery at Hampton Court in 1991. Supposedly a one off project; Marc has worked with the Historic Royal Palaces ever since.

Since 2006 he has been based at Hampton Court working first on the research and representation of the Tudor kitchens and then as similar project to open the long lost Royal Kitchens at Kew Palace. Lately he has been involved in the research and reconstruction of the King George I’s Chocolate Kitchen at Hampton Court.

These projects have seen him involved with numerous TV and radio programmes along
with lecturing across the UK and North America.
In March this year Marc went to Virginia to lecture on his current work and have a go at making whiskey in an 18th Century distillery at Mount Vernon.

Book a place:


Published by James Alexander Cameron

I am an art historian working primarily on medieval parish church architecture. I completed my doctorate on sedilia in medieval England in 2015 at The Courtauld Institute of Art.

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