One of the ways in which our poor rural ancestors could survive economically was to glean. Gleaning was the practice of collecting leftover crops from fields after farmers had finished their harvesting. It was carried out by all members of a family, but women were commonly to be found gleaning with their children – a way of helping the family economy while the husband took on work as a day labourer, for example.
The much-anticipated King Richard III Visitor Centre in Leicester has just opened its doors. The centre uses ground-breaking technology to bring to life the story of the last Plantagenet king, from his rise to power, brutal death and the eventual rediscovery of his remains in a Leicester car park in August 2012.
Today the words ‘beer’ and ‘ale’ are often used interchangeably but historically they are not the same beverage. Until the 13th century the predominant drink of Northern Europe and for all classes was spiced ale, brewed with malt. Brewed on a domestic scale, ale was cloudy, sweet and nutritious, but did not keep and did not travel well without spoiling. The addition of an extra ingredient into ale – the hop – not only changed the taste, making it bitter, it helped to preserve the concoction much longer and stabilised it. By 1400 this new flavoursome drink, beer, was being made on a commercial scale abroad and being imported into England. It seems that skilled Flemings and the Dutch made the good-quality beer, but that some London brewers were attempting to brew hop beer (though not always successfully).
In the 17th and earlier 18th centuries, thousands of people convicted of crimes ranging from petty to serious were shipped to British colonies in the Americas. The American Revolution brought transportation over the Atlantic to an end, but with Britain’s prisons full to bursting, the claiming of Eastern Australia by James Cook for Britain in 1770 opened up the option of sending felons west. Cook’s voyage of discovery allowed the British authorities to consult his findings and locate a suitable new penal site. Although Botany Bay was originally chosen, it was soon deemed unsuitable, and the fledgling colonies travelled to Port Jackson.
By the time war broke out in 1914 there were standard military manuals for just about every aspect of training for the British soldier. The Tommy’s Handbook is a compilation of chapters from original training manuals and booklets that would have been drawn upon by officers, non-commissioned officers and men to train recruits to become soldiers for active service in World War One.
Headwear made of straw or rushes has been worn in Britain since at least the 1200s. The straw hat known as a ‘boater’ appeared in the mid-19th century, reputedly originating in Luton, Bedfordshire, a town famous for hat-making by the 1600s and situated at the heart of the south-east Midlands straw-plaiting industry. The boater hat was distinguished by its manufacture and form: specifically, plaited straw was coiled into a mass then moulded into the familiar ‘boater’ shape comprising a straight, moderately wide brim, topped with a round, flattened crown circled with a ribbon band.
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