2017 AGM Talks

The first talk was by our Secretary, Mavis Shannon, and was entitled ‘Oats, Oats and More Oats’. Before potatoes became the staple diet in Lancashire oats were the staple diet. The reason for this is that oats were a less risky crop than wheat and barley, as it is more resistant to winds and heavy rains which can occur not infrequently in this area. Oats were not grown in the mossland, i.e. marshland areas, which covered a third of the county and were unsuitable for arable cultivation. Mavis drew our attention to the place-name Haverthwaite which is found in the Furness area; it is made up of the Old Norse components; ‘haver’ meaning oats, ‘thwaite’ meaning clearing. How were the oats processed? They were ground into groats, the coarsest grade, – or fine, as oatmeal flour. There were two main cooking methods for oats. First of all pottage was made, which is essentially the same dish as modern porridge, which could be made watery, milky or meaty depending on what one could afford. This would be cooked on an open peat fire in a big cooking pot. (Such pots, because of their value, were often family heirlooms.) The pottage was usually flavoured with salt, leeks and onions. The second way of cooking the oats was to make oatcakes or oat bread both of which were cooked on a griddle or bakestone. There were three types: bannock, clapbread and jannock. Jannock could be a very large unleavened bread that was divided into thwacks or thwangs. Clapbread was often dried and could be stored for weeks. Oats were and still are used in haggis and black-pudding. However, cheap Canadian wheat drove out traditional oatbreads as lighter, wheat, yeast breads became the staple.

Margaret Edwards then gave us a talk about Lumley Castle, in Co. Durham, which stands above the River Wear near Chester-le-Street. The Lumleys flourished from C14, when Sir Ralph Lumley was a strong supporter of Richard II. Sir Ralph gained a licence to crenellate the family’s manor house from both the Bishop of Durham and King Richard. The castle is gaunt and dramatic, standing in a strategic location bordering a ravine on the east. Each of its four sturdy towers housed a newel staircase extending from ground to roof levels. Pevsner dated its building to 1392 and thought the chapel was probably in the north-east tower. The main gate was in the east wall and it bore interesting displays of heraldry, presenting the shields and crests of the King and of local families linked with the Lumleys, as well as those of the family itself. During the 1580s Sir John Lumley installed an ornate entrance, flanked by turrets and decorated with nine pairs of coats of arms, leading from the courtyard to the hall, which was in the west range of the castle. In the 1720s Sir John Vanburgh was engaged to remodel parts of the castle and he created a new west façade crowned by a cupola, which placed the main entrance in the castle’s west range. In the same renovations a staircase, which projected into the courtyard, and corridors were inserted in the south range. Over several centuries the Lumley family was greatly ennobled and eventually rose to be Earls of Scarborough. The present Earl is the owner today and leases the castle to a company which runs it as a hotel, the family residing in its main castle, in Yorkshire.

Our next talk was entitled ‘The Return of the Romans’ but could have been entitled ‘Defeating the Romans’, because Derek Forrest demonstrated to us the composite bows used by Asiatic horse archers who defeated the Romans on a number of occasions. In 53BC Crassus and 20,000 legionaries were killed. Valerian was defeated by horse-archers in C3. These archers used a recurved bow made of bone and wood. A thumb ring with a groove (an example of which Derek circulated) enabled them to gain control of the bow whilst controlling the horse. These rings were made of wood or bone, or even gold and silver. The Japanese are still very keen on horse archery as a sport.

Our final talk was given by Dr. Bill Shannon on bronze castings he had witnessed being made near Semerwater in Yorkshire. He observed a re-creation of the casting of a bronze spearhead which had been discovered in the area. Once a day the demonstrator used the ancient ‘lost wax’ method; but for other castings he adopted a more modern technique consisting of using two pieces of wood, set in sand, with a plaster cast inside. Apparently the original spearhead is still more impressive; but this demonstration was nevertheless a very interesting example of experimental archaeology.

Blog posted by Jeanette Dobson, 31 January 2017

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