Author Archives: Helen Nicholson

Feeding the workers: potage and mixture

Let them eat porridge!

In her study Temple Balsall, The Warwickshire preceptory of the Templars and their Fate (Chichester: Phillimore, 1995), Eileen Gooder discussed the payments to farm workers: cash for specified full-time roles such as bailiff, plough overseer, carter, cowherd, etc., and potage and a grain mixture (pp. 31–2). She did not differentiate between the general famuli and the farmworkers with named roles, although the fact that the accounts do differentiate suggests that some famuli were simply labourers. The potage was a porridge made of a quarter of oatmeal and salt: Gooder notes that in one year a bushel of salt was bought for the potage.  The farm workers were also paid a ‘mixture’ of 7.5 quarters of wheat, 15 quarters one bushel of dredge (mixed oats and barley) and two bushels of peas (p. 31). Gooder reckoned that the ‘mixture’ food payment would amount to 4,000 calories a day, ‘which, with the potage, would give more than enough nourishment, taking no account of palatability, need for vitamins and variety of diet. In other words, even the least favoured of the famuli were in no danger of starving’ (p. 32).
But how did this compare to other former Templar manors? Looking at the accounts I have transcribed to date, the potage was invariably made of oats and salt, but ‘mixture’ varied.

Shropshire and Staffordshire: mixture was wheat and rye.

At Lydley in Shropshire (TNA: E 358/18 rot 4): The potage was made by an ancilla or maid, also called a Daye or cook-dairyman. A quarter of salt was purchased for the potage at Lydley, which  contained 1 quarter 7 bushels of oat flour; in year two it contained 1 quarter 6 bushels of oat flour. The employees in named roles, such as the ploughmen and the maid, received a ration of ‘mixture’, which in the first year comprised purely wheat. There were no cash payments.

At Long Stanton there was an ancilla domus ( a house maid), who may have had the same responsibility for potage as her colleague at Lydley. One and a half quarters of oat flour went into the potage. No ‘mixture’ is mentioned in year one.

At Holt Preen a garcio (a ‘boy’ or lad) made the potage. One and half bushels of salt were bought in the first year for potage , and one and half quarters of oat flour went into the potage. There was no ‘mixture’.

At Keele, a quarter of flour from the mill went into the potage. ‘Mixture’ comprised 13 quarters of wheat, 16.5 bushels of rye, and 13 quarters 3 bushels blad’ molendini – presumably ‘toll corn taken for grinding the grain of all the tenants, a regular right of the lord of any manor’ (Gooder, p. 32).

 Worcestershire: mixture was wheat and peas.

At Hill Croome in Worcestershire (TNA: E 358/19 rot 47 dorse) the potage was made by an ancilla. It contained a quarter of oat flour. The employees in named roles (such as the ploughmen and the maid) received a ration of ‘mixture’, which comprised 6 quarters 1 bushel of wheat and 4.5 quarters of peas.

At Temple Broughton in Worcestershire the potage was apparently made by an ancilla (she is listed among the employees but not specified as the potage-maker). The potage comprised a quarter of oat flour. The employees in named roles received ‘mixture’ (comprising 7 quarters of wheat to 5 quarters 7 bushels of peas). TNA: E 358/19 rot 50: In year three at Temple Broughton two bushels of salt were bought for potage, but presumably – as no salt was bought in year one – this was more than a year’s supply.

Herefordshire: the mixture was made of wheat and peas.

At Garway in Herefordshire: TNA: E 358/18, rot. 2 [year 1] potage was made by a garcio or lad, called in subsequent years a daye or cook-dairyman. 6 quarters of oat flour went into the potage. The employees in named roles (such as the ploughmen and the garcio) received a ration of mixture, comprising 100 quarters of wheat and 29 quarters 2 bushels of peas. They also received payment in cash. At Garway in the expenses for year two (rot. 2d) the account notes that the famuli receive additional food and drink at Christmas and Easter by custom, at a cost of 5 shillings and three pence: ‘Et in exp[e]n’ o[mniu]m fam[ulorum] hui[us] Maner[ij] in p[r]ando + potu ex cons[uetudine] usit’ dieb[us] Nat[al’] d[omin]i + pasch’, v s iij d.’

At Upleadon, again a garcio made the potage. An unspecified quantity of salt was bought for the potage and six quarters of oat flour went into it. The employees such as the ploughmen and the reapers received mixture comprising 40 quarters 5 bushels of wheat and 12 quarters 6 bushels one peck of peas. Again, they also received payment in cash.

Norfolk and Suffolk: ‘mixture’ was varying proportions of wheat, rye, barley, peas and toll grain.

At Gislingham in Norfolk (TNA: E 358/18 rot.3) in year one, 4 bushels of oat flour went into the potage; in year two it contained an unspecified quantity of salt and six bushels of oat flour. There was also mixture paid to ‘famuli’ who were specified by job title: the ploughmen, the shepherd, the maid (presumably maker of the potage), and the carter. This ‘mixture’ comprised two bushels of wheat, 3 quarters 2 bushels and 1 peck of barley, 3.5 quarters of peas and 6 quarters of ‘multure molendini’. In year two the ‘mixture’ comprised 4 quarters 3 bushels of wheat,1 quarter 3 bushels of barley, 5 quarters 7 bushels of peas and 6 quarters of ‘multure molendini’, which Eileen Gooder identifies as the ‘toll corn taken for grinding the grain of all the tenants, a regular right of the lord of any manor’ (p. 32). As in Herefordshire, there were also cash payments to some employees.

At Togrind in Norfolk/Suffolk there was no potage but ‘mixture’ was paid to farmworkers specified by job title, and some also received payments in cash. The ‘mixture’ comprised 1 quarter of rye and 6 quarters 3 bushels of barley.

At Haddiscoe in Norfolk, again there was no potage but ‘mixture’ was paid to specified farmworkers. In year one this comprised 2 quarters of rye, 2 quarters of barley and 2 bushels of peas. In year two it was made of 2 quarters 2.5 bushels of rye, one quarter 2.5 bushels of barley and a quarter of peas.

At Dunwich in Suffolk, again there was no potage but specified farmworkers were paid ‘mixture’. In year one this was made of 3 bushels of wheat, 3 quarters of rye and 1.5 quarters of barley. In year two it was 3 quarters one bushel of rye, 2 quarters 3 bushels of barley, but no wheat; apparently no wheat was grown in that year.

In short, the level of nourishment that the former Templars’ workforce received varied from one part of the country to another. Of those set out above, the workers in Norfolk and Suffolk received the most varied diet, while Shropshire and Staffordshire lacked peas. The potage in Shrops and Staffs was made of flour, whereas elsewhere it was made of oats and there was no mention of these having been ground or milled. There is no mention of liquid being added to the potage, so presumably like modern ‘Scottish’ porridge it was made with water rather than milk.

Calculating acreages: the problems of working from manuscripts

I have been blogging again about the Templars’ estates at Gislingham: here. The two copies of the estate accounts for 1308 differ in the acreages sown with grain: one gives 35 acres more than the other! A check on the Hospitallers’ record from 1338 does not help, because by 1338 the whole farm was, apparently, under pasture. Alas, by 1338 the buildings that the royal custodian of the estate spent so much time and money repairing in 1309-12 had become ‘devastata’ — completely ruined.

Banks, beehives and cooking pots: the Templars’ estates in Norfolk and Suffolk

When King Edward II’s officials arrested the Templars early in January 1308, they did not find any Templars in Norfolk and Suffolk. The Templars owned a number of manors in these two East Anglian counties, at Gislingham, Togrind, Dunwich and Dingle in Suffolk, and Haddiscoe in Norfolk. They also had property at locations named in the accounts as Wratting and Trilow, Bergholt, Werham or Wenham, Bentleye, Preston or Freston, Braham and Mayntre.
Even though there were no Templars living there in January 1308, these were working farms producing quantities of wheat, barley, oats, rye and peas. Some of this produce was turned into food for the farm labourers, and some was sold. Some animals were kept — horses and oxen to pull the ploughs, and some sheep and pigs. Gislingham produced six and a half stone of wool in the first three quarters of a year, and seven and a half stone in the following three quarters and one week, while Dunwich produced 20 cheeses. Unlike at the large estates in Herefordshire, the king’s officials who were taking care of these estates noted the value of the poultry and geese, and even the number of eggs produced and sold. There was also a beehive at Gislingham.
Unsurprisingly for East Anglia, there was a windmill at Gislingham. The mill at Togrind was a watermill.
The royal officials who took over care of the estates after the Templars’ arrest made an inventory of everything of any value, and a few things of very little value, such as cooking pots. The chapels at Gislingham, Togrind and Dunwich had books and various furnishings. Dunwich in particular had a working chapel with its own salaried chaplain, assisted by a clerk, books, valuable plate and a collection of holy relics. There were also valuable coins, gold rings, and over a hundred pounds in cash deposited with the Templars of Dunwich by Robert de Seffeld, parson of the church of Brampton, for safe keeping. The king’s official returned this cash to its owner. The Templars’ house at Dunwich had also received an oblatio (payment or offering) of a lamb — this was kept for the king. All the manors employed skilled craftsmen and farm labourers; there was also a maidservant working at  Gislingham. All in all, despite the lack of Templars, these houses supported busy communities in 1308.

Templar almshouse at Gislingham in Suffolk

Although the records from the Templars’ estates in 1308 to 1313 indicate that the brothers gave regular aid to the poor, it’s very difficult to identify buildings associated with this almsgiving. However, the inventory from Gislingham in Suffolk mentions an almshouse — although it was in a very poor state of repair. For a photo of the document, see my blog at:

Reproduction of old articles on the Templars and Hospitallers

Earlier this week I put on to some of my early papers from the international ‘Military Orders’ conferences at St John’s Gate in London: ‘Knights and Lovers’  (from the 1992 conference); ‘Before William of Tyre‘ (from the 1996 conference); and ‘The Hospitallers and the “Peasants’ Revolt” of 1381 revisited‘ (from 2000). All of these have been published in the proceedings of each conference: the proceedings of the 1996 and 2000 conferences are still in print and are available for purchase from Ashgate Publishing.

Glorious Devon

I have uploaded a draft transcription of the sheriff’s accounts for the Templars’ (meagre) properties in Devon here.

This is the account of the late Thomas de Ralegh, recently sheriff of Devon and former custodian of the Templars’ manor of  Chitterley in the Exe valley, and its associated properties at Cherubeer, North and South Combe, Clayhanger and Wallon; it covers the last three quarters of the first year of Edward II’s reign, and the first three quarters of the second year.

Transcriptions: Some accounts for Northumbria and Essex

Dr Myra Born and Mrs Valerie Rudd have generously transcribed some of the records from the Templars’ estates. Myra’s translation of the accounts for Northumbria from 1308-9 are here: and Valerie’s transcriptions of some of King Edward II’s instructions to William le Plomer, custodian of the Templars’ estates in Essex, are here.

The 700th anniversary of the Templars’ demise: continued

In yet another event commemorating the 700th anniversary of the final end of the Templars, next week Theresa Vann, Paul Crawford and I are giving papers on ‘The Aftermath of the Templars’ at the 49th International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo ( ), session 244 from 1.30pm on Friday 9 May. My paper, ‘Memories of the Templars in Britain: Templar charters in Hospitaller records after the Dissolution of the Templars’, focuses on the work of Brother John Stillingflete, Hospitaller historian writing in 1434, and asks why he made so much of the Templar Order which had been dissolved in ignominy 120 years before.