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  • Immortal Meals #34: Picnic Under the Vicar’s Oak July 29, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern , trackback

    Norwood was a rural area to the south of London that was sucked into the metropolis in the mid, late nineteenth century. If you want to go and imagine where the nightingale once sang and where Surrey farmers shot rabbits, head off for the mean streets around Crystal Palace, sit down and weep. ‘This is the land of lost content, I see it shining plain, the happy places where I went and cannot go again.’ Anyway, enough of the nostalgia (not what it used to be etc), let’s get to the early modern picnic.

    In the woods of Norwood there was a tree named the Vicar’s Oak so called because four parishes met there. It was tradition, dating back at least to the 1500s, but probably deep into the Middle Ages, to picnic at the oak in rogation week in late April, when in Britain there is just a very slight, outside chance that the rain will have stopped. These entries are taken from the parish records and give a glimpse of the honest men of the parish sitting down to break bread together. Note ‘honest men’, the local priest/vicar seems to have sent out invitations. No riff-raff or quakers.

    1583 When we went our perambulation at Vicar’s Oak in Rogation week – 2s. 6d.

    1586 For making honest men drinke when we went to Vicar’s Oke in perambulation – 2s. 6d.

    1584 In going our perambulation to Vicar’s Oke – Churchwardens and other honest men of the parishes – 2s. 6d.

    1588 For drinking for certain honest men of the Parish when we went our perambulation to Vicar’s Oke – 3s. 4d.

    1589 When we went our perambulation to Vicar’s Oke to make the parishioners drynke – 5s. 0d.

    1592 When we came from Vicar’s Oke perambulation – 4s. 0d.

    1594 When we came from Vicar’s Oke drinkinge – 4s. 0d.

    1597 At the Kings Head when we came from the Vicar’s Oke – 6s. 0d.

    1610 Bread and bear [sic, let’s hope this was just a spelling mistake] at Vicar’s Oke for the procession – 9s. 0d.

    1612 For a kilderkin of beer and other charges spent on the parishioners at the Vicar’s Oke – 6s. 6d.

    1625 At the perambulation – £1.10s.2d. Item for carrying the provisions to the Oke – 2s. 6d.

    1634 When we went the bounds of the parish – 13s. 0d. When we went to Vicar’s Oke – 12s. 0d.

    1635 At the perambulation to Vicar’s Oke – £3.8s.6d.

    1704 Paid for 100 lbs. of cheese spent at the Vicar’s Oke – 8s. 0d.

    It is striking how the prices went up even taking inflation into account. For example, the National Archive’s currency converter claims that 2s and 6d (1583) in today’s money would be about 200 dollars (167.97 pounds). By 1635 the parish paid 3 pounds 8 shillings and six pence or 305 pounds  in today’s money (the best part of 400 dollars): we can be sure that everyone ate well. By 1704, the vicar brought along 100 pounds of cheese to the picnic under the spreading bough of the Vicar’s Oak.

    Other immortal meals: drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com

    Leif, 30 Jul 2017: In 1586, a self-respecting minister would surely have not invited Quakers, as the Society of Friends was not established until about 60 years later.  Still, Dr. Beachcombing touches on a sore point in the life of a minister. In Galatians 3:28 St. Paul forbids cliques within a congregation. A minister, however, might hold only some as personal friends.  He would still love the others dearly  even if he with some justification regards more than a few as ‘high maintenance’. Note how the parish records identify the picnickers: 1586– honest men; 1584– Churchwardens and other honest men of the parishes; 1588– certain honest men of the Parish; 1610– the procession; 1612– the parishioners. These fragmentary descriptions as well as the increasing expenditures imply the annual picnic began with a small, tight-knit group  and expanded over time to include a multitude. One would guess many traditions develop along these lines. Let’s hope everyone was fond of cheese!

    Floodmouse, 30 Jul 2017: Do you happen to know how many people were entertained at these picnics?  If they invited enough people to eat 100 pounds of cheese, they must have invited hundreds of people (that is, assuming that no one is going to eat a whole pound of cheese by himself.  Is that a safe assumption???)  Anyway, $400 American is not that much money to buy food and beer for hundreds of people (unless they like pretzels and hotdogs–or hardtack and salt pork, or whatever the medieval equivalent would be).  On the other hand, if less than a hundred people were invited to the picnic, I’m wondering what happened to them if they ate all that cheese at one sitting.