Category Archives: Environment

The Fruits of Summer in the Dead of Winter

Molly Taylor-Poleskey

In the seventeenth century, life ebbed and flowed with the seasons. In my research into the court household of Berlin, I noted seasonal shifts in livery, lighting, bedtimes, and, of course, recipes. Even with these seasonal adaptations, however, early modern Europeans sought to overcome seasonal growing constraints. One occupation primarily concerned with defying the seasonality of food was that of the court confectioner. It was his (and his wife’s) job to preserve the delicate summer fruits for wealthy Europeans to enjoy even in the depths of winter.

Nicolas de Bonnefons described the rewards of this play with the seasons in his 1654 Les Delices de la campagne, which was translated into English and German and even republished by a Berlin court physician, Johann Sigismund Elsholtz. Bonnefons raptured:

There is nothing which doth more agreeably concern the senses, than in the depth of Winter to behold the fruits so fair, and so good, yea, better than when you first did gather them; and that then, when the trees seem to be dead, and have lost all their Verdure, and the rigour of the cold to have so dispoil’d your garden of all that imbellished it, that it appears rather a desart [sic] than a paradise of delicacies; then it is, I say, that you will taste your fruit with infinite more Gust and contentment, than in the summer it self, when their great abundance and variety rather cloy you than become agreeable. For this reason therefore it is, that we will essay to teach you the most expedite, and certain means how to conserve them all the winter, even so long, as till the new shall incite you to quite the old.[1]

A view into the confectioner’s kitchen in The French gardiner, 1691,

Considering Bonnefons emphatic endorsement of summer fruits in winter, it is perhaps not surprising that confectioners were highly valued in Europe. The moist and cold properties of fresh fruit generally made it a nutritional no-no, according to Galenic principles of diet. However, candied fruits were considered medicinal and the position of court confectioner often fell under the office of the apothecary, not the kitchen.[2] In the Renaissance, it was common to seal the stomach at the end of a rich meal with either fresh or preserved fruits and fruit at a meal was emblematic of the wealth and refinement of the host.[3] By the eighteenth century, the task of the confectioner to create elaborate sugar sculptures for the table was so ingrained that one encyclopedist claimed they belonged to the artist class and prospects had to apprentice themselves to a city confectioner for six years until they had mastered their art.[4] 

Georg Flegel (1566–1638), Still life with cookies and confections (including dried cherries).

The importance of the confectioner is apparent at the court at Berlin in the seventeenth century. The household archives contain a frantic exchange from 1647 between the Great Elector Friedrich Wilhelm (1620-1688) and his counselors about finding a replacement for the deceased confectioner, Johann Schenke, whose wife did not want to carry on the job. It being early summer (Jun 27), the councilors expressed the pressing need to fill the vacancy because “now is the best time for juices and other garden fruits to be preserved.”[5] Friedrich Wilhelm ordered them to install the Prussian confectioner, Johann Tiegel, in the position. He wrote that although they would eventually draw up a contract for him, Tiegel should get started immediately collecting the fruit from the gardens and bringing them to the elector’s tables with the appropriate confections.[6]

When it was finally written, the court confectioner’s employment contract specified the supplies he would receive to carry out his charge: 700 Reichsthaler (in addition to his 80 Reichstaler salary), 960 eggs, as much flour and fruit as needed (from the gardens and from in-kind taxes), 1000 citrons, 1000 bitter oranges, as well as a supply of wood, coal and candles.[7] Occasionally, the confectioner did not get the necessary supplies, which hindered his ability to preserve fruits and was costly for the court. In 1657, Friedrich Wilhelm ordered that Tiegel surely be supplied with apples, cherries, and Black Corinths (Johannisbeere in German) in order to avoid the great expense of having to buy confections from outside of the palace, which had been necessary the previous year.[8]

Cherries were the first ripe fruits of the summer. The sandy soil of Brandenburg was well-suited to growing cherries and in 1656, there were eight varieties of cherries cataloged in the palace garden of Berlin.[9] Dr. Elsholtz wrote that cherries were ripe in June and July and described their consumption: “one eats cherries either fresh or cooked into a soup, or dried, or preserved with sugar. Some make cherry water or a syrup.”[10] Here is a translation of one such cherry recipe reprinted by Elsholtz from Bonnefons:

One makes the cherry syrup from the good, ripe cherry juice, which you press through a hair or linen cloth. For every quart of this juice, add a pound of sugar, boil that to a thick syrup. To clarify this syrup, let it run through a distillation sack.”[11]

Elsholtz’s descriptions also correspond with the menus and food receipts from the Brandenburg-Prussian household archive, which frequently list the ordering or consumption of dried cherries and cherry sauce (Kirschmus), in particular.

In some popular food literature today, there’s nostalgia for a time when humans adhered more closely to the foods nature provided each season. Even prior to industrialization, however, people clearly prized the rarity of a taste of an off-season food. What the archival record reveals, though, is that early modern Europeans of all orders were still hyper aware of what foods were available when and were careful about timing the work of preservation accordingly.

[1] Nicolas de Bonnefons, John Evelyn, and John Rose, The French Gardiner (London: Printed by F.B. for B. Took, and are to be sold by J. Taylor, 1691), p. 191-2. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc1.31822031020266?urlappend=%3Bseq=218.

[2] This was the case in Berlin. See Peter Bahl, Der Hof des Grossen Kurfürsten: Studien zur hoheren Amtsträgerschaft Brandenburg-Preussens (Koln: Bohlau, 2001), p. 365.

[3] Ken Albala, The Banquet: Dining in the Great Courts of Late Renaissance Europe (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007), p. 82-89.

[4] Johann Georg Krünitz, “Conditor,” Oekonomischen Encyklopädie oder allgemeines System der Staats- Stadt- Haus- und Landwirthschaft (Berlin: Pauli, 1773), http://www.kruenitz1.uni-trier.de/.

[5] Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz I. Rep. 36 948, p. 57

[6] Ibid, p. 63.

[7] Ibid, p. 55. There is no mention of the quantity of sugar the confectioner would receive, but an earlier missive from the previous elector ordered the Office of the Domains (Amtskammer) to supply the confectioner with enough sugar for the dried fruits coming in as taxes-in-kind from the administrative districts (Ämter). Ibid, p. 16.

[8] Ibid. p. 73.

[9] Marina Heilmeyer, Kirschen für den König, Potsdamer pomologische Geschichten (Potsdam: Vacat, 2001), p. 10. Johann Sigismund Elsholtz’s 1656 plant catalog Horta Berolinensis can be found at the Staatsbibliothek Berlin Ms.boruss.qu. 12.

[10] Elßholtz, Vom Garten-Baw (Berlin, 1684), p. 258.  Ibid, Diaeteticon (Cölln an der Spree: Georg Schulz, 1682), p. 61.

[11] Ibid, p. 436-7. I translated Viertal as quart and “Luttersack” as distillation sack. There’s a picture of a 19th-century Luttersack here (item 30). According to Adelung, the Lutter is what came out of the first pass through the fire when making brandy (which required two firings).

What lies behind the name? Rest-harrow – A medieval herbal enigma

By Theresa Tyers

‘Mystery, magic and medicine: in the beginning they were one and the same’ so begins Howard Haggard’s 1930s book on the rise of scientific medicine.[1] Exploring medieval manuscripts reveals how magical recipes, charms, amulets and ritual healing all formed part of the everyday ‘medicine chest’ of treatments which were intended to deal with a myriad of conditions. Vernacular plant names are fascinating they can be a key to their uses, for example consoude or bonewort, toutsain, (all-heal) or the astringent sanguines. To modern ears the magical sound of: foxgloves, archangel, biting-grass, moonwort or even weasel-tongue can conjure up images in our minds of strange and wondrous plants. Perhaps the most appealing are those rare vernacular names that bring to life the people who may have encountered the plants as they went about their daily life, whether working out in the field ploughing and sowing, or pilgrims travelling long distances by foot along the byways and highways of medieval England and Europe. They would have had ample time to take in their surroundings as the seasons past slowly by and, take note of the notorious twisted rooted wild pink vetch today called ‘rest-harrow’. The ploughman would have easily recognised this troublesome plant and no doubt dreaded its presence. He knew that if he was to clear the land of this tenacious ‘weed’ it would need to be ploughed well and each piece of the noxious root had to be cleared away before the crop could be set.

Common Restharrow (Ononis repens) flower at Stevenston Beach Local Nature Reserve, North Ayrshire, Scotland. Image courtesy of wikicommons.
Common Restharrow (Ononis repens) flower at Stevenston Beach Local Nature Reserve, North Ayrshire, Scotland. Image courtesy of wikicommons.

Sometime ago I also stumbled across ‘rest-harrow’ but this time it was not in a field but in a reference to an intriguing remedy, one which had been added to others in a popular compilation known as the Lettre d’Hippocrate (MS Oxford, Bodley 86).[2] In this post, I’m going to look at three examples of the use of rest-harrow in medieval remedies which were intended to treat diarrhoea. The remedy is, on the whole, the same one that appears elsewhere around this time. However, there are differences between the versions recorded in these three examples and it is these intriguing differences that prompted me to dig a little further!

The late thirteenth-century manuscript MS Cambridge, Trinity College, O.1.20 is one of the earliest vernacular collections of medical texts, written in French, that we have. The remedy that calls for rest-harrow appears to suggest a magical or ritual element to the healing practice. In this rhymed collection of recipes and remedies ‒ the Physique rimee the author claims that he was compiling the knowledge to introduce those who ‘have no Latin (l. 86) to the useful properties of herbs and plants’, the names of which he notes ‘may already be familiar to them’.[3](Hunt, 1989:144). Among the plants he cites is l’arestboef, a name which is echoed today in the French common-name of L’arrêt-boeuf (Ononis arvensis) and in the English ‘rest-harrow’.

Rest-harrow in the field seek it out

It will be pounded and crushed and cooked,

Then tip this [mixture] into a bowl,

Put into [this bowl] the patient’s feet

So long as their feet are kept in there

To move [go forward] they will have no desire.[4]

A ploughman depicted in a manuscript copy of William Langland’s Piers Plowman (Cambridge, Trinity College, R.3.14, fol. 1v), courtesy of the Master and Fellows of Trinity College Cambridge.
A ploughman depicted in a manuscript copy of William Langland’s Piers Plowman (Cambridge, Trinity College, R.3.14, fol. 1v), courtesy of the Master and Fellows of Trinity College Cambridge.

The compiler who made a number of additions to a group of practical remedies for menesiun in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Digby 86 also recommended the recipe for its use for diarrhoea but perhaps doubting the rationale behind the author of MS CTC O.1.20’s advice he amends the remedy. His version calls for the patient’s legs and knees to be washed often in the concoction while placed in the bowl and he then places the cause of its efficacy firmly in the hands of God.[5] . There is no mention here of the idea which links the efficacy of the treatment with the time spent soaking the legs in the herbal mixture. The final example of the medieval use of this recipe is also cited in a collection that was copied in 1313, (MS CTC O.5.32, Trinity Practica) and although it shares a number of remedies and recipes in common with MS CTC O.1.20 the author, once again, leaves out the reference to ‘rest-harrow’, its connection with ploughing and its supposed efficacy in the treatment of diarrhoea. In this remedy the reference to oxen is reduced to homely instructions which explains that one simply has to cook ‘rest-harrow’ as one would cook the meat from the same beast.[6]

 The traditional use of rest-harrow for urinary problems and stone is well-documented in Herbals and other recipe and remedy collections. The tenacious growing habit of this plant is also evident in the way in which it appears, once again, in later herbals. In 1640 John Parkinson, accustomed to citing the virtues of rest-harrow for urinary problems, gives a number of remedies for the condition in his monumental work Theatrum Botanicum.[7]

The said quantite of the rootes sliced and put into a stone pot close stopped with the like quantite of wine and so set to boil in a ‘Balneo Marie’ for 24 houres is a daintie a medicine for tender stomacks as any of the daintiest Lady in the Land can desire to take being troubled with any of the aforesaid griefes:.[8]

This remedy, tasting sweetly of liquorice, is a far cry from that of the down to earth compiler of the Physique rimee, who cited its use for diarrhoea, and knew of rest-harrow’s infamous reputation for stopping both the oxen in their tracks and their unfortunate ploughman. Perhaps the answer to the conundrum is that he added his own little twist to the remedy in an attempt to help his students. He made the link of the image of the ploughman behind his plough battling with the ‘rest-harrow’ to provide an aide memoire for his students, who already knew the names of plants, but not their hidden virtues. Subsequent authors, unsure of the empirical authenticity behind its efficacy, quickly dropped this author’s curious explanation so that its use in treating diarrhoea has become an intriguing medieval enigma.

MS Cambridge, Cambridge University Trinity College O.1.20 fol. 7va here. Courtesy of the Master and Fellows of Trinity College Cambridge.
MS Cambridge, Cambridge University Trinity College O.1.20 fol. 7va here. Courtesy of the Master and Fellows of Trinity College Cambridge.

 

 

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Footnote: In preparing this piece for the blog I wanted to make sure that there was no evidence that Ononis arvensis (or its relations) had been traditionally used for treating cases of diarrhoea. Anne Stobart and members of the History of Herbal Medicine group quickly responded to my request for advice on its uses. Dr. Henry Oakeley (Royal College of Physicians) and John Adams (Syon Abbey) also provided me with confirmation of its use which they had gleaned from a wide range of Herbals across historical time periods. Everyone’s input, on the whole, confirmed that this medicinal remedy is not usually cited for diarrhoea and as such it remains a medieval medicinal enigma. My grateful thanks to everyone for their help and advice.

[1] Haggard H. Mystery, Magic, and Medicine. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc.; 1933.

[2] Tony Hunt, Popular Medicine in Thirteenth-Century England, D.S. Brewer: 1989, 141.

[3] Hunt, 1989: 144.

[4] L’arestboef ens el chaump querés, Triblé sera, puis le quirés, Puis le versés en une gate, Les piés metes ens au malade. Taunt com les piés la dedens tendra, D’aler avaunt talent n’avra. [4] (Hunt, 1989: 167)          

[5] Et face laver ses genoilz et ses jambs de cel ewe et ceo sovent, si estaunchira od l’aide de Deu

[6]E pernez restbuef e quisez en ewe cum char de buef, destemprez ses pes leinz sic haut cum il purra soufrir, si garra”, Hunt, Anglo-Norman Medicine II, Shorter Treatises, 1997: 273.

[7] For an example of its inclusion in household books see: Elaine Leong, ‘Herbals she peruseth’: reading medicine in early-modern England, Renaissance Studies, 2014

[8] Open access: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rest.12079/full DOI: 10.1111/rest.12079

An Early Modern DIY Guide to Making Paper

By Gabriella Szalay

After about half an hour of working it over everything was already so small and delicate that I could scoop, or rather make fine sheets out of it. These sheets allowed themselves to be neatly pressed on to felt, removed from the same and hung up. After they had dried, I was able to size and burnish them[1]

Penned by the Regensburg pastor and naturalist Jacob Christian Schäffer (1718-1790), these words provide a succinct description of the paper making process in the early modern period. They teach us that select raw materials were first turned into a pulp by fermenting them, and then stamping them with wooden hammers operated by a mill or beating them with the metal blades of a Hollander beater. They also tell us that this pulp was then formed into sheets using a mould. These sheets were in turn transferred onto felt blankets in order to soak up the water that helped facilitate stamping and beating. After this they were hung up to dry in a well-ventilated area. Paper intended for printing or writing was then covered with a thin layer of sizing, which typically consisted of animal glue, so that it could better retain ink. Finally, it was rubbed with a flat, hard tool until it achieved a clean finish.

Caption Sorting, Fermenting and Washing of Linen Rags, Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers. Image Credit: Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Sorting, Fermenting and Washing of Linen Rags, Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers. Image Credit: Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, Smithsonian Institution Libraries

What Schäffer’s text does not tell us that the paper that concerned him was in many ways atypical. It was not made from the macerated linen (i.e. flax) or hemp rags that had served as the material of choice among European paper makers since the thirteenth century.

Caption Paper made from Wasps’ Nests, Jacob Christian Schäffer’s Versuche und Muster ohne alle Lumpen oder doch noch mit einem geringen Zusatze derselben Papier zu machen. Image Credit: Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Caption Paper made from Wasps’ Nests, Jacob Christian Schäffer’s Versuche und Muster ohne alle Lumpen oder doch noch mit einem geringen Zusatze derselben Papier zu machen. Image Credit: Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, Smithsonian Institution Libraries

Rather, as he revealed in a subsequent passage, “it was for me an extremely pleasurable sight, to once again have produced such fine paper from wasps’ nests!”[2]

 

Title Page, Jacob Christian Schäffer’s Versuche und Muster ohne alle Lumpen oder doch noch mit einem geringen Zusatze derselben Papier zu machen. Image Credit: Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Title Page, Jacob Christian Schäffer’s Versuche und Muster ohne alle Lumpen oder doch noch mit einem geringen Zusatze derselben Papier zu machen. Image Credit: Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, Smithsonian Institution Libraries

A complete description of Schäffer’s attempts to make paper from wasps’ nests and other ‘exotic’ materials appears in Versuche und Muster ohne alle Lumpen oder doch noch mit einem geringen Zusatze derselben Papier zu machen (1765). The first of six volumes published by Schäffer on what I call paper trials, it begins with an account of how for generations men of learning had been experimenting with material substitutes for making paper.[3] Their goal, Schäffer argued, was to put an end to the cyclical relationship between waning supplies of linen rags and waxing costs of fine, white writing paper. As an avid participant in the Republic of Letters and as an author and publisher of natural history texts it is not surprising that he was sympathetic to their concerns. Nor that his interest in paper trials was piqued by his fellow entomologist, René-Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur, (1683-1757), who following his close study of American and European paper wasps suggested that it should be possible to make paper from a wide range of botanical specimens, including trees.[4]

Szalay_Fig_4
Jacob Christian Schäffer’s Stamper. Image Credit: Museen der Stadt Regensburg, Historisches Museum. Photo: Michael Preischl

 

Schäffer’s first paper trial, conducted in 1764, examined the possibilities of making paper from the wool-like seeds of black poplar trees. He was disappointed by the initial results, noting how the corresponding sample lacked the rigidity (Steife) and density (Festigkeit) of paper made from linen rags. Nevertheless, he decided to go forward with more trials and had a miniature Stamper built to his specifications and set up in his own house so that he could supervise the paper making process directly. He also hired a couple of journeymen (Gesellen) to help him carry out the more than eighty paper trials on over fifty different kinds of materials that would occupy his attention over the next seven years.

Paper made from Pine Cones, Jacob Christian Schäffer’s Versuche und Muster ohne alle Lumpen oder doch noch mit einem geringen Zusatze derselben Papier zu machen. Image Credit: Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Paper made from Pine Cones, Jacob Christian Schäffer’s Versuche und Muster ohne alle Lumpen oder doch noch mit einem geringen Zusatze derselben Papier zu machen. Image Credit: Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, Smithsonian Institution Libraries

Among the many things that make Schäffer’s paper trials worth further study are how well they are documented and how eagerly they were reproduced by other men of learning. Each volume of Schäffer’s text is filled with entries describing the physical properties and/ or origins of the material under investigation, followed by recipes for turning that material into paper. The entry dedicated to pine cones (Tannenzapfen), for example, begins by identifying them as the fruit (Frucht) or seed-cases (Saamenbehältnisse) of coniferous trees. It then notes that because of their ligneous quality they need to be soaked in water for one week before they can be turned into pulp. Schäffer even tweaked his own recipe, recalling how when the pine cones proved to still be too hard: “I placed them into a lime pit for twenty-four hours, allowed them to be stamped again, and then washed them and stamped them until they were small, delicate and rag-like.”[5]

Szalay Fig 6
Title Page, Gerhard Anton Senger’s Die älteste Urkunde der Papierfabrikation. Image Credit: Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen

The precision with which he addressed variables like time, combined with his decision to include samples from each experiment alongside the text turned Schäffer’s books into veritable “how-to-manuals.” Within a year of their publication, men of learning across Europe were installing miniature Stampers in their homes and making paper from Schäffer’s recipes with the help of artisan assistants. Some, like Gerhard Anton Senger (1754-1822), even tried to convince commercial paper mills and government bodies that they should do away with paper made from linen rags, which often had to be imported from foreign suppliers. Instead one should learn to make use of locally available resources, such as the green algae (Conferva) that filled the lakes and streams of Senger’s native Prussia and provided the topic and the material support for his Die älteste Urkunde der Papierfabrikation. Although paper made from Conferva had an unsightly greenish hue, Schäffer noted in his recipe that if left out in the sun, it would eventually assume the pristine, white color that made paper from linen rags so economically and socially desirable.

 

Gabriella Szalayis a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University in New York and in the Philosophische Fakultät at the Georg August University in Göttingen. Since the fall of 2014 she has been Research Fellow at the DFG-Funded Graduiertenkolleg “Cultures of Expertise from the 12th to the 18th Century.” She will be finishing her dissertation “Materializing the Past: The History of Art and Natural History in Germany, 1750-1800” in the spring of 2017. This fall she will be part of the Working Group Working with Paper: Gendered Practices in the History of Knowledge at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.

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[1] Jacob Christian Schäffer, Versuche und Muster ohne alle Lumpen oder doch mit einem geringen Zusatze derselben Papier zu machen (Regensburg, 1765), 33.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Among the names singled out by Schäffer for their interest in finding material substitutes for paper were Albertus Seba (1665-1736), Jean-Étienne Guettard (1715-1786) and Johann Gottlieb Gleditsch (1714-1786).

[4] Réaumur first presented this idea to the Académie des sciences in Paris in 1719, more than one hundred years before paper produced from wood pulp began to be produced on a commercial scale in 1845.

[5] Jacob Christian Schäffer, Neue Versuche und Muster das Pflanzenreich zum Papiermachen und andern Sachen (Regensburg, 1767).

Fueling Beer Breweries in Early Modern London

By William M. Cavert

Detail from the panorama of London by Claes Visscher, 1616. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Detail from the panorama of London by Claes Visscher (1616). Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The shop down the road that sells alcoholic drinks offers such a variety of beers and ales that while shopping I sometimes imagine myself newly arrived from a communist planned economy into some bewilderingly choice-laden consumer paradise. Beer made in ever-so-small batches by Belgian monks, or by siblings in post-industrial Chicago, or wacky young guys working out of a garage in rural Oregon – all compete to position themselves as small-scale and artisanal, sharing nothing with the huge conglomerates that offer cheap prices but little taste. Such producers, as well as the growing numbers of home brewers, suggest that drinkers increasingly value the idea that beer should be a carefully-crafted product, something that connects us to a bygone (and yet recoverable) age of natural foods and careful cooking. As much as I applaud this shift in taste and values, as a historian I smile at the association between beer brewing and simpler modes of making food and drink.

This is because four hundred years ago in England the beer brewers of London operated businesses that helped inaugurate a modern world of environmentally-damaging industrial production. London, already during the reign of Elizabeth I and the career of Shakespeare, burned huge amounts of polluting mineral coal, and no one burned more of it than brewers. Hell, according to 17th-century English authors, was like the smoke emitted from a brewhouse chimney.[1]

But exactly how much Newcastle coal would be required to brew varied enormously, according to factors including the brewer’s preferred recipe and method, the kind of drink being prepared, and, in all likelihood, the brewer’s skill in conserving expensive fuel. One 18th-century expert on brewing, Michael Combrune, explained that brewers disagreed regarding how long to boil the wort, with preferences ranging from 5 minutes to 2 hours, concluding that experience and careful observation were the best guides. Once the hops were added, a further boil of 2-3 times the first was necessary. In general, he found, 6-7 hours of boiling was typical, but the entire discussion seems to be as much prescriptive and descriptive, a guide to what brewers ought to do.[2]

Jacob Adriaensz Matham, "View of the De Drie Leliën Brewery at Haarlem and of Velserend Manor, Owned by Johan Claesz van Loo" (1627), Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem.
Jacob Adriaensz Matham, “View of the De Drie Leliën Brewery at Haarlem and of Velserend Manor, Owned by Johan Claesz van Loo” (1627).  Image courtesy of the Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem.

Given this variety, it is no wonder that different brewers required different inputs of energy. The detailed records of the brewery within Westminster College, part of the complex surrounding Westminster Abbey, shows that in the decades around 1600 they were able to brew about 30 barrels of beer per ton of coal.[3] But in 1592 when the Brewers Company explained to the crown how much grain and fuel they required, their numbers suggest a ratio of about 3 times as much.[4] In the mid-18th century the brewhouse for Corpus Christi College in Cambridge made only about 25 barrels per ton, while at the end of the century the huge commercial brewhouse of Truman and Hanbury in London made almost 80.[5] Economies of scale must have mattered a great deal here; Truman’s produced more than 1000 times more beer than Corpus, and spent around £2000 per year on 1400 tons of coal during the 1790s. A business like that would have had both the experience and a powerful motivation to economize on fuel consumption. But even 200 years earlier some London brewers used around 500 tons per year, or 1-2 cubic meters of coal burned in a day’s brewing. Brewing, already in the 16th century, was undertaken by ambitious business people who employed dozens of workers and used a great deal of energy.

[1] This is explored in my new book, The Smoke of London: Energy and Environment in the Early Modern City (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016). For detailed calculations on industrial burning, see also William M. Cavert, “Industrial Fuel Consumption in Early Modern London” Urban History (2016), available here on FirstView.

[2] Michael Combrune, The Theory and Practice of Brewing (London, 1762), 186-88.

[3] Westminster Abbey Muniments 33,906-33,063, Abbey Stewards’ Accounts.

[4] Guildhall Library MS 5445/9.

[5] Corpus Christi College Cambridge Archives CCCC/O2/2/71; London Metropolitan Archives B/THB/B/150-1.

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William M. Cavert teaches early modern English, environmental, and world history at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN. He is the author of The Smoke of London: Energy and Environment in the Early Modern City (Cambridge University Press, 2016). Besides urban and environmental history, he has recently turned his attention toward England during the Little Ice Age.