I don’t usually write a review until I’ve read all of a book, but I have to confess that this isn’t going to happen with The Medieval Household, or, indeed, with any of the other books in this series. I’ve read bits as I’ve needed them, but I’m not going to read all the details about the digs or the preservation techniques or the individual designations of the objects included in the book. It’s the objects themselves and their uses that interest me and there are lots of them.
The book’s subtitle is ‘Daily Living c. 1150 – c. 1450’ and this is what it delivers. Many artifacts have survived centuries of building works in London, both partial and intact, and they all have a tale to tell. Their stories contribute to our ideas about how people lived during this period. The Medieval Household is an illustrated catalogue of findings from archaeological digs in London between 1972 and 1983. The illustrations are mainly line drawings, but there are also lots of black and white photographs and a few colour plates. The introduction also has a few medieval paintings (in black and white) showing the interiors of medieval houses.
The chapters cover just about anything you might want to know about what a medieval household contained: Fixtures and Fittings, Furnishings, Security Equipment, Heating Equipment, Lighting Equipment, and Miscellaneous (kitchenware, tableware, storage and urinals). I have found the introductions to each section to be the most useful things in the book. They talk about how the objects were used and what type of object might be found in different kinds of households.
As with every book I’ve ever read about the Middle Ages, there are some surprises; there are photos of some amazing enamel glassware; there’s a drawing of a flesh hook used to retrieve meat from the stewpot; there are examples of very complicated locking mechanisms; and a broken wooden bowl that was sewn back together again. I have got to find a way to include this last in a novel.
The book goes into far more detail than I’ll ever need for a novel, or even for a blog post, but it’s fun to look at some of the objects and think about how they would have looked when new and to imagine someone using them every day. It’s not a book that I would recommend for someone with a passing interest in the Middle Ages, but, if you really want to get to the details of medieval life. this is definitely a book for you.