The 17th Century almanac for November – the month of ‘sunshine and shadows, tempest loud, and calms’.
The 1st of November was and is All Saints’ Day. It was a cross-quarter day celebrated with pork and souse, sprats and sparlings (or smelt). It was the day when grazing on the meadows ended and horses were stabled for the winter after ploughing.
Men worked in the barns threshing barely, or dredge, for malting and brewing. This was unpopular work. Thomas Tusser tells us that a good farmer needed to watch over his farm labourers for slothful yarning and pilfering of the grain. Even less popular must have been the digging out of the jakes, or privy house cesspits, and the cleaning of chimneys. These needed cleaning out before winter use filled them.
From mid-November, wood was gathered in for fires and bracken cut for animal bedding. Barley straw, or ‘stover’, was fed to store cattle in the barns. Soon mice and rats infested them. Milking stopped, cows were put to bull. Those cattle that could not be fed through the winter were driven to market.
Droves of up to fifty head of cattle walked across Britain and Ireland to the major cities. Before rail transport, this was the only way to move beef. It was essential to providing enough protein to feed each city through the winter months ahead. The cattle moved on ancient drovers’ ways, some of which can still be traced today.
Particularly important were the droves of Welsh cattle that fed London. These paused to fatten in the Vale of Aylesbury before being sold at markets in Wheatley, Thame and Missenden, Blackwater Fair on the 8th of November, Farnham Fair on the 10th and Smithfield in London. I believe that this was one of the reasons that a Royalist force seized Aylesbury in early November 1642. It was an attempt to ‘weaponise’ food.
November the 11th was Martinmas. It was the day on which cattle, pigs and geese that could not be kept were slaughtered, butchered and the precious meat preserved for winter. Cuts of beef, hams and bacons were salted and smoked. Anything that would not keep was eaten, including fresh blood or black puddings.
Martinmas was also a quarter day in Scotland and Northern England. It saw hiring fairs where labourers queued in markets in the hope of employment over the winter. Today, it is the day we remember the end of the slaughter of the First World War, Armistice Day, when the guns fell silent at eleven o’clock on the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Across the Commonwealth it is followed by Remembrance Sunday.
November the 20th was St Edmund’s Day, when garlic and beans were set, or hung. The last grazing of the spring corn stubble ended on the 23rd. Cattle were let loose only once per day in winter ‘to rub and to lick them, to drink and to play’. Finally, in Scotland, the 30th of November is St Andrew’s Day.
This year, the new moon will rise on the 13th and be full on the 27th. This will be the Moon before Yule, a Mourning Moon, the last before the Winter Solstice. If you can, pay it your respects on first sighting.
Whether you are working in your barn, walking the cattle droves or pickling winter delights, I wish you a quiet, calm November. I will post more of the 17th Century Almanac and yearly activity in Early Modern Britain, next month, for December.
In the meantime, if you would like to read more about 17th Century Britain, historical notes and maps are available on the website (link at bio). These include notes and pages on the impact of the Little Ice Age and the General Crisis, the English Revolution and Great Rebellion, Pike and Shot Warfare, and battles of the English Civil War.
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