|Waterford's Medieval Reginald's Tower.|
Waterford has a long history, having been first settled by the Vikings. The Anglo-Normans took the city in 1170, with Henry II of England arriving in 1171 and making it a Royal City. Waterford has taken the preservation of its heritage extremely seriously and its medieval past has an entire museum dedicated to it.
|Medieval Museum, Waterford|
This is in addition to Reginald's Tower, which also has a number of wonderful everyday medieval possessions on display. I found it extraordinary that so many of these objects are almost 900 years old. There was also something very special looking at these objects in the same place in which they had been found. I'd like to share my favourites with you.
To look your medieval best, you of course needed a comb. These are made from antler horn, with the single-sided ones being more typical of medieval combs.
|Combs carved from horn.|
Archaeologists also found offcuts of antler horn, which tells us that the combs were made in Waterford. And where did you keep your comb? Why, in your medieval comb case of course!
Made of leather, it is beautifully decorated with a pattern of leaves and dates from around 1250.
Another way to make sure you looked smart as well as keeping your cloak secure, was to use pins.
|Stick Pin Selection|
These stick pins were used to tie a cloak and are made of copper alloy. Each design is different, because they were hand made. 250 pins have been found at Waterford. This represents almost a quarter of all Viking-Age and medieval stick pins excavated in Western Europe, an extraordinary number.
|Adult Medieval Shoe|
And this calfskin shoe would have been worn by a child. Wooden planks and wicker panels covered the ground to give the wearers some protection from the wet clay that the city is built on. It is due to this same soil that objects have been so well preserved.
I found this set of kitchen implements absolutely remarkable. They could have been picked out of a twenty-first century kitchen drawer, and yet are around 870 years old.
|Curfew Bowl & Kitchen Tools|
The less familiar object to the left is part of a curfew bowl. A curfew bowl was placed over the hearth at night, which kept embers hot so the fire didn't need to be started from scratch again in the morning. They also helped to prevent house fires.
Houses had be lit as well as kept warm and a variety of candle holders were used. Some were attached to the wall, or inserted into wooden posts or masonry joints. Others were for table top use.
|Rush Light Holder & Candle Sticks|
Alcoholic drinks were widely consumed in the medieval period due to unsafe drinking water. Waterford was the chief port for importing wine into medieval Ireland. This jug and cup date from around 1320 and are probably French in origin.
|Wine Jug & Cup|
And, as today, people were mindful of their home's security. These keys are from the mid-twelfth century and would have been used for doors or storage chests.
|Keys & Latch Lifter|
The object in the middle is an iron latch lifter. This would be used to open a door that was merely latched shut (as opposed to locked) and was probably more for convenience than security.
Make Do and Mend (Or Just Make)
Spinning was of course women's work and they need the tools to do it.
|Spinning Tools & Shears|
On the left is part of a wooden distaff, which was used to hold the unspun wool fibres and stop them from tangling. Next to it are the wooden spindles and whorls made of bone and stone, which were used for drop spinning.
At the top is a pair of iron shears, which date from around 1190. These were all-purpose and used for spinning tasks, cloth and hair cutting and the odd spot of sheep-shearing where necessary. There are some beautiful carvings on the distaff, which dates from around 1260.
What was spun had to then be woven, and it was over to the men who were the weavers. This selection of their tools still looks so new, though they all date from the twelfth and thirteenth century.
We have the weaver's comb, made of wood and a range of pin beaters, needles, needle cases and loom weights which are all made of bone.
All Work and No Play
The medievals loved a bit of R&R the same as the rest of us. Here's a selection of wonderful gaming pieces.
|Board & Gaming Pieces|
The gaming board dates from c1150 and was used for playing hnefatafl, a common board game in the Viking era. The gaming pieces could be pegged into the board, which meant it could be played anywhere, including on board a moving ship. My favourite piece is the knight on the right hand side. He was excavated beside the hearth of a Hiberno-Norse house and is slightly charred. I hope no-one mistook him for firewood- he's far too lovely.
|Flute & Whistle|
And of course there was music: this is Ireland, after all. The beautiful flute is from the mid twelfth century and has been carved from the bone of a swan or a goose. The little whistle is even earlier- 1100- and again carved from a bird bone.
While these objects might have been treasured by their owners, none of them are the crowns of kings or the jewels or silks of nobility. Most are ordinary objects worn or used by everyday men, women and children. Yet it's the passage of almost nine hundred years that makes them truly extraordinary.
I shall finish with a cheat object, which would have been owned by someone very wealthy but to which I was particularly drawn.
It's made of copper alloy and at first glance, I assumed it was a necklace or a headpiece. But no. It would have been backed with the best leather and worn around the neck of a greyhound or a wolfhound. Yes; it's a medieval dog collar. As the possessor of a slightly less noble furry friend, how could I resist?
All photos are copyright E.M. Powell 2015.
Note: the websites listed here only give a flavour of what's on offer. I highly recommend visits if you get the opportunity.
Heritage Ireland- Reginald's Tower: http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/South-East/ReginaldsTower/
Medieval Museum, Waterford: http://www.waterfordtreasures.com/medieval-museum
OPW- The Office of Public Works/Oifig na nOibreacha Poiblí: http://www.opw.ie/en/heritage/
Pollock, Dave, Medieval Waterford- Above & Below Ground: Waterford, Archaeografix (2014)
Scott, A.B. & Martin, F.X. eds., The Conquest of Ireland by Giraldus Cambrensis: Dublin, Royal Irish Academy (1978)
Note: I originally posted this article on English Historical Fiction Authors on May 17th 2015.
Medieval thrillers The Fifth Knight and The Blood of the Fifth Knight have been #1 Amazon bestsellers in the US, the UK and Australia. The next novel in the series, The Lord of Ireland, in which Sir Benedict Palmer is sent on the Lord John's disastrous 1185 campaign in Ireland, will be published by Thomas & Mercer in March 2016.
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