Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, Event, History, Literature, Mrs Beeton, Museum, Rural Heritage, Uncategorized, Vintage, World War One, World War Two

Forgotten Christmas Foods & Customs – Part 1 – The Goose

©Come Step Back in Time
©Come Step Back in Time

Chef Adam Gray cooking breast of goose on the Kadai fire bowls. Chef Gray also used bespoke iron pains made by Netherton Foundry in Shropshire. Beautiful, heritage cooking products.
Chef Adam Gray cooking breast of goose on the Kadai fire bowl ( Chef Gray also used bespoke iron pains made by Netherton Foundry in Shropshire (http:/ Beautiful heritage cooking products. Image courtesy of The Reel Media Deal (


Me with Chefs Adam Gray and Michel Roux Jr. Image courtesy of the Reel Media Deal.
Me with Chefs Adam Gray and Michel Roux Jr. Image courtesy of the Reel Media Deal (
Producer/Director Di Evans filming the fire pit demonstration at Taste of London Winter Festival. Image courtesy of The Reel Deal Media (
Producer/Director Di Evans filming the fire pit demonstration at Taste of London Winter Festival. Image courtesy of The Reel Deal Media (

Goose Revival at Taste of London Winter Food Festival 2014

I recently appeared at Taste of London Winter food Festival 2014, Tobacco Dock alongside Michelin Chef Adam Gray. The theme of this year’s event was ‘Forgotten Foods’. Looking at ingredients, techniques and skills form the past that are not as commonly used today. Remembering what our great grandparents and previous generations cooked. Chefs were encouraged to use wild British ingredients that are often ignored or simply just not readily available in supermarkets today. For more information about this year’s Taste of London Winter food Festival, click here.

Me and Chef Adam Gray with musical Theatre star/Presenter Craig Price. Image courtesy of Craig Price.
Me and Chef Adam Gray with musical Theatre star/Presenter Craig Price. Bespoke iron pans made by Netherton Foundry in historic industrial heartland, Ironbridge, Shropshire. Image courtesy of Craig Price.

Chef Adam Gray cooked breast of goose with caramelised apples and shredded Savoy cabbage. Chef Gray also used bespoke iron pains made by Netherton Foundry in South Shropshire, birthplace of the European Industrial Revolution (http:/ Beautiful, heritage cooking equipment, the level of craftsmanship displayed in these pans is outstanding. Chef Gray found them a joy to cook with.

Although Chef Gray used apple, other fruits that work well with goose are quince, blackberries, gooseberries or any fruit that has a high acid content to help cut through the richness of the meat. Apples have always been a popular accompaniment for goose, I found references to this fact in several of my Victorian cookbooks, including Alexis Soyer (1810-1858) in his Shilling Cookery For The People. Chef Gray also suggests cooking goose over a tray filled with apple juice which helps infuse the meat with a sharp and sweet flavour.

Map showing layout of garden from a house in Walderton as it would have look in the first half of the seventeenth century. Weald and Downland Open Air Museum.
Map showing layout of garden from a house in Walderton as it would have look in the first half of the seventeenth century. Brassicas (including cabbages) were popular vegetables grown by homesteaders in rural communities. Weald and Downland Open Air Museum.

Cabbage was domesticated in Europe before 1000 BCE and revered by Romans and Greeks. Savoy cabbage first appeared in Europe during the sixteenth century.  This humble brassica thrives in Britain’s nutrient rich soils and has always been a peasant dish staple. Brassicas are hardy vegetables but no species of cabbage survives in a wild state.

Victorian farmhouse kitchen. ©Come Step Back in Time
Artefacts from a Victorian farmhouse kitchen. ©Come Step Back in Time

In Medieval Britain, people were nervous about eating cabbage as it was considered to be bad for you, probably due to its gas-inducing qualities! Medieval cooks were encouraged to boil the vegetable well and add oil, marrowbone or egg yolks to soften the texture. Chef Gray continued with the tradition of making cabbage more digestible by shredding it very finely and adding a butter emulsion. I can promise you there was not a hint of school canteen cabbage hanging in the air at Taste of London last week.

Basic kitchen range in a toll house from Beeding, Sussex, 1807. Weald and Downland Open Air Museum.
Basic kitchen range in a toll house from Beeding, Sussex, 1807. Weald and Downland Open Air Museum.

Traditionally, goose would have been cooked over an open fire, probably using a spit, turned by hand. This method continued to be used in poorer households until kitchen ranges/half ranges then cookers became cheaper and more widely available. Cooking meat over an open fire gradually declined in popularity before World War One. If the spit mechanism had a treadmill as opposed to a spit/roast jack (nickname for an odd job man), dogs or even geese were put to work keeping the wheel turning. Geese are hardy creatures and were known to work the treadmill for twelve hours at a time.

Special dogs were bred for the treadmill, vernepator cur, translated as ‘a dog that turns the wheel’. These poor creatures were of small stature with long bodies and short legs. If the dog took a rest, a red hot coal would be tossed into the treadmill to keep the animal moving. There is an example of a Turnspit dog, ‘Whiskey’, preserved in the collection at Abergavenny Museum, he came from a house in Skenfrith. There is a rare example of a working treadmill mechanism at The George Inn, Lacock, Wiltshire.

A fine example of a roasting spit/jack. Complex combination of ropes, weights and pulleys operate to turn the meat over the naked flame in the open hearth. Before these mechanisms, the process was hand-operated usually be a young lad or maid servant. Exhibit from Portsmouth City Museum. ©Come Step Back in Time
A fine example of a Victorian roasting spit/jack. Complex combination of ropes, weights and pulleys operate to turn the meat over a naked flame in an open hearth. Before this mechanism was invented, the meat was turned on the spit by hand, usually by a young lad or maid servant. Exhibit from Portsmouth City Museum. ©Come Step Back in Time.
Close-up of the spit/roast jack mechanism. Exhibit in Portsmouth City Museum. Exhibit from Portsmouth City Museum. ©Come Step Back in Time
Close-up of the spit/roast jack mechanism. Exhibit in Portsmouth City Museum. Exhibit from Portsmouth City Museum. ©Come Step Back in Time

Sadly, goose is now considerably more expensive than turkey and because of this many home cooks shy away from buying it at Christmas. A 7kg goose can cost around £100 and a turkey of the same weight usually costs £65 (retail prices based on free-range birds, Christmas 2014). The meat-to-carcass ratio for goose is lower than turkey and in these cash-strapped times, getting more bang for your buck, so to speak, is in the forefront of most of our minds.

However, I do believe the tide is beginning to turn in favour of goose. Growing interest in reviving British heritage foods is fuelling this trend as well as a realisation that eating goose is more humane, the animals are not intensively reared and are usually free-range. The price of meat, like so many other foods, is dictated by inflation as well as supply and demand. If more people want goose on their Christmas table, as opposed to turkey, prices will drop.

Geese are very cheap to keep, live by grazing and don’t need expensive grain, making them a greener choice for the environmentally conscious cook. Their eggs make spectacular omelets and their feathers can be used for stuffing cushions or for the creative among you, turning into quill pens. We all know that goose fat makes the best roast potatoes.

In my opinion, goose is a far tastier meat than turkey. Goose is not just for Christmas, it can be enjoyed throughout Autumn and Winter. Gressingham, well-known for their duck meat, also sell goose. Their Geese are grown free-range on farms in East Anglia, from early summer until autumn, there they graze on grass as well as eat a mix of wheat and soya with vitamins and minerals. For more information about Gressingham Goose, including recipes, click here.

Gressingham, free range goose from East Anglia. This particular goose has been fed on grass and wheat. ( Image courtesy of Chef Adam Gray.
Gressingham free range goose from East Anglia. This particular goose has been fed on grass and wheat. ( Image courtesy of Chef Adam Gray.

Goose has always been associated with deep Winter feasts and its origin goes back as far as ancient Egypt. According to Greek historian Herodotus (484 BCE – 425 BCE), geese stay with their young in the most imminent danger, at the risk of their own lives. The goose of the Nile was Velpansier and when geese appear on walls of temples they are often painted in bright colours. Egyptian mythology classifies goose under the care of goddess Isis. Along with the ram and bull, goose is also a symbol of the creator-god, Amun/Amen.

Goose comes into season around the Christian feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, or Michaelmas (29th September). This type of goose was often known as ‘green goose’ due to the fact it had been raised on grass (‘green’) and was fairly lean. Eating goose at Michaelmas dates back to Elizabeth I (1533-1603) who is said to have dined on one at the table of an English baronet, when news of the defeat of the Spanish Armada reached her. In commemoration of this event, she commanded goose make its appearance at table on every Michaelmas. Alfred Suzanne, in his book La Cuisine Anglaise, writes of this historic event:

The principal dish that day was roast goose, to which the Queen, it is said, was particularly partial, and in an excited outburst of patriotism and… gourmandism, she decreed that this glorious occasion be commemorated by serving roast goose on the day every year.

The Harvest goose or Martinmas goose comes into season around the time of Saint Martin’s feast, 11th November. This goose is fattened on grain (wheat or barley) and is plumper and meatier as a result. This is the bird traditionally served at Christmas time.


Unlike today, goose was once cheaper and more widely available than turkey which was expensive. The turkey came to Europe from Mexico in about 1541, brought in by Spanish and West African traders. In Victorian England, turkey gradually replaced beef and goose at the Christmas dining table. Ever since Victorian times, the trend for having turkey at Christmas time has remained, thus nudging the poor old goose out of the picture. Victorians liked to stuff their goose with sage and onion.

Evidence of this can be found in A Christmas Carol (1843) by Charles Dickens. Bob Cratchit and his family tuck-in to the traditional Victorian fayre of goose. The Cratchits are poor, so goose is the proud centrepiece of their Christmas dinner. However, following his epiphany, Scrooge wants to lavish gifts upon employee Bob Cratchit and family. One of these luxury items is a prize turkey, only meat that the wealthy could afford in Victorian England:

Then up rose Mrs. Cratchit, Cratchit’s wife, dressed out but poorly in a twice-turned gown, but brave in ribbons, which are cheap and make a goodly show for sixpence; and she laid the cloth, assisted by Belinda Cratchit, second of her daughters, also brave in ribbons; while Master Peter Cratchit plunged a fork into the saucepan of potatoes, and getting the corners of his monstrous shirt collar (Bob’s private property, conferred upon his son and heir in honour of the day) into his mouth, rejoiced to find himself so gallantly attired, and yearned to show his linen in the fashionable Parks. And now two smaller Cratchits, boy and girl, came tearing in, screaming that outside the baker’s they had smelt the goose, and known it for their own; and basking in luxurious thoughts of sage and onion, these young Cratchits danced about the table, and exalted Master Peter Cratchit to the skies, while he (not proud, although his collars nearly choked him) blew the fire, until the slow potatoes bubbling up, knocked loudly at the saucepan-lid to be let out and peeled.

“What has ever got your precious father then?” said Mrs. Cratchit. “And your brother, Tiny Tim! And Martha warn’t as late last Christmas Day by half-an-hour?”

“Here’s Martha, mother!” said a girl, appearing as she spoke.

“Here’s Martha, mother!” cried the two young Cratchits. “Hurrah! There’s such a goose, Martha!”

Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter of course—and in truth it was something very like it in that house. Mrs. Cratchit made the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan) hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce; Martha dusted the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped. At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs. Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!

There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn’t believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn’t ate it all at last! Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular, were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows! But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs. Cratchit left the room alone—too nervous to bear witnesses—to take the pudding up and bring it in.

Scrooge buys a turkey for the Cratchits:

“It’s Christmas Day!” said Scrooge to himself. “I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can. Hallo, my fine fellow!”

“Hallo!” returned the boy.

“Do you know the Poulterer’s, in the next street but one, at the corner?” Scrooge inquired.

“I should hope I did,” replied the lad.

“An intelligent boy!” said Scrooge. “A remarkable boy! Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up there?—Not the little prize Turkey: the big one?”

“What, the one as big as me?” returned the boy.

“What a delightful boy!” said Scrooge. “It’s a pleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck!”

“It’s hanging there now,” replied the boy.

“Is it?” said Scrooge. “Go and buy it

(A Christmas Carol  by Charles Dickens (1812-1870), Staves Three and Four, 1st edition, 1843)


  • The brilliant American chef, Julia Child (1912-2004), shows you how to roast your goose. The French Chef  was a television cooking show created and hosted by Julia Child and produced and broadcast by WGBH, the public television station in Boston, Massachusetts, from February 11, 1963 to 1973. It was one of the first cooking shows on American television. All rights belong to the Cooking Channel. Uploaded to You Tube 8.3.13.
Toulose goose from Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management (1869 edition which belongs to Chef Adam Gray).
Toulouse goose from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1869 edition which belongs to Chef Adam Gray).

According to Larousse Gastronomique (1961), the Toulouse goose, from the Garonne basin in France can reach a weight of between and 10 and 20 kilos after fattening. This bird carries its body almost perpendicularly; its behind, called ‘artichoke’, drags on the ground even before the fattening process. The skin covering its breast is loose and slack, forming a lappet, or wattle, which constitutes a veritable fat store. This variety of goose is used in the south-west of France for the Confit d’oie and the livers are used for pâtés de foie gras with truffles.

  • Nottingham Goose Fair (1947) by British Pathé. The fair is still held during the first week in October. In 1284, the inaugural fair took place and apart from 1646 (bubonic plague) and throughout the two World Wars, has taken place annually for over seven hundred years. Originally the fair was a celebration that coincided with flocks of geese being driven from Lincolnshire to be sold in Nottinghamshire. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.14.
©Come Step Back in Time
©Come Step Back in Time

 Fascinating Facts About Goose

  • Italians Goosestep For Hitler (1938) by British Pathé. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.14.
  • Goosestep is a distinct marching step originating from mid eighteenth century Prussian military drills. This manoeuvre reminded soldiers how geese often stood on one leg, hence the nickname. Many military organisations today, across the world, still use this marching style.
  • Nursery Rhyme ‘Goosey, Goosey Gander’ is from 1784 but its origins can be traced back to the sixteenth century England when Catholics faced persecution and men of the cloth had to hide in ‘Priest Holes’.  ‘Goosey, goosey gander’ also implies something unpleasant may well happen to anyone not saying their prayers:

Goosey, goosey gander,

Whither shall I wander?

Upstairs and downstairs

And in my lady’s chamber;

There I met an old man

Who would not say his prayers;

I took him by the left leg

And threw him down the stairs.

  • Goose bumps, medical term cutisanserina occurs when you experience cold or strong emotions. Goose feathers  grow from stores in the epidermis which resemble human hair follicles. When goose feathers are plucked, the bird’s skin has protrusions where the feathers once were, these resemble the bumps on human skin following cold or strong emotions.
  • Goose bumps , in Elizabethan times, if someone said; ‘I’ve been bitten by the Winchester goose’, this meant that they had contracted syphilis. A ‘goose bump’ was the first tell-tale sign on the skin that you had contracted the pox. The Winchester Geese were prostitutes that plied their trade in South London, Bankside close to The Globe. This land was owned by the Bishops of Winchester. Brothels in Bankside were known as ‘stews’. In the sixteenth century there were eighteen recorded ‘stews’ in the area. These establishments provided the clergy with a regular income stream. Pandarus (a lecherous old man) in Troilus and Cressida (1602) by William Shakespeare: ‘My fear is this/ Some galled goose of Winchester would hiss/ Till then I’ll sweat and seek about for eases/ And at that time, bequeath you my diseases/’.
  • Herd geese in London – If you are a Freeman of London you are allowed to herd a gaggle of geese down Cheapside. This is according to an old book of traditional ceremonies and privileges granted to those who have The Freedom of the City of London. This book dates back to 1237.
©Come Step Back in Time
©Come Step Back in Time

 Historical Recipes For Goose

Georgian Era Recipe for Preparing Goose

Singe a goose, and pour over it a quart of boiling milk. Let it continue in the milk all night, then take it out, and dry it well with a cloth. Cut an onion very small with some sage, put them into the goose, sew it up at the neck and vent, and hang it up by the legs till the next day; then put it into a pot of cold water, cover it close, and let it boil gently for an hour. Serve it up with onion sauce.

To Marinate A Goose

The Experienced English Housekeeper by Elizabeth Raffald (1786)

Cut your goose up the back bone, then take out all the bones, and stuff it with forcemeat and sew up the back again, fry the goose a good brown, then put it into a deep stew-pan with two quarts of good gravy and cover it close, and stew it two hours, then take it out and skim off the fat, add a large spoonful of lemon pickle, one of browning, and one of red wine, one anchovy shred fine, beaten mace, pepper and salt to your palate, thicken it with flour and butter, boil it a little, dish up your goose, and strain your gravy over it. NB. Make your stuffing thus, take ten or twelve sage leaves, two large onions, two or three large sharp apples, shred them very fine, mix them with the crumbs of a penny loaf, four ounces of beef marrow, one glass of red wine, half a nutmeg grated, pepper, salt and a little lemon peel shred small, make a light stuffing with your yolks of four eggs, observe to make it one hour before you want it.

Eighteenth Century Receipt Book – Boiled Goose With Celery Sauce

When your goose has been seasoned with pepper and salt for four or five days, you must boil it about an hour; then serve it hot with turnips, carrots, cabbage or cauliflower; tossed up with butter. The goose would have been hanging in the dairy or game larder with a north aspect for five days or even longer (depending on the outdoor temperature) so that its flesh would have become more tender and developed flavour in that time.

To make celery sauce, take a large bunch of celery, wash it, pare it, very clean, cut it into little thin bits and boil it softly in a little water until it is tender; then add a little beaten mace, some nutmeg, pepper and salt; thickened with a good piece of butter rolled in flour; then boil it up and pour it in your dish. You may make it with cream thus; boil your celery as above and add some mace, nutmeg, and a piece of butter as big as a walnut rolled in flour and 1/2 pint of cream; boil them all together, and you may add if you will a glass of white wine.

Eighteenth Century Receipt Book –  Sauce for Green Goose

Take some melted butter, put in a spoonful of the juice of sorrel, a little sugar, a few coddled gooseberries, pour it into your sauceboats and send it to table.

To Dress a Green Goose

Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management  (1869 edition)

Ingredients: Goose, 3 oz of butter, pepper and salt to taste. Mode [Method]: Geese are called green when they are about four months old, and should not be stuffed. After it has been singed and trussed, put into the body a seasoning of pepper and salt, and the butter to moisten it inside. Roast before a clear fire for about 3/4 hour, froth and brown it nicely, and serve with a brown gravy, and, when liked, gooseberry-sauce. This dish should be garnished with water-cresses [watercress].

Hashed Goose (Cold Meat Cookery)

Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management  (1869 edition)

Ingredients: The remains of cold roast goose, 2 onions, 2 oz of butter, 1 pint of boiling water, 1 dessertspoonful of flour, pepper and salt to taste, 1 tablespoonful of port wine, 2 tablespoonfuls of mushroom ketchup.

Mode [Method]: Cut-up the goose into pieces of the size required; the inferior joints, trimmings, etc, put into a stewpan to make the gravy; slice and fry the onions in the butter of a very pale brown; add these to the trimmings, and pour over about a pint of boiling water; stew these gently for ¾ hour, then skim and strain the liquor. Thicken it with flour, and flavour with port wine; add a seasoning of pepper and salt, and put in the pieces of goose; let these get thoroughly hot through, but do not allow them to boil, and serve with sippets of toasted bread.

Vintage Cooking 2

Posted in Country House, Decorative Arts, Fashion History, History, Literature, Theatre History

The Wriothesleys of Titchfield

Titchfield Abbey, Titchfield, Hampshire.

Titchfield Abbey, Titchfield, Hampshire was founded in 1231 by Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester.  The abbey was home to Premonstratensian canons, known as ‘White Canons’ due to the colour of their habits. St Norbet founded the Premonstratensian Order in 1121 and the Order follow rules ascribed to St Augustine.  The canons would have attended eight services each day as well as Mass in the monastic church. The abbey continued to exist, relatively peacefully, until Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monastries (1536-1541) which resulted in a dramatic change of use and ownership. The Abbey was transformed into a grand mansion called Place House and became the country seat of the powerful Tudor and Jacobean family, The Wriothesleys.  Below are short biographies for some of the key Wriothesleys.

Titchfield Abbey – View from the back.

John Wriothesley (formerly Writhe) – Died 1504

Son of William Writhe.  John was an English officer of arms and Garter King of Arms. John thought the name of Writhe not grand enough for a family on the rise, he settled on Wriothesley instead. Other members of his family adopted the name change.

Sir Thomas Wriothesley (formerly Writhe) – Died 1534

Son of John Wriothesley. Sir Thomas was a Wiltshire herald. His wife Jane had ten children during their decade long marriage. Jane died in 1510. Sir Thomas organised the funeral of Henry VII, the coronation of Henry VIII, the Westminster tournament of 1511 and attended Anne Boleyn‘s coronation in 1533. In 1529 he gave evidence at the divorce proceedings of Katherine of Aragon. Sir Thomas also appears in the Hampton Court painting, ‘The Field of the Cloth of Gold’ (c.1545).  He was a talented artist and an aggressive self-promoter.

William Wriothesley (formerly Writhe) – Died in 1513

Son of John Wriothesley and a York herald, an officer of arms at the College of Arms. He married Agnes Drayton.

Charles Wriothesley (1508-62)

Son of Sir Thomas Wriothesley. A Windsor Herald. He lived at Garter House, a mansion built by Sir Thomas in Barbican St, Cripplegate Ward, London.  At sixteen he was appointed Rouge Croix Pursuivant with an annual salary of £10.  He studied law at Cambridge. In 1529 he became a gentleman of Gray’s Inn.

Thomas Wriothesley (1505-1550) – 1st Earl of Southampton

Eldest son of William Wriothesley. Thomas had two sisters, Elizabeth (b. 1507) and Anne (b. 1508). Anne married Thomas Knight of Hook in Hampshire. He had a younger brother, Edward (b. 1509) whose godfathers included 3rd Duke of Buckingham and 5th Earl of Northumberland. Thomas studied at Trinity Hall, Cambridge but didn’t finish his degree.  He was a handsome gentleman and a courtier of Henry VIII (1491-1547). His ambition knew no limits, in the 1530’s he became Cromwell‘s private secretary, Chief Clerk of the Signet and a top-ranking civil servant. He was a great patron of arts and literature. His wife was Jane Cheney of Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire. They had three sons and five daughters. As a reward for his support to the King during the Reformation and turbulent break from Rome, Thomas was granted: Quarr Abbey – Isle of Wight (1537); eleven manors and 5,000 acres at Titchfield Abbey (1537) and Beaulieu Abbey (1538).  He also brought Micheldever Manor from the King in 1544. Between 1544 and 1546 he acquired thirty-five ex-monastic manors and five southern counties.  On 1st January 1544, Thomas became Baron Titchfield and Lord Chancellor.  When his son Henry was baptized on 24th April 1545, Henry VIII was appointed one of the godparents.  Thomas retained a large retinue and in 1545 he had one hundred and forty in his livery including Yeoman dressed in velvet and wearing gold chains. Thomas had now become probably one of the greatest noblemen in Hampshire.

However, following the King’s death, Thomas found himself in a vulnerable position.  He was outspoken, arrogant, ruthless and faced criticism for his occasional abuses of authority which led to a brief spell in prison and a hefty fine. When young Edward VI was crowned in 1547 Thomas held the Sword of State, then had it taken away from him for misconduct. Although, Thomas was later reinstated onto the Royal Council.  Whilst serving as a member of the Royal Council, he became 1st Earl of Southampton. Thomas suffered from consumption and died at Lincoln House on 30th July, 1550.  He was buried at St. Andrew’s Church, Holburnand his body later returned to Titchfield.

The ruins of the former Titchfield Abbey, showing Chapter House and Library.

Henry Wriothesley (1545-1581) – 2nd Earl of Southampton

Henry was the son of the 1st Earl, Thomas.  Henry inherited an annual land income from his father of £1,466 13s 4d, making him an extremely wealthy man and attractive marriage prospect.  He was only five when his father died and he spent the rest of his formative years living with his mother being privately educated at home.  He was brought-up a Catholic and married Mary Browne on 19th February, 1566. The marriage meant that Henry had now become part of one of the leading Catholic families in Sussex. Henry and Mary had one son, Henry and two daughters, Jane (d.1573) and Mary (1567-1607).  His family entertained both Edward VI and Elizabeth I at Titchfield, the estate by this time had developed into an extremely large and lavish household.  Henry’s annual income from lands in the 1560’s had risen to nearly £3,000.

Henry was not without his critics and had inherited his family trait for arrogance and playing dangerous power games at Court.  He was arrested on 18th June, 1570 for consorting with the Spanish ambassador, Guerau de Espés del Valle (1524–1572). Henry remained in the Tower of London until 1st May, 1573. However, he was soon back in favour again and on 12th July, 1574 he became JP for Hampshire.

He died on 4th October 1581 in Itchel in the parish of Crondall, Hampshire, he was thirty-six.  He was later buried on 30th November, 1581 at his beloved Titchfield.  Henry ensured that his funeral was a lavish affair which cost him £138.  He also left monies enough for a £1,000 alabaster monument of himself and his parents.  This monument is known as ‘The Titchfield Monument’.

Henry Wriothesley (1573-1624) – 3rd Earl of Southampton

Born at Cowdray House, nr Midhurst, Sussex on 6th October, 1573. His parents had a very stormy marriage and at the age of eight his father, the 2nd Earl died.  Henry harboured a lifelong distrust of women, not helped by having to spend most of his childhood estranged from his mother.  He did turn to men for affection and generally enjoyed their company more than that of women.

Henry was sent to one of the top schools for noblemen at Cecil House, Strand, London. The school was Lord Burghley’s educational jewel and turned out some of the country’s brightest young aristocrats. At the age of twelve Henry went to St. John’s College, Cambridge and at sixteen he graduated with his MA and was immediately admitted to Gray’s Inn to study law.  Henry became a courtier and passionate patron of the arts.  His distrust of women and marriage in general, came to a head when he refused to marry Lady Elizabeth Vere, Lord Burghley’s granddaughter.  Tudor law dictated that a refusal to marry a lady of his ward’s choosing would result in having to pay a huge fine to the ward.  His determination not to marry Lady Elizabeth was so strong that he opted to pay the fine which he did so on 21st October 1594. He paid Lord Burghley the sum of £5,000.  This made a large hole in Henry’s income.

Henry was charismatic, attractive albeit with a feminine manner, he had auburn hair, blue eyes and his voice had a soft tone.  His dress style was flamboyant and his favourite fabric was white silk which he would teamed with a doublet, purple garters and large feathers in his hat.

Eventually, Henry knew that he would not be able to avoid marriage forever if the Wriothesley line was to continue.  He took a huge risk and married Elizabeth Vernon, one of Elizabeth I’s (1533-1603) Maids of Honour.  He did not seek the Queen’s permission first and as a result fell spectacularly out of favour with her.  This was a dangerous position for any Tudor nobleman to find himself in, particularly one who had already lost a large chunk of their fortune. The consequences of failing to curry favour with the Queen meant that he was never accepted back at court.

Henry’s bad luck continued when he found himself caught-up in the Earl of Essex’s rebellion in 1601, causing him to lose his estates and very nearly his own head.  For a general overview on this important Tudor event, CLICK HERE.  For his part in the Earl of Essex’s rebellion, Henry was arrested, sent to the Tower, accused of Treason and sentenced to death.  His earldom was taken away and the 2nd Earl of Essex beheaded on 25th February, 1601.  When James I came to the throne on 24th March, 1603, he set Henry free the following month.

3rd Earl of Southampton and The Virginia Company

Henry was an active member of the Virginia Company’s governing council.  The Mayflower sailed to the Northern Colony to find religious freedom in 1620.  On 3rd November, in the same year, a patent was granted for the Incorporation of a Council to manage the affairs of the Plantation of the Second Colony of New England and Henry was one of the original Council members. In Charlotte Carmichael Stopes’ The Life of Henry, Third Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare’s Patron (1922) she discusses, in detail, Henry’s involved with the Virginia Council and Company in the chapter, ‘Virginia Britannica’.  Stopes lists the provisions provided by Henry for the Colony’s survival:

A note of the shipping, men and provisions sent and provided for Virginia by the Earl of Southampton and the Company and other private adventurers in 1621 included 24 ships with 500 mariners; experts to teach men how to utilise the produce of the Plantations; French vine-dressers to cultivate vines and mulberries, to make wine; others to teach them how to make glass for themselves and beads for the savages; fur-traders, metallurgists, builders; with plans for a church, a college, and a house of entertainment for newcomers. (Stopes, 1928, p.440-1)

The Virginia Company was dissolved on 15th June, 1624. It was not financially successful but social projects associated with it where.

View from the Porter’s Lodge window, showing the Tudor brick fireplaces and square windows from both storeys. The timber floors have long since gone.
Tudor brickwork in the gatehouse.

3rd Earl of Southampton and William Shakespeare

The life of the 3rd Earl of Southampton has been well-documented, this is partly due to his brief patronage of William Shakespeare (1564-1616).  There is a great deal of scholastic debate about the extent of the relationship both Shakespeare and Wriothesley. Some have argued it was purely a creative partnership and others that there was a physical relationship between the two of them as well.  There have been suggestions that several of Shakespeare’s plays were first performed at Titchfield in a playhouse created on the second storey of the gatehouse complex.

View toward Porter’s Lodge from ground floor of gatehouse building.

One particular performance that is often cited is the one that may have taken place at Titchfield on the afternoon of 2nd September, 1591, an early staging of Love’s Labour’s Lost. The 3rd Earl is supposed to have played the role of Berowne.  However, G. P. V. Akrigg points-out, in Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton (1968) that:

..there is no evidence of a play or actors at Titchfield……If the present writer must add his own guess as to where and when Shakespeare and Southampton first met, he would suggest a backstage meeting in a London playhouse sometime in 1591-92.  The person who first presented Shakespeare to the Earl may have been Sir George Carew, whose marriage in 1580 to a Clopton heiress had made him a great man around Stratford. (p. 193)

Suggestions have also been made that some of Shakespeare’s sonnets contain hidden references to Wriothesley, particularly in relation to his reluctance to marry. Although we do know that following the Earl’s release from the Tower on 10th April, 1603, James I’s encouraged Shakespeare to write a sonnet (no. 107), especially for the Earl, to congratulate him on his release:

Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul

Of the wide world dreaming on things to come,

Can yet the lease of my true love control,

Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom.

The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured,

And the sad augurs mock their own presage.

Incertainties now crown themselves assured,

And peace proclaims olives of endless age.

Now with the drops of this most balmy time

My love looks fresh, and Death to me subscribes,

Since, spite of him, I’ll live in this poor rhyme

While he insults o’er dull and speechless tribes.

And thou in this o’er dull and speechless tribes.

And though in this shalt find thy monument,

When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.

Akrigg also suggests (pp. 255-6) that character of the young Count of Rousillon, in All’s Well that Ends Well (1603-4), may well have been based on the Earl’s in his earlier years.  Shakespeare’s two narrative poems, Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594) are dedicated to the 3rd Earl.

Thomas Wriothesley (1608-1667) – 4th Earl of Southampton

Thomas was the only surviving son of the 3rd Earl.  Thomas liked to gamble and found himself in debt after losing a bet at Newmarket racecourse.  In order to pay back the debt, he went into the timber business and traded from his Titchfield estate. Thomas was a royalist and supporter of Charles I.  He entertained Charles and Queen Henrietta Maria at Titchfield in 1625.

When Charles I fled for his life in 1647 he stayed at Titchfield en-route to the Isle of Wight. After Charles I’s execution, Thomas retired to Titchfield and in 1655 found himself imprisoned in the Tower of London but was released later on that year. With the Restoration of Charles II, on 27th Mary 1660, Thomas was appointed to the privy council and became a Knight of the Garter.  Thomas died in London at Southampton House and was buried at Titchfield on 18th June, 1667.

Thomas married three times.  His first wife was a French Huguenot, Rachel de Massue (1603-1640). They had two daughters, Elizabeth and Rachel.  Elizabeth married Edward Noel and Rachel married William Russell.  Upon the Earl’s death all of his property passed to both his daughters. Following their deaths all property passed to Rachel and William’s son, the 2nd Duke of Bedford. Titchfield was sold in 1779 to the family of Delme and in 1781 it was largely demolished.  During the First World War the estate was brought by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the ruins transferred to the HM Office of Works.  The site is now managed by English Heritage.  There is no admission charge to visit the site but do check the opening hours before setting off.  For more information about the property, including a really good audio tour that you can download for free, CLICK HERE.

The Transformation of Titchfield Abbey into Place House –

The Wriothesleys’ Family Seat

Titchfield Abbey was transformed into a mansion, called Place House/Titchfield Palace, by the 1st Earl of Southampton, Thomas Wriothesley. The 1st Earl wasted no time in transforming the Abbey into a grand, Tudor mansion befitting a gentleman of his position.  The cost of the extensive renovations was approximately £200 and the work carried-out at lightening speed. The master-mason on the project was Thomas Bartewe who resided in Winchester.  Thomas had an impressive CV that included Calshot and Hurst Castles.  The west end Nave of the church was transformed into a large gatehouse, the Cloisters became a courtyard, the Refectory a Great Hall and the Chapter House turned into a private chapel.

It is still possible today to see some of the original Tudor fireplaces, chimneys, brickwork and square windows particularly in the gatehouse buildings. The gatehouse was constructed by demolishing the central (fourth) bay of the nave and a second storey added, all in the fashionable mock-Medieval architectural style.  In the ground floor chambers of the gatehouse it is still possible to see windows which have small slits, single and crossed.  These would have been used by archers or hand-gunners should the need have arisen to defend the mansion from attack.

During a survey carried out at Titchfield in 1737, the second storey of the gatehouse buildings to the right of the main porter’s lodge (the Tudor windows of which still exist) was described as a ‘Playhouse Room’.  It is possible that in this space theatrical masques and performances may have taken place. However, as already stated no concrete evidence has emerged to confirm that some of these performances were of plays written by William Shakespeare.

In G. P. V Akrigg’s Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton (1968) a description is given of the mansion at Titchfield. The description is based on a report written by Sir Thomas Fleming, the Queen’s Solicitor-General, following a visit made to by to Titchfield while the 3rd Earl was imprisoned in the Tower for his part in the Earl of Essex’s rebellion:

[Sir Thomas Fleming] with his clerks he trooped about the great mansion, through the entrance gate flanked by its four lofty towers and into the Fountain Court that lay beyond, up the handsome stairs that on the opposite side led up to the hall beyond, and so on to all the other parts of the great mansion: the gallery, the great dining-room, the little dining-room, the ladies’ gallery, the music gallery, the earl’s apartments, and those of his countess.  On they went into the Kitchen Court and all the multiple offices that lay around it, the servants’ hall, the still room, the kitchen, the wet larder and the dry larder, the small beer cellar and the strong beer cellar, and the arched wine cellar, everywhere from the Jericho Porch to the Audit Room.  As they went, they took inventory:

In the great chamber:

One large Turkey carpett

One large foote Turkey carpett

Twoe chaires of crimson velvet

vi high stools of crimson

In the Longe Gallery:

old mappes.

(Arkrigg, 1968, p. 131)

The Medieval Tiles

At Titchfield today, it is possible to see one of the finest collections of medieval floor tiles in Southern England. One of the reasons why these splendid tiles, originally laid in the Cloisters, have survived is due to their having been covered over to create the floor of the Courtyard, during the Tudor renovations.  The tiles were discovered in excavations undertaken in 1923. Nowadays, in order to protect them from frost, they are covered over in the winter months with sand.

The tiles date from the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century and were likely to have been manufactured locally. The tiles were made by pressing a wooden stamp into wet clay and then white, liquid, clay was poured into the indent.  The excess liquid would have been scraped off to form the design. The tiles were then coated with a lead glaze and fired in a kiln. The design range is varied from floral, geometric, birds, beast to heraldic motifs.

Double-headed eagle tile.

The double-headed eagle is possibly the coat of arms of Richard, Earl of Cornwall (1209-72), Henry III’s brother.

Twin towers tile.

The twin towers tile, could possibly represent Eleanor of Castile (1241-90), the first wife of Edward I.

Posted in Activity, Exhibition, History, Maritime History, Museum, Theatre History, World War One, World War Two

Hurst Castle – Hampshire

Earlier on this year, when we had summer weather in the middle of winter, I visited Hurst Castle. The castle is located on the seaward end of a shingle spit approximately 3/4 of a mile from the Isle of Wight.  It is possible to reach the castle by foot, from nearby Milford-on-Sea. Although, the Milford-on-Sea option comes with a stunning walk, it can be hard going across the banks of shingle and is about a three-mile round trip.  Alternatively, you can take the Hurst Castle Ferry from nearby Keyhaven. It is possible to mix and match your modes of transport, walking one way and using the ferry for the other part of your journey.  I took the ferry both ways and am glad that I did, if only to save all my energy for exploring this hauntingly beautiful location.

Hurst Point Lighthouse, view from ferry jetty.

There is a charge for each ferry trip and a modest entrance fee to the castle. English Heritage members do not pay the castle entrance fee.

Hurst Point Lighthouse.

Entry to the castle is through a pair of gates into the west wing. This section of the castle was completed in 1873.

The day-to-day management of the Castle has an unusual but nevertheless successful set-up.  It is a partnership between a committed group of volunteers and English Heritage:

The Friends of Hurst Castle was formed in 1986 to act as a support group to a local site belonging to English Heritage. At that time the Castle was managed by English Heritage, but since May 1996 there has been joint management; with English Heritage still in charge of the fabric of the building and general policies and the Local Management, Hurst Castle Services, running the everyday management and services.

                                           Extract from the official Hurst Castle website 

The central tower, Tudor Castle. There was once a walkway connecting the tower to the north-west bastion, you can see the blocked doorway where this walkway would have been.

Hurst Castle has defended the western entrance to the Solent since the sixteenth century.  The Tudor castle was built between 1541 and 1544 for Henry VIII as part of an extensive programme of coastal defences.  Following Henry’s divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, England found itself vulnerable to invasion from France and the Holy Roman Empire.  The castle entrance on the west side had a portcullis and a drawbridge over a moat.  The moat was filled-in in 1861.

On each floor there were fireplaces and a toilet. When the garrison was first operational in 1544, the inhabitants included: a captain; his deputy; a porter; a master gunner; eight soldiers and eleven additional gunners. Brass and iron guns; handguns; bows and arrows were all used to defend the garrison. In the reign of Elizabeth I, threat of invasion from Spain was high. In 1588 the threat was realised. Although, on this occasion mother nature rather than military might defended the garrison from an attack.  A fierce storm blew the Armada past the Isle of Wight and away from Hurst Castle thus negating the need for military intervention.

Charles I spent two and a half weeks imprisoned here in December 1648 before proceeding to his trial and execution at Whitehall. During the Napoleonic wars the castle underwent extensive modernisation. In the 1860s and 1870s two huge casemated wings were added and in both World Wars the castle was garrisoned.  In the Second World War, 162 men were stationed here, men serving in the 129 Coast Battery Royal Artillery.

World War 2 searchlight recently restored by Hurst Castle volunteers.
World War 2 ammunition hoist for transporting the twin 6 PDR gun up onto the roof.

Today, you can still see the laundry room and two bathrooms that were installed in WWII for the men.

Bathroom installed during World War 2.


Artefacts found at Hurst Castle from World War 2. On the left-hand side is a 1940s Thermos Flask.
World War 2 Drying Room.
The Lamp Room.

There is one very special historical gem that must not be missed on any visit to Hurst Castle, The Garrison Theatre.  It is believed to be the only surviving ENSA theatre from WWII still in existence in the UK. 

Service Personnel arriving at a Garrison Theatre elsewhere in the UK. The Garrison Theatre at Hurst Castle is exactly the same as it was when the Royal Artillery left after World War 2 and this is what makes it so unique.


Interior of Hurst Castle’s Garrison Theatre.

The Theatre was built in a former Victorian casement and above the proscenium arch you can still see the insignia of the Royal Artillery.

Shows are occasionally put-on during the summer months.  For more information on this fascinating little theatre, including archive footage and interviews with former all-round entertainer, Betty Hockey CLICK HERE. Bournemouth-based Betty, now in her nineties, was once a member of The ‘Non-Stops’ Concert Party that performed for the troupes at The Garrison Theatre.  For Betty’s oral history testimony from her time as one of The ‘Non-Stops’, CLICK HERE.

Another good reason for taking the ferry to Hurst Castle is the arrival experience. As you approach the castle jetty, on your left is the magnificent Hurst Point Lighthouseand adjacent keepers’ cottage, the latter now used for holiday lets.

The Lighthouse Keeper’s cottage on Hurst Spit.

Hurst Point is one of three lighthouses on Hurst Spit. The first lighthouse to have been built on the spit was in 1784-86, the Hurst Tower, to the west of the castle. This early lighthouse is no longer in existence. Construction on Hurst Point Lighthouse began in 1865 and was first lit in 1867 becoming fully automated in 1923. The lighthouse is also known as the high light and stands at twenty-six metres tall. It is still working today, helping ships to navigate The Shingles, a large submerged shingle bank, as well as preventing nighttime tragedy by assisting sailors to pass safely along the Needles Channel. The light emitted is a white light, visible from all angles.  In order that sailors can judge their position correctly Hurst Point Lighthouse emits a narrow white light at a lower level from the full beam and a red light to the north of it and a green light to the south. The community at Hurst was once thriving and on approach you would have seen sheds for fishermen’s nets, a herring-drying house, coastguard cottages, inns and soldiers’ married quarters.  In 1863, 135 adults and 28 children lived there.

The low lights at Hurst Castle, viewed from the ferry jetty.

There are two more lighthouses at the castle itself, both low lights.  One built on a red, square, metal gantry attached to the wall of the Castle, dating from 1910-11 and another a little further along the same wall, dating from 1865. This latter lighthouse once had a conical roof. The two low lights have now been decommissioned.

The 1910-11 low light lighthouse at Hurst Castle.

There are a number of, permanent, mini-exhibitions at the castle: Association of Lighthouse Keepers Exhibition; Trinity House Lighthouse Exhibition; Friends of Hurst Exhibition Room and The Hurst Spit Exhibition.  The Trinity House Exhibition is maintained by an additional group of volunteers.  For more information on this extraordinary castle, CLICK HERE.