History Brought to Life at Gainsborough Old Hall
I wanted to share with you a wonderful day out I had last week with a class of Year Three children from Horncastle Community Primary School. Under the attentive eye of Mrs Deas and a band of helpers including myself, we all set off to Gainsborough Old Hall, which is a Medieval Manor House that dates back to around 1460.
I’m ashamed to admit that I have never visited before, which is my loss. For someone who is interested in English food history especially in Lincolnshire, the kitchens are the best I have ever seen. So often you visit these sorts of places and although interesting, they are removed and you are left feeling it is all too remote to visualise people living and working in these environments.
Not so with Gainsborough Old Hall. To begin with it only took us an hour to get there by school bus from Horncastle, so I suppose you could do it a bit quicker in a car. On arrival we were greeted by three guides, all impressively clad in period costume. The outside of the Hall is surrounded by beautifully kept lawns and gardens and the Hall itself is of a Timber frame construction. The Guides led us through to the Great Hall which has the most stunning arched ceiling which was made of oak.
What really brought it to life for the children straight away was being able to dress themselves up in Tudor outfits. We had our very own King Henry V111. The real one had visited the Hall in 1541 with his then very young bride Kathryn Howard. Good job she didn’t know what the future held for her. They stopped en route to their pilgrimage to York, astonishingly they brought along 7000 people in their group and the guide advised us that more people joined them on the way. Goodness knows where they all stayed, that’s more than the population of Horncastle.
Once the children had a chance to get their costumes on, to get us all in the mood, they tried their hand at some traditional dancing accompanied by some authentic music. We were then taken on a tour of the Hall. The most impressive area for me was of course the kitchens. What made it stand out and be so realistic was the attention to detail on the props and equipment. The children had a go at preparing a medieval banquet albeit with “pretend” food, but it gave them a real opportunity to think about all of the work it took to prepare a meal without the aid of our kitchen gadgets, electric ovens and mixers, all of the things we take for granted in our modern way of life. They also tried out a butter churn, which in reality would have taken 6 back breaking hours to churn butter. We had a look at a model of cake made out of marzipan and covered in gold leaf. It would have been called Marchpane then. It was said that if you ate the gold leaf it would give you blue blood inferring that you would be akin to royalty.
There is actually an historical interpretation and living history society called “Lord Burgh’s Retinue”, named after the Burgh family who built the Hall. They have a website if you would like more information www.lordburghsretinue.co.uk They specialise in bringing to life history from the period 1460 – 1496.
After thoroughly exploring the kitchens, the children had a chance to re-enact their own Banquet with King Henry VIII and Kathryn Howard at the top table, along with serving staff, court jesters, soldiers and medieval music. The King really got into character, and could be heard bellowing “off with their heads” on several occasions when the entertainment and food fell short!
We all then enjoyed our own less formal picnic lunch in the grounds on what was the hottest day of the year.
Here is a very simple recipe, adapted from one of the Lord Burgh’s recipe pamphlets. It would be easy enough to do with the kids and it tastes delicious too.
Honey Toast with Nuts
First of all lightly toast four slices of “doorstop” white bread. By doorstop I mean hand cut thick white proper bread.
Butter your bread lightly.
Slather some good Lincolnshire Honey on top.
Sprinkle some ground ginger and cinnamon to your taste.
Sprinkle either Pinenuts or walnuts on top of the honey , the original recipe uses pinenuts.
Pop it under a medium grill, but keep a keen eye on it or the nuts and honey will burn. It is a good idea to put some baking parchment or foil at the bottom of your grill pan to save you trying to get molten honey off later when washing up.
Cut into quarters and serve straight away. This is lovely as a brunch dish or supper dish.
After our picnic the afternoon was spent exploring the rest of the hall including climbing the spiral staircase up to the Tower, which rewarded us with fine views of the surrounding countryside.
After thanking the staff of Gainsborough Old Hall for making us all so welcome, we all boarded the bus a bit weary and hot, but having had a really interesting day. To top the day off wonderfully, The Red Arrows were out practicing and we were all rewarded with our very own display, which seemed to run along the bus journey as far as Lincoln, much to the delight of everyone.
The best support we can give organisations like this is to go and visit them and do our bit to preserve these local treasures for the future. If you are looking for a fun, educational and interesting day out for all members of your family this Summer holidays, then I really do recommend a trip there. For details of opening times etc visit www,gainsborougholdhall.com