SOCIAL EVENTS Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval London recreation feasts food preparation drink ceremony brewers guilds
Subject: A gild dinner
Original source: Archives of the Worshipful Company of Brewers, First Brewers Book, ff.104-105
Transcription in: R.W. Chambers and Marjorie Daunt, eds., A Book of London English 1384-1425, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1931, 178-80.
Original language: Middle English
Location: London
Date: 1424


The arrangements for a dinner, with all its elements, on Tuesday, 29 August (harvest-time) 1424, the day of [rendering of] the accounts of Robert Smyth, William Crane, John Philip and Hugh Neel.

The first course:

  • Loin of deer soup
  • Pheasant stewed in syrup
  • Swan in a spicy sauce
The second course:

Expenditures on the dinner:

First, for bread 2s.10d
Item, for a small barrel of good ale 2s.4d
Item, for a small barrel of threeha'penny ale 22d.
Item, for 8 gallons and 1 quart of red wine 4s.1d
Item, for 4 gallons, 1 pottle, and 1 pint of white wine 18½d.
Item, for 6 swans, at 3s.4d each 20s.
Item, for 4 dozen pigeons, at 10d. a dozen 3s.4d
Item, for 15 rabbits 3s.10d
Item, for 14 pullets 4s.1d
Item, costs of a supper at the Old Bull in East Cheap on the day of accounting 18d.
Item, costs of 1 dinner incurred in East Cheap at the Old Bull, on the day that King Henry V was buried 19½d.
Item, for 100 eggs 8d
Item, for 3 geese 21d.
Item, for calf livers 10d.
Item, for 16 marrow-bones 2s.
Item, for 1 dish of butter 2½d.
Item, for onions 2d.
Item, for 2 gallons of cream 8d.
Item, for 1 peck of coarse flour 3½d.
Item, for water in tankards 4d.
Item, for white suet 2d.
Item, for roasting a rabbit 1d.
Item, for 1 quart and 1 pint of vinegar 1d.
Item, for 1 quart and 1 pint of white honey 6d.
Item, for salt 1½d.
Item, for baking a goose 4d.
Item, to 2 turnspits 4d.
Item, for hire of spits 4d.
Item, for 1 cream cloth 6d.
Item, for a quarter of coal bought at Baynard's Castle 8d.
Item, for transport of the coal 1d.
Item, for 16 faggots 8d.
Item, to a minstrel called Percival 4d.
Item, for the hire of pewter vessels 6d.
Item, given as reward, in [the form of] a cloth for the dresser, to the wife of Robert Lynford 1d.
Item, for a cloth to wipe the pewter vessels 1d.
Item, for washing of linen 6d.
Item, for transport of dung 1d.
Item, to Thomas Bourne cook for his labour 6s.8d
First, for 4 lb. of almonds at 8d., and 2 lb. of dates at 5d. 13d.
Item, for 1½ lb. of currant raisins at 7d., and a quarteron of cloves at 4d. 11d.
Item, for an ounce of mace at 2d., and half an ounce of saffron at 5d. 7d.
Item, for half a pound of white sugar at 6d., and 1 quarteron of red comfits and pancakes at 6d. 12d.
Item, for pepper at 7d., and 1 quarteron of ginger at 5d. 12d.
Item, for one and a half quarterons of cinnamon 13d.

Total: £3.11s.11½d


These accounts are interesting not simply because they indicate what was eaten and drunk at the feast, and the contemporary costs of those victuals, but because of the light they shed on other aspects of the event: food preparation, hire of items and services needed for the feast, provision of fuel, and post-dinner clean-up. And because they help emphasize the social or ceremonial aspect – a communal feast being more ceremonial than it would be considered today – of gatherings whose purpose might seem mundane to us.

In this case, the occasion was the rendering of an account of annual expenditures and revenues by the wardens, or masters, of the brewer's gild. While hardly up to banquet standards, this meal was certainly more lavish than would be a small meeting of officials; the reason for the meeting was sufficiently important that we can surmise attendance was open to at least the higher-ranking gildsmen, or perhaps selected invitees – a later entry in the brewers' book listing attendees and no-shows. The impression of a social aspect to the dinner is reinforced by the employment of an entertainer.

Elections of gild officials was another occasion for a communal gathering and feast; the election followed the feast. The menu for the election-feast in 1419 included brawn in mustard, cabbage soup, roast swan, venison broth, roast partridge, pears in syrup, fritters, and custard. A dinner held on a different occasion in 1425 shows similar items as those on the menu for the 1424 account-rendering, except that the meal was less elaborate and featured seafood (eels, whelks, mussels, sturgeon, salmon, pickerel, plaice, halibut, pike and stockfish) rather than meat. The menu for yet another dinner later that year, towards whose cost each brewer participating contributed 6d., featured stewed sirloin of beef, roast goose and capons, glazed chicken, roasted pigeons, and sweetmeats. Three and a half barrels of ale and 35 gallons of wine were provided, while 2 dozen earthenware pots, 4 dozen cups, and 8 dozen pewter vessels were rented, and service fees were paid to a cook, turnspits, water-carrier, butler, and pantry-keeper. Attention was again given to cleaning the vessels and the dinner linen, and emptying out the privy, after the feast. The election-feast later that year was even more elaborate and the whopping sum of over £38 was spent on it.



"Loin of deer"
This is to put a good face on it. Numbles actually refers to deer entrails.

Chambers and Daunt, while noting that dowcettes could refer to "sweet dishes", favour an alternative interpretation of "parts of a deer", because the expenses of a later feast include transport (but not purchase) of venison, which is not otherwise mentioned in the menu. However, the expenses also mention veal, which too is not in the menu, while the text above makes no mention of purchase or transport of venison.

"threeha'penny ale"
A weaker ale, known as "small ale".

A measure equivalent to 2 quarts (half a gallon).

"East Cheap"
A London neighbourhood in which was located one of the two main food markets of the city.

I.e. persons hired to turn meat on a spit.

"Baynard's Castle"
An area at the western end of the city, by the riverside (i.e. near the wharf, where coal would have been landed and stockpiled for sale), once occupied by a private castle; although that disappeared in the thirteenth century, thanks to rebuilding the site continued to be remembered under that name, which can also be found written as Bayard's and Barnard's.

Bundles of sticks for the fire.

Possibly a form of alms, since Lynford and his wife appear in another context in the brewers' book as apparent tenants of a gild almshouse.

An uncertain weight, and perhaps one varying according to context; the term could be similarly used for a quantity.

A spicy sweetmeat.

The original has white Frise; "frise" appears to be a pan-fried sweetmeat, made from bread, eggs, flour, sugar, saffron and salt.

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Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: August 9, 2014 © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2014