With skill and knowledge, Julia Nolan, head miller at Heatherslaw Mill, wove through a fascinating pattern of social history as she revealed to members of Glendale Local History Society, and visitors, the ancient traditions associated with a miller’s life and trade.
She included the social hierarchy, food production and consumption, costume, customs of the day and more.
Her talk set the scene for the Flodden Feast luncheon which followed and was enjoyed by 40 diners in Etal Village Hall.
Livvy Cawthorn had thoughtfully researched and prepared authentic Tudor food using ingredients sourced locally and cooked freshly, including real mince-pies. This dish would have originally required additional fruit and spices to render the meat content palatable. Our samples were indeed an intriguing, palatable mix of meat blended with fruit and hints of cloves and spices.
We enjoyed delicious barley bannock, which accompanied our thick pea pottage, while our ‘collops’ of baked ham echoed the ancient menu of mainly meat as referred to by Julia in our talk at the mill.
Our taste buds were certainly enlivened with the variety of dishes on the menu and we appreciated the explanations of the menu content given by Livvy.
As for etiquette, Julia informed us many would stand when dining except for the host who took his chair at the top table – from which our term chairman developed.
Rank declared the use of pewter plates for the well-off, wooden trenchers for the middling folk and platters made from bread for the lower ranks. Cutlery generally comprised a knife and spoon.
The trestle tables would have been laid flat on the floor hailing in the entertainment (origin of to tread the boards). For this we enjoyed the accompaniment of Paulette Sheard playing Greensleeves on her auto-harp.
As head miller at Heatherslaw Mill since 1999, Julia has broken the tradition of the millers listed from 1748. She told us that millers of yesteryear were always male, their strength being necessary to lift the heavy bags of grain and flour.
However, the miller’s wife also played a very important role. It was she who held the purse strings and attended to the paper work as the organiser and accountant.
Our speaker, dressed in mediaeval costume, explained that an outer warm woollen cape would provide warmth in the mill, on a bed and when travelling and was always hooded to provide all weather protection.
Everyone knew the miller as an important person who, as well as providing everyday food, also acted as banker, often lending money to the lord of the manor in return for quotas of grain.
The Romans constructed mill apparatus entirely from wood. They pioneered the huge vertical water-wheel, turned by a flowing river, having been damned upstream, subsequently powering horizontal wheels turning mill-stones each weighing a tonne.
Oats were milled into oatmeal and used for oatcakes and porridge. For workers, this latter dish would have been eaten hot in winter but left to become cold and congealed in summer, enabling it to be sliced from a slab and carried for a meal later in the day.
Barley was a staple food item providing a wonderful source of energy and nutrition. Pot barley, having had the outer husk removed, was milled into protein-rich wholemeal flour and baked into a nutritious flat-bread.
The grain would have been added to the stew-pot together with yellow or purple (not our familiar orange) carrots and leeks. A later further refinement of the barley grain produced polished white grain pearl barley traditionally used in milk pudding before the arrival of rice.
Although the current Heatherslaw Mill was repaired and rebuilt in 1863, a mill had existed on the same site in the mediaeval era, providing for the processing of all the grain from Ford manor house.
It was in 1513 that, although out of sight of the mill, in Ford Castle King James IV of Scotland dallied with the Lady Heron while watching his troops assemble on Flodden Hill.
Simultaneously her half-brother was supporting the English, while the mill supplied both sides!
Today this fine working mill handles oats, barley, wheat, rye and also spelt.
The long tradition of milling is alive and well at Heatherslaw.