Tudor Stuff!

The Tudor period (1485 to 1603) in English history was a fascinating, eventful, dangerous, and difficult time. There was a huge difference in the lifestyle of the rich and the poor. The average life span was only 35 years.

Look at the objects below and do your best to guess what they may have been used for, who may have used them, what they are made of, etc. Then click on each picture to see if you were right. Some are tricky; don't worry if you get them wrong :)

This is a so-called "rushlight." It was a very cheap type of candle or miniature torch used by poor people in Tudor England. It was formed by soaking the rush plant in fat or grease. Rush stalks were gathered and the rind removed, revealing the pith (the inside part), with a single strip of rind left to support the fragile pith. The plant was then dried and then soaked in bacon grease or mutton fat. The burning rushlight would often be held by metal clips at a 45 degree angle. This was mounted on an iron tripod or wooden block.

This is an "eel buck" or "eel basket", used for catching eels especially in the Thames River in London. Eels were a major part of the diet of Londoners. These baskets were made of willow wood and were sometimes used with other obstructions placed in the river to direct the eels to the traps.

This is a clay bird's nest! It could be hung up on a wall or the eaves of a house. It was a warm and secure space, and birds were encouraged to nest there. The little hinged door (secured by a twig) at the back of the nest could be opened to remove eggs or chicks. These would be a food source for people in late winter/early spring, when food was running low and people in a village might be facing starvation.

This is a quill (feather) pen and sand shaker made of clay. The quill pen was of course used for writing with ink on handmade paper or parchment. The sand shaker was used as an eraser if a mistake was made. Sprinkling sand onto the text soaked up the ink. The inky sand could then be flicked away, and any leftover ink gently scraped off with a knife. The sand shaker had small holes on the top to allow sand to be sprinked, and a larger hole underneath for filling the shaker.

This is a cone of sugar with sugar-cutting scissors. The sugar was expensive at the time, and only had by rich people. Liquid sugar was poured into a mold and hardened. Bits were cut off using the iron sugar scissors, and then ground or pounded for use in food or as medicine for colds. Poorer people would use honey for sweetener.

This is a mug made from horn. In Tudor times people made drinking containers from cow, ram, and deer horns. After removing the bone core, it makes a good container for holding liquid and does not break if dropped. It could also be carved or bent into different shapes.

This is a watering pot for the floor of a Tudor home. Most homes had dirt floors covered in long grasses called rushes. There was no glass in the windows, so dirt and debris could blow in. It was very hard to keep clean. To keep down dust, people would use this small clay watering pot to sprinkle the floor with water. On the bottom were about 50 holes, and the knob on top could be held between two fingers with the thumb covering the hole in the top, to create a vacuum in order to control the water coming out.

Photo credit: Islington Education Library Service