Tuesday 11 July 2017

The animals at Mary Arden's Farm

Last week I took you round the gardens at Mary Arden's Farm. Mary Arden was the mother of William Shakespeare and her family's Tudor farm still exists today just a few miles outside of Stratford-upon-Avon. The area around the village of Wilmcote is still largely rural. At the time Mary Arden was alive 90 per cent of the population lived in rural farming communities. People produced food and animal related goods both for their own needs but also to sell on and provide an income. Animals were an essential part of any farm as they were both workers and able to be used in many ways.
The Longhorn cows looked particularly impressive but certainly not a beast you would want to be trapped in a field with. Cows or oxen were used for ploughing primarily rather than for milk or meat. Horses were expensive to keep and the cattle were strong enough to carry the load. Another benefit of the longhorn cows is that the horns could be used to be made into spoons or drinking vessels. Once the cattle had served their working purpose they would be used for leather.

As the cows weren't kept for their milk the Tudors used another animal as source of milk. This animal of course were sheep. Ewe's milk products can still be found today but not on a large scale. In Tudor times the sheep produced the majority of the milk used but most of this was for cheese or butter rather than drinking. Their wool was also valuable and in early Tudor days woollen cloth made up 90% of England's exports. Sheep could also be kept outside all year round.
There a several types of pigs at the farm and with good reason. Pigs were the most popular animals on farms and nearly every farm would have at least one pig. Unlike sheep and cattle a pig didn't need as much land to live on. They could be fed on scraps of leftovers of food and were also efficient in clearing up human waste as well – good news for helping to stop the spread of diseases. The manure that the pigs made was then put on the compost heap which in turn helped the vegetables in the kitchen garden grow. Most Tudor pigs would have been more than like the long haired boar type Managalitzas that are at the farm.
On such a hot day the pigs in their yard needed some modern day farming methods. The hose was turned on to provide a stream of water for the pigs to drink and roll around in. We were told that the pale stripe on the pigs needed sun cream rubbing in as they were prone to sunburn.

Most people would have slept on mattresses placed directly on the floor. The cloth sacks would have been filled with straw. A guest to the farm would have been given the wooden bed with soft goose feather filled mattress. Day to day geese were a great pest controller as they ate slugs, snail and aphids. Once fattened up a goose could be sold off to a wealthy merchant to be cooked and eaten at a feast.
Falconry was a popular sport in Tudor and birds of prey featured in Shakespeare's plays with eagles, owls, hawks, vultures, kites and buzzards all getting a mention. The use of trained birds of prey was essential in the winter months. The birds were able to catch small birds and mammals that could be used for food and so not depleting any of the animal stock on the farm. The use of birds of prey died out with the introduction of firearms. Perhaps we still have something to learn from the Tudors.



  1. This looks like a place we need to visit. I didn't know the Tudors didn't drink cows milk. How interesting. Some lovely photos there.


  2. I love this post as it combines two things I love - farming and history. Like Karen, above, I didn't know that the Tudors did not drink cow's milk but as sheep would have been more numerous it makes sense.

    Thank you for adding this lovely farming/history post to #AnimalTales and I hope you can link up when the next one opens on Aug 8th.

  3. Beautiful. I visited years ago, but didn't remember there being so many animals there. Keep thinking we should take the children on a Shakespeare's Country tour, will have to put it in the diary.


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