One Less thing to hide – Washing up

As anyone who knows us and what Company of the Staple does, knows that we like to cook. It’s our thing. It initially started off as a way to stop us losing several people on the display when it came to lunch time, and then those people having to hide behind the tents while they ate hamburgers and chips and finished their cans of soft drink.

The change was slow as we learnt recipes, with the first events all cold spreads; pies, meats, cheeses, pates and breads. We moved on to stews, to harder pre-cooked receipes, to making more complicated sauces and dishes on site. Over the past few years at the St Ives Medieval Faire, we’ve even used a bread oven to make fresh bread and this last year, we made a complex subtlety, a burning pastry castle.

It’s a display in it’s own right. Showing how food was prepared, the meanings behind food, how it tied back to medicine in the humoral theory, how they made food last without fridges and without being able to import food from the other side of the world.

But there was still a part missing. When food is cooked on site, and it’s no longer cheese and bread but soups and sauces, a wash up is required. It’s a lot easier to wash up if people aren’t being sent back behind the tents like naughty children, but are instead able to be part of the display, showing a very normal, every day task.


Our washing up system is that we try to always have a pot of water heating on the fire.

We have a wooden tub – in which an inch of cold water is placed first (the wooden tub is waxed to help seal it, so pouring hot water straight in will melt this and ruin the seal) before warm water is added to bring it up to temperature.

We have a bar of olive oil soap (known as aleppo soap) which we buy from Mainly Medieval and a small wooden brush (palm sized and with brushes like a scrubbing brushes.)

The brush is rubbed on the soap to get soap in it.

Glasses and cutlery and the least dirty bowls get washed in the tub and then the the next most dirty dishes.

Super dirty pots get warm water poured into them and are scrubbed by themselves.


When the water gets too filthy, it’s tossed and the process starts again.


It means that you don’t need a bag to hide the detergent. That the dishes don’t have to be swept away out of sight and then brought back. that the washing up doesn’t have to be done out of sight or the washing up gear to be carefully hidden. It can just be out, on the display. One less thing to hide.


The featured image is Libri Naturales by Aristotle, with the book being transcribed and images drawn in the late 13th century in England. This book is featured on the British Library and can be found here. The image shows a women pointing at a bucket while someone else has their hand in the bucket. It seemed fitting, because this is often what washing up feels like.

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Things to help out with in a re-enactment medieval kitchen

A medieval kitchen runs on three things; fire, water and lots and lots of free labour.


  • We always need the water refilled. At St Ives, we expect to go through at least 50L a day. Please check that the jugs on the tables are filled as are the barrel and jerries.
  • There should be a pot of water being heated at all times. If there isn’t, please ask which pot it is, and then fill and put back on the fire.
  • We will be using charcoal for some parts of the day but the bulk of the heat will be coming from firewood. We’ll need lots of help getting this chopped up into usable bits.
  • If the fire is using charcoal, please don’t throw any scraps on it. Charcoal burns without smoke, which is why we’re using it. Scraps will smoke out the cooks from doing any cooking.
  • You are responsible for washing your own dishes. We will try and get the washing up tub set up early for people to use, but there are a lot of people so please be patient.
  • If you leave your plates, bowls, spoons or other feast gear lying around, kitchen will appropriate it for serving. We may not even mean to. But not all the servers know every bit of kitchen gear and so if it’s left out, we’ll assume it’s kitchens.
  • Please don’t leave modern gear lying around. If it’s left in kitchen, kitchen will move it inside somewhere so that it’s not on the display. And we may be busy when you eventually come looking for it.
  • Choppity choppity chop. There is always more things to be chopped. Always.
  • Food and cooking are very interesting to the public. They did things like we do them. We’d love for people to join in on talking to the public about the cooking display or the food, or about anything in the kitchen.
  • Before each meal, we’ll need help setting things out and then serving the meal. Afterwards, we’ll need help putting away any leftovers, and washing up the kitchen bowls, plates and pots.
  • Everyone cooking is a volunteer. They didn’t have to do this, they chose to help. So please be patient with any timing issues or if things don’t go perfectly according to plan.
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Fun things to do with hoods

Medieval Hoods are great for keeping your head warm. You can wear them in many silly ways and here are some other things you can use them for:


1338-1344 Bodleian MS 264 m130ra

1338-1344 Bodleian MS 264 Romance of Alexander m130r

This appears to be a great game: One person puts their hood on backwards so that they can’t see while everyone else ties their hoods into knots and takes turns hitting the blindfolded person.


1338-1344 Bodleian MS 264 m130va

1338-1344 Bodleian MS 264 Romance of Alexander m130v

And this is a suitable game for women to play too.


1338-1344 Bodleian MS 264 m132va

1338-1344 Bodleian MS 264 Romance of Alexander m132v

What do you do if you find a swarm of gigantic butterlies? You can use your hood to catch them of course.


1338-1344 Bodleian MS 264 m132vb

1338-1344 Bodleian MS 264 Romance of Alexander m132v

And when you are tired of catching butterflies, just use your hood as a pillow and have a little rest.


1338-1344 Bodleian MS 264 m135riib

1338-1344 Bodleian MS 264 Romance of Alexander m135r

And again: women can do this too.


1338-1344 Bodleian MS 264 m135riia

1338-1344 Bodleian MS 264 Romance of Alexander m135r

But I’m not sure how comfortable a butterfly would be for a pillow.



So if you are coming to St Ives Medieval Faire bring your hood in case you see any giant butterflies. – Lyl Dun


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