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The furthest step back in time so far - and no less fascinating
on 8 November 2013
As with 'Wartime Farm', the TV series hasn't even been broadcast at the time of writing this review, but the BBC have had the book of the series out for a few weeks now.
If the book is anything to go by, we are in for a treat. No Alex Langlands for this series- I believe he is completing his Ph.D. - but a new face, military historian Tom Pinfold, to join the familiar, much-loved team of historian Ruth Goodman and archaeologist Peter Ginn.
Though as anyone who has watched the previous programmes knows, Ruth is generally our phenomenally hard working guide to domestic life; Peter is the heroic soul who has a go at making almost anything and gets most of the hard slog and dirty jobs around the farm. Alex was known for making cutting, pithy comments and avoiding the dirty work where possible; it will be interesting to see if Tom picks up this role!
The 2005 series 'Tales from the Green Valley' was a proto-Farm programme, covering the 1620s. In going back to the 1500s the Monastery Farm team have avoided what might have been rehashing of old material.
A lot of the material in Wartime Farm was vaguely familiar and much was recognisable. For non-historians Tudor Monastery Farm breaks new ground. It's absolutely packed with information - with quite small print there's value for money in the amount of facts supplied.
As with previous Farm books there are gorgeous stills from the programme as illustrations throughout, from the skilled photographer Laura Rawlinson.
The book is divided into seven major chapters. Ruth, Peter and Tom take on the roles of tenants of the monastery farm, so the first section is an in-depth but interesting introduction to the monastic system.
Throughout the book Peter, Ruth and Tom each write sub-sections within the main chapters, as in the other Farm books. So Ruth writes on topics such as 'Living in the Church' and 'The Church as Landowner', Peter writes about 'The Religious Calendar' and Tom gives us 'A Day In The Life of A Monk' as well as other well-written and interesting snippets.
There is a tour 'Around the Farm' in chapter two, we then are introduced to the 'The Animals', 'Home and Garden', 'Crafts, Skills and Trade', 'Food and Drink' and finally 'Family Life'. Food and Drink has a small selection of recipes, do-able but mostly designed to be made over an open fire, so really more of a novelty read.
It's one of those books that is very hard to put down, packed as it is with absolutely fascinating facts; well-researched and avoiding the familiar. Given that the programme was filmed this summer, it's been produced remarkably quickly and a few errors have slipped through the proofreading as a result. One of the best was when Tom refers to 'wieners' instead of 'weaners' when writing of the Tamworth piglets. (A 'wiener' is a hot dog).
Finally a quick mention for the amusing mini-biography of Peter Ginn on the inside cover. Following the biography revelations in earlier Farm books, we now learn that he has also 'swallowed the beating heart of a snake', 'burnt his tootsies walking on the surface of Krakatoa.' and 'helped to smuggle a man over an international border' ... Autobiography, please!