Saturday, 26 May 2012

Review: Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey and Coifs

The Family History Partnership's latest publication is Janet Few's Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey and Coifs, and it's a bit of a gem. This 136 page long book is a partial reprint of some material which has previously appeared in Family Tree magazine, though with much new content, and one which aims to provide a flavour of the day to day lifestyles of our ancestors, from all walks of life, within seventeenth century England.

There are ten chapters within the book. The first starts with life at home, where we learn about the beds that our forebears slept in, how they had to make their own furniture, ate meals from hollowed out square plates (providing a 'square meal') and more. Follow on chapters deal in a similar way with with household tasks, food and drink, clothing, gardening, medicine, crime and punishment, witchcraft and leisure activities. Each is packed with anecdotes and moments to make you think "Oh that's where that comes from!" - the window originally being the 'wind-eye', to allow air and light in, the 'chairman of the board' originally being the person who sat at the chair on the end of the table or 'board', and so on.

Much of the claims in the book are given as straight fact, though one or two might be questionable - the nursery rhyme 'Ring a Ring a Roses' being a case in point, categorically described as being about the plague, when in fact there's something of a debate about that amongst folklorists - but this is nevertheless a fun book that does what it sets out to do, to take you back in time to another era. And this is the first book I've read to tell me about the roll of the "piss prophet", a job that makes me extremely grateful that I have taken the career route that I have!

Each chapter is not only beautifully illustrated in colour throughout, but also ends with a further reading list to take your understanding of the topic in question further.

The Family History Partnership £12.95 +p&p

NB: The title does not appear to be listed on the company's website yet, though should be there imminently.

(With thanks to Terry Walsh at the Family History Partnership)


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