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Medieval gardening tools

Posted: Mon Nov 13, 2017 12:14 pm
by Lonestan
I'm looking for someone who can craft some medieval gardening tools - whatever their equivalent of a hand trowel, hand fork, fork and hoe probably as a start off. I'm under the assumption that these things probably haven't changed much through the years, and certainly a few of the pictures that I've seen bear this out (especially man using hoe); however it'd be nice to have them closer to the real things when we do our gardening at Norton Priory!

Re: Medieval gardening tools

Posted: Mon Nov 13, 2017 3:31 pm
by Merlon.
The previous thread on this topic may help a bit

Re: Medieval gardening tools

Posted: Wed Nov 15, 2017 11:53 am
by Brother Ranulf
It's probably worth expanding on the previous thread with some more tools and details.

First, it is necessary to dispel a few misconceptions - this will sound a bit negative and critical, but it is meant to be helpful so bear with me.

It would be incorrect to think that "these things probably haven't changed much through the years"; things changed constantly even during the medieval period. For example in my own period (12th century) it was usual for metal parts to be fitted to a wooden handle by means of a tang, which would be heated and burnt into the wood, although sockets were certainly used for axes, mattocks and certain other tools. Subsequently sockets gradually took over, making for a more robust joint. 12th century knives were fitted to a wooden handle by means of a tang; later knives had two scales fitted by means of rivets. There are many other examples of gradual evolution during the medieval era.

There were no specific "gardening tools" in the medieval period, since the tools used in a garden were the same as those used in the fields, crofts and tofts on every manor in the country. So we are really considering agricultural tools, which also formed the basis for every construction project. The main two tools were the spade and the mattock, which were always hand made locally and probably had regional variations. They were used together, often one man using the mattock while another used the spade - a stained glass in Canterbury cathedral shows Adam digging with a spade while his mattock hangs in a nearby tree. These tools were used for cultivation, but also in building projects - every cesspit, every grave, every castle mound and moat, every cathedral foundation, fish pond or diverted waterway was dug with spades and mattocks.

The hoe as we know it today did not exist, nor did hand tools like forks and trowels, nor did garden rakes.

These are my own replica 12th century examples of a spade and mattock:
mattock and spade.JPG
I made the spade from an ash plank about 1.25 inches thick, with the T-handle attached with mortise and tenon held together with a tight wooden peg (D-shaped and straight handles were also used). Then I found a tame blacksmith who was prepared to make the spade-iron from measurements and photos I gave him. The spade is 40 inches long with a business end 8 inches wide and just over 10 inches long.

The mattock head is a chance find in a very old shed - it's probably 1920s or 1930s but it is without any maker's mark and it is just the same as the 12th century one hanging in the tree mentioned above. My mattock has an ash shaft 48 inches long; the head is 8.25 inches long including the socket and 4 inches wide. It is a multi-purpose tool that can be used for hoeing, digging, taking out a narrow trench such as a beam slot, or deep excavating.

Spade blades evolved from the late 12th century onwards to have a more pointed shape - at exactly the same time that builders were moving away from the round Norman arch to the pointed Gothic style. This is a spade iron in the British Museum:
Wheelbarrows did not exist in England until about 1260 and when they arrived they did not resemble a modern B&Q example - look for medieval barrow on Google Images to see what I mean.

Re: Medieval gardening tools

Posted: Wed Nov 15, 2017 11:55 am
by Brother Ranulf
Medieval English people knew the difference between a spade (for digging) and a shovel (for moving stuff around), but this knowledge seems to have been lost today. Medieval shovels were very odd until the end of the period when metal shovels were introduced. They were all-wood construction, with a shaped oak blade fitted at a sharp angle to an ash shaft. A reasonable number of the oak blades have survived, my own replica is an exact copy of one found in excavations at York. It has a sloping rectangular slot and two peg holes and I used dogwood pegs and nettle fibre cord to attach blade to shaft:
Shovels could be used to move grain, sand, lime and so on, or for wet stuff like animal or human waste or for clearing ditches.