As part of its launch celebrations on Saturday 3 July, English Heritage is giving visitors to Gainsborough Old Hall in Lincolnshire a taste of the Tudors when it reopens under the direct care of the charity for the first time.
Especially for the launch weekend, the charity is introducing three special picnic boxes to its café, each filled with genuine Tudor dishes inspired by Henry VIII’s visit to the 15th century property.
The picnic boxes, which can be purchased at the new café on the opening weekend, feature foods that may have been enjoyed at the Hall at the time, with three options available according to social status:
Tudor Picnic Boxes at Gainsborough Hall – Worker’s picnic
The Cropper box, named after 16th century servants John and Richard Cropper: Granary bread with cheese, apple pie and cream, alcohol-free ale. £4 per box.
Tudor Picnic Boxes at Gainsborough Hall – Yeoman’s picnic
The Riplay box, named after 16th century administrator Richard Riplay: Chicken and cranberry pie, chardewarden (a pudding made of spiced pears and breadcrumbs) and custard, and alcohol-free ale. £6 per box.
Tudor Picnic Boxes at Gainsborough Hall – Royal picnic
The Henry VIII box, named after the visiting king: Venison ‘pasty’, almond custard tart with cherries in red wine and spice, and alcohol-free wine. £8 per box.
Simon Bean, Head of Historic Properties, Yorkshire & North Midlands, at English Heritage, said, “Throughout history, food has played an important social role at Gainsborough Old Hall, as can be seen from its cavernous medieval kitchen – one of the largest in the UK and built to impress. We wanted to transport visitors back in time to the Hall’s Tudor heyday, and give them a chance to taste test some of the foods that could well have been on the menu in this very building almost 500 years ago whilst also making them accessible to modern visitors.”
Food historian Annie Gray, who devised the recipes for English Heritage, explained: “If you were very wealthy in the Tudor period, you ate very well. Venison was particularly prestigious, for it meant you owned land and were skilled enough to hunt. Venison pasties were even sent as gifts.
The yeomen, like administrator Richard Riplay, could generally afford to eat meat, although it would have been farmed. Flavours mixed sweet and savoury, with cooked fruit widely consumed. However, the diet of workers like servant John Cropper would have been much simpler, revolving around coarse bread – although a simple fruit pie was popular with rural workers.”
One of the best preserved Tudor manor houses in the country, Gainsborough Old Hall is launching as an English Heritage property on 3 July, having previously been operated by Lincolnshire County Council. Owned at the time by the powerful Burgh family, the Hall was visited by the infamous king and his fifth wife Catherine Howard on their return from York in August 1541. It was on this trip that he and his court began to have doubts about the queen’s conduct and, upon their return to London, she was imprisoned and beheaded for adultery.
The Old Hall features one of the most impressive medieval kitchens in England, a noble great hall with ornate wooden ceiling and an imposing lodgings tower. Starting as a place of power and influence in the 15th century, when its wealthy second owners, the Hickman family, moved out around 1730, it then passed through many diverse incarnations from an assembly room and masonic temple, through to a linen factory, pub and soup kitchen. It remains, to this day, the much-loved heart of Gainsborough.