Susanna M. Newstead News Baby it’s cold outside

Baby it’s cold outside

Ooooh Nigel, you’ve terrible wind!

Blimey! Is it windy today and it’s quite a chill wind. I have just been out with the two dogs and had all my modern warm clothing on. We are lucky. Heated homes, special thermal clothing.
But what might it have been like for a Mediaeval person in cold weather?

Medieval House at Weald and Downland Museum

It was not unknown for people to be found frozen to death..yes – frozen SOLID at the time we write about.
So how did they manage to keep the cold at bay.

Cold springs and autumns. These were busy times when much work was being done by the ordinary man in the field and farm. He’d keep warm by wearing linen next to his skin and wool over it. Good quality wool was a must and would keep you alive. I’m sure it would not be unknown for people to wear every bit of clothing they had, in order to beat the chill. In fact in my book no. 4, I Will Give my Love an Apple, one of my characters does just that!
Naturally the harder you work physically, the warmer you get – something, (unless you go to a gym) we have forgotten to take into account.
My husband is a master gardener and works physically – although the older he gets the less he works hard – out in all elements. People can’t believe it when they hear that he’s been to work on a day when it’s tipped it down ALL DAY and he’s been out in it ALL DAY. Or when it’s sub zero temperatures of a morning. Our ancestors were the same. If they didn’t work – they didn’t eat. His temperature adjusts accordingly. I freeze, he’s warm. I’m an indoor person.

Conserving that heat and keeping dry must have been one of the most difficult tasks in the Middle Ages. No washing machines, dryers or airing cupboards to keep or get your clothes dry. If you got wet and cold on one day, your only resource was your open fire, or if you were wealthy, your fireplace. And if you had a succession of cold wet days, it would have been very difficult to get and stay warm and dry.

Wealthy people might wear fur. (Sumptuary laws dictated which you could wear), but at our time, we had no such laws and the most common were squirrel, rabbit, marten and fox. Other pelts had to be obtained from other countries – like bear, for example, and only the wealthy had the wherewithal to own them.

The most important garment anyone might own, would be the cloak and a good ‘waterproof’ and windproof one was essential. Even so, you’d get wet in a downpour. Fur lined cloaks were a prerogative of the rich.

Rather like today, layers were important and our forefathers knew the wisdom of wearing a hat for most of the heat lost from the body is lost from the top of your head. Hats and hoods were essential.
I have heard of people stuffing straw into their boots to keep out the cold. This was done in my girlhood by one or two farm workers in the village where I lived. I can imagine this is something Mediaeval man would have done too. This I mention in one of my books. I’m ever looking for little details like this.

What else might you do? We often see in Manuscripts, people in the same dwelling place as their animals. Stick together and you’ll stay warm. Cows are particularly cuddly creatures in the cold weather. Never mind the smell. Your life depends on it.
Often you see a peasant house with a loft over the ground floor, under which goats or cattle are contained in winter. Heat rises. It makes for a cosy, if smelly bedroom.

Winter was a dangerous time. More people died then. Accidents accounted for the greater part of the mortality figures; people caught out travelling and then people freezing through lack of food – yes remember food keeps you warm – and illness brought on by the cold. No antibiotics to stave off a nasty pneumonia.

You have little to do in the winter. No outside tasks of farming or agriculture. Yes, you do still have to husband your animals but once you have done this, your time’s your own…except for all those little tasks like mending and making, household jobs for example.

If all else fails….you can always go to bed.

Got a wife?
If she’s in a good mood…you might get a cuddle. Or a bit more.
Rumpy-pumpy always makes you warm!🤭 They tell me.

Nothing worse than wet socks

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