Monthly Archives: November 2012

‘Piecing it out’: material culture in bits

We’ve launched The Household Account Book of Sir Thomas Puckering at long last! This wonderful document, which lists all Sir Thomas’s purchases for 1620 while he was at his home at The Priory in Warwick and while he was lodging in The Strand in London, has taken Mark Merry  and I something close to a decade to edit. It’s finally come out with the Dugdale Society.

A couple of years ago we were three days from submitting it when we came upon a new body of evidence – receipts for food and bills submitted by Puckering’s suppliers which the antiquarian William Dugdale had used as scrap paper for his Antiquities of Warwickshire. It was a large early modern paper jigsaw – hundreds of scraps of evidence with indexes written around and on the back of them – but putting it together allowed us to see a fuller picture of the nitty gritty of Puckering’s household’s daily life. The bill above turns out to be from Robert Lewis, his chamberlain – a corresponding entry in the account book reads ‘Paid, as appears in a bill of Ro: Lewis his of this date, for 3 elns of greene taffata to make a head-piece to my greene taffata bedd with the nett vallance, at 14s 8d the eln…44s’. Lewis buys the raw materials and then makes up or mends a good deal of the furnishings at The Priory.

But thinking about our painstaking work of tessellating tiny scraps of paper and the evidence they contain, it doesn’t provide a bad metaphor for our interest in the account book itself. Once we’d become familiar with it, we started to ‘see’ Puckering’s household in the amalgam of his various entries. It was a process of material assembly – watching furniture being planned and then put together from wood, a wide variety of nails, padding and then, finally, the valuable outer fabric that was its public face. And reading through the year, we watched the house change with the seasons: 1s 5d for ‘holly, yew and rosemary used in dressing up my house against Christmas’, or 7s ‘unto Dunckley the joiner for a wainscot frame (to be painted) to hide my turret chimney in summer’.

The launch party was late in the evening, after hours in Warwick County Record Office – document tables pushed back to the walls to make space. The WCRO is built on the site of Puckering’s Priory. A very small amount of the original house is still there, around the edges of the car park, but its impressive central ranges were shipped to the States in the 1920s, where they were reassembled in a different order to become Virginia House. So if we want to know about Puckering’s Priory, as with so much early modern material culture, we have to reconstruct it one small detail at a time, building it up – translating the textual into the material – piecing it out in the mind’s eye…


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