My eleven year-old son’s eyes widen as the woman offers him a tankard of beer to drink. He looks towards me. The woman says: ‘The young master is of age. Everyone from the age of five drinks beer. But if you don’t want to drink it why don’t you just smell it?’ She tilts the pewter tankard towards each of us in turn. As I peer inside I see that it’s empty. My son looks relieved.
We’re at Penshurst Place and Gardensnofollow in the Weald of Kent, England. The woman is one of a group of costumed actors this weekend recreating life at the manor house in 1588 when the Spanish Armada threatened to invade England. She’s playing the part of a cook and tells us that beer was safe to drink in Tudor times but water often wasn’t.
She’s in a room next to the fourteenth century Baron’s Hall and is standing in front of a long table laden with Tudor dishes. She tells us that she’s preparing food for the soldiers and shows us some pheasant pies. The pies are small and round and each has a pheasant’s foot poking up throughout its pastry lid.