Museum News

Renovating the Winkhurst Oven with Jon Roberts

Tudor bake

The Winkhurst Tudor Kitchen is an early-16th century building where demonstrations take place, showing how food was prepared and cooked in the 1500s. The Tudor kitchen originally formed part of a larger house, and was not only used for everyday cooking of meals but smoking, brewing, washing and other tasks. 

Visitors can taste much of the food made in the demonstrations, including hand-made butter and cheese, griddle bread cooked over an open fire, fried ‘chewits’ (pastry filled with spinach, onion and other vegetables) and pottage. 

Jon Roberts, Rural Life Interpreter, has been using traditional methods and materials to make a new oven for the kitchen, as the old one is now over 20 years old and needs replacing. Here he explains the process involved. 

DemolishThe previous oven was a great example of those used in everyday domestic life, but as it was made with mud bricks, which often splits at high temperatures, we have started to see some wear and tear. We realised it was time to look at building a replacement oven that could be lit and used for demonstrations.

The Tudor kitchen oven differs from the Bakehouse, as it is a domestic oven, not commercial, and would be found in most kitchens in rural areas. Domestic ovens would also be used to provide food for the Lord of the area, if they were hosting guests their own kitchens might not have been large enough.

It has been quite tricky to find a suitable but accurate design for the new oven, as you can imagine there’s not a huge amount of imagery of ovens from the 1500s. We’ve worked from a few paintings that also have subjects in them but it’s not clear how to scale they are. 

After a lot of research, we happened upon a design solution for Winkhurst, known as a Sailor’s Oven. Taken from designs found from a ship’s medic’s notes, we’ve chosen to move away from mud bricks to wattle and daub mix to make the oven a dome.Frame

To create the Sailor’s Oven, I began with building an upside-down basket weave using oak, sourced from the forest around the Museum. Using the same weave process as building a basket, the structure was put in place where the old oven previously stood, and a circle of daub lumps was placed around the bottom to secure it in place. This gave the base for creating the rest of the oven shape and provides great foundations for years to come. 

The wooden structure was then burnt away, as it was only created to hold the daub mixture in place whilst the mixture dried. To keep the scale and size correct as best we can, we chose to reuse the door from the old oven, thus ensuring this project was as sustainable as possible, but also because we didn’t want to waste anything. 

RenovateOur methodology was also in line with the building processes and sourcing of resources of the time. Reusing a lot of the material from the previous oven, including the mud bricks which were reused in the wattle and daub mix. We cleaned through and removed any of the material that is not suitable, and replaced it with what we have on the site. In the 1500s people would have used whatever they had to hand, and in order to make it slightly less labour intensive, would have tried to find resources as close to home as possible, so clay and mud within a very short travelling distance. Any other material such as straw, animal hair, and other waste products would reflect the homeowner’s lifestyle, status and wealth.