Endeavour to present the life and conditions of the woodworker from the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries, his tools, methods, trade guilds and the like, is the scope and purpose of the present chapter. The term "woodworker" has been chosen, as this includes not only the carpenter and joiner, but also the kindred crafts of the sawyer, the maker of furniture and the carver in wood, under the one generic heading. At the outset several difficulties present themselves, in the attempt to institute comparisons between the various periods. An accurate standard of values, which shall hold good, equally in the fourteenth as in the eighteenth centuries, for example, is very difficult to postulate. We have to consider, first, the remuneration for labour and services, for which a monetary standard will not apply (as money bought far more in the fourteenth than it did in the eighteenth century), the difference in subsistence levels, and the relative number of the hours worked in the woodworking trades at the different periods.
The institution of trade guilds dates from very early times. Guild halls of as early a date as the fourteenth century are known from records and remains, and show that these guilds must have existed. Whether they were formed to protect the workers in the various trades, as far as labour conditions were concerned, or whether they were more in the nature of educational establishments, under the protection and subject to the domination of the Lord of the Manor, it is not possible to say. We know that the mediaeval woodworker was protected from time to time by sundry Acts of Parliament, regulating his wages and hours of labour, and that, on the whole, his working life was far from onerous. His desires were fewer than at a later date. Bread, meat and beer constituted his staple diet. Green vegetables were unknown in England. Potatoes were introduced by Sir Walter Raleigh from Virginia, and were first planted in Lancashire where they became popular as a food. This, however, is only in the late sixteenth century. Green vegetables were not introduced from Holland, as an article of diet, until almost the early part of the seventeenth century. Houghton, in his "Collections in Husbandry and Trade," a periodical first published in 1681, gives in Vol. I, p. 213, edit. 1728, the first notice of turnips being used for feeding sheep. Both cattle and sheep, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, were much smaller in size than at the present day.
The lack of green vegetables, coupled with the insanitary conditions of life, the absence of any attempt at cleanliness of person, and the lack of knowledge of medicine or surgery (the mediaeval physician would not compare, for a moment, in knowledge of his art, with the veriest quack at the present day) probably accounted, in gnat measure, for the prevalence of plagues. In the fourteenth century, the plague ravaged England in 1348, 1361 and 1369, and in the next century in 1477, 1478 and 1479. From 1455 to 1485 England suffered from civil war, and after Bosworth, Henry Tudor's army brought with it, from Wales, a new disease known as the " sweating sickness," which afterwards penetrated to Germany and the Netherlands, but which, curiously enough, only attacked Englishmen.
Those who are interested in these mediaeval conditions of life and labour cannot do better than read James E. Thorold Rogers' erudite book, "Six Centuries of Work and Wages," especially Chapter XII. Thorold Rogers refers, in detail, to the profuseness of diet and the extraordinary uncleanliness of person in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and to the prevalence of plagues. In 1528 and 1529 the visitation was known as the " Great Mortality," and it ravaged the Continent as well as England. Over 1100 persons died in twenty-two days in Hamburg alone. The plague came again, and for the last time, to England, in 1665. It is more than probable that the conditions, cited above, had to be coupled with a famine year, to allow of its propagation on an extensive scale, and famines were very rare during the later Middle Ages.
Fig, 6. The Pit-Saw In Use.
The two workers are known as the "top-sawyer" and the " under sawyer." It is the " top-sawyer " who guides the saw.
Workers in wood appear to have been divided into three classes during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. We have the King's craftsmen, who were paid at a higher rate, although it is probable that they were more in the nature of directors than general workers. Thus in 1358, June 6th (Patent Rolls), John de Tidolaye is appointed to carry out certain repairs in the King's Castle of Haddeleye, "by view and disposition of Master William de Herland, the King's carpenter " to take the necessary workmen and carriages for the work, at the King's wages, " to stay therein as long as shall be necessary and arrest all those found contrariant and commit them to prison till further orders."
From the above it is evident that the King's carpenter had summary powers to collect men for the King's work,1 and it is probable that these were culled from the general class of artisan, for the time being only, although they may have been paid at a higher rate when so engaged.
Fig. 7. The Cutting Of Oak.
A. Boards cut across the tree.
B. The trunk showing annular rings and medullary rays.
C A board cut by the method (A) showing the annular rings.
D. The cutting of quartered boards without figure.
E. The cutting of quartered boards with the medullary ray figure.
Fig. 8. Driving In The Riving-Iron, Or Thrower.
Fig. 9. Opening The Log With The Thrower.
Fig. 10. Riving For Panel-Stuff Or Pale-Fencing.