The original Poor Law relief was Inaugurated, not only to relieve those who were unemployed, but also those who were engaged in work, but could not live on the wages which they earned.1 During the nineteenth century, to bring our present enquiry up to date, arose the custom of the poor seeking doles from the back doors, or kitchen regions, of the wealthy houses, in the shape of cast-off clothing, stale loaves, fragments of joints of meat and dripping, and, in many country villages even as late as 1880, this custom of begging was not regarded as disgraceful in any way. Regular attendance at the village church was imposed, as a condition, on the recipients of this charity.
Some reference must be made, in this chapter, to the tools and methods of preparing timber, during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but the subject is too wide to permit of more than a brief description.
It is unnecessary to illustrate the felling of timber, nor to deal with any other wood than oak, as this was exclusively used in the early periods. The branches having been lopped from the trunk, with the axe, those of growth suitable for cutting into "knees," for timber roof-braces, being carefully reserved for such use, the log is taken to the saw-pit for cutting. In Fig. 11, to which later reference will be made, will be noticed two of these " knees," roughly trimmed with the adze. Fig. 6 illustrates the operation of the pit-saw, a tool used from very early times, with certain exceptions which will be noted later on.
1 See in Thorold Rogers' "Six Centuries of Work and Wages," Chapter XIV, the account of the Speenhamland Acts of 1795 and 1800 introduced by Mr, Whitbread.
Fig. 17. Tools Of The Sixteenth Century - 34, 37, 38. Braces (morteys wymbyll). - 35, 36. Screw-drivers (eighteenth century). 39, 40, 41. Augers (foote wymbyll). - Rijks Museum, Amsterdam.
The cutting of oak timber, to produce wood of fine figure and durable quality, is one demanding considerable skill on the part of the sawyer or the river. To cut the log into boards in the way illustrated in Fig. 7a is the most economical way, but the planks produced in this manner are not durable. The annular rings, which will be noticed in the illustration (c), cause the board to cast. Fig. 7b shows the end section of the log before cutting, with the annular rings and also the medullary rays which radiate from the log-centre or heart. If boards are cut exactly parallel with this ray, the maximum figure of the wood is exposed, but the projecting ray is likely to scale out. The river of timber, as distinguished from the sawyer, always splits his oak parallel with the ray, and in many of the early Church doors the hard figure has persisted while the softer parts of the timber have worn away, leaving the ray standing out of the wood. The effect is picturesque, but the method is not the best of its kind. The mediaeval sawyer aimed at cutting his boards obliquely across the ray, at a very sharp angle. Thus the log was first cut into quarters (hence the term " quartering " used to describe the cutting of figured oak) and the first board each way was cut straight. Each succeeding one was cut to follow the ray direction, and between each a wedge-shaped piece was cut away to allow of each new angle being followed. The diagram, Fig. 7e, shows the operation. Fig. 7d shows the method of cutting mild oak without figure, but the ray comes at right angles to each board, with the result that the timber is liable to internal shakes.
The operation of splitting or riving, was practised a good deal up to the end of the seventeenth century, as many examples of the early work show. Figs. 8, 9 and 10 show this operation in three stages. The quartered log is inserted between two heavy rails, - the upper one fixed on the slope so that the log can be wedged tightly into the aperture, - supported on stout framings fixed into the ground. The riving-iron, or "thrower," as it is technically termed, is then driven into the end of the log with a wooden club, or " beetle." The " thrower " is wedge-shaped in section, in other words, has a sharp fore edge, and has a socket at one end into which a long loose handle can be inserted as a lever.
Fig. 18. A Smoothing Plane. - (Possibly late sixteenth or early seventeenth century.)
After the thrower has been driven home, the handle is inserted and the thrower wrenched to widen the split (Fig. 9). It is worked down the log until the riving is completed. Fig. 10 shows the operation of splitting for panel-wood or hedge-stakes. Oak pale-fencing, at the present day, is riven in exactly the same way, as riven timber withstands weather better than sawn.
Fig. 11 shows the use of the adze, the primitive smoothing tool used for large timber. The two " knees " of oak, selected from wood of curved growth, before referred to, will be noticed on either side of the adze worker; one has already been roughly dubbed into shape, the other is awaiting the same treatment.
Woodworking tools were greatly esteemed in the fifteenth century, and were handed down from father to son with other possessions. The following is a copy of the will of Thomas Vyell, of Ixworth in Suffolk, of 1472 : -
Fig. 19. Two Views Of A Paring Chisel - (Eighteenth century.)
Wills And Extracts From Wills Relating To Ixworth And Ixworth Thorpe.
Radulph Penteney al' Sporyer de Ixworth 1402
Lego ad vsum gilde S'c'i John i's Bapt'e in Ixworth. iijs iiijd.
Thomas Vyell 1472.