Myth & Magic
Beggar or Boy Bishop (Medieval Career Choices)
Avering was a medieval con-trick performed by beggars to obtain money. Some beggars would strip themselves, hide their clothes and pretend to have been robbed. Others would fake illnesses by sticking on boils made of wax, or tumours made from raw offal, to get alms from townspeople or the church.
The custom of electing a boy bishop dates back over a thousand years. The boy bishop held office from St. Nicholas Day, patron saint of children, on 6th December, to Holy Innocents Day, 28th December. The boy took part in services. He wore bishops’ vestments, carried a crosier and was accompanied by a train of boys in minor orders. On the last day he preached a sermon.
During his time in office the fortunate lad lived in great luxury, just like the adult medieval bishops, and was spared the regular birchings which were the bane of the medieval schoolboy’s life, for which he must have been very thankful. If he died in office, he was buried as if he was a bishop. You can see a supposed effigy of such a boy in full bishop’s vestments in Salisbury Cathedral.
A medieval peddler or hawker who also sold or carried news. Camelots were the ‘Del-boys’ of the medieval world. They had a reputation for trading in goods that were not always genuine or might have fallen off the back of a cart. The name is still used today in France for a street peddler or newspaper seller.
A shoemaker who worked in cordwain or cordovan leather, which was a fine red leather imported from Spain and used to make the best quality shoes and boots. Eventually, cordwainer became the name for all shoemakers. The Cordwainer’s Guild still exists in London today.
An elderly person who paid a single lump sum of money (a corrody) to a convent or religious house. In return the convent promised to provide lodgings, food and fuel for that person until their death. Sometimes the convent guaranteed to give the person a regular annual income to buy these things, at other times the convent would actually provide the lodgings, food and fuel themselves.
It was a medieval pension scheme and employers sometimes bought corrodies for valued employees. The religious houses used it as a means of getting ready cash especially in times of financial hardship, and they obviously gambled that the old person wouldn’t live too long, so they would make a profit. On the other hand if the corrodian lived longer than expected, he or she would gain financially and the convent would end up loosing money.
Someone who collected dog dung from the streets to sell to leather tanners. This job was usually done by children or elderly people who were paid by the pail-full. Dog excrement was vital to purify skins and hides by breaking down the collagenous proteins prior to curing and tanning. Treating the skins with dog excrement was called puering. Dog dung was therefore a valuable commodity in the Middle Ages, with white dung being the most highly prized.
Along the East Coast a common method of producing salt in the Middle Ages was by sand and silt washing. The brine washed from the sand would be boiled in lead pans over peat fires. This was done by the wellers who had the most difficult job in the salt making process. Brine contains six different salts, each crystallising out at a different rate. Only the third, sodium chloride, was the one used for preservation and flavouring so that the weller had to be adept at collecting this particular salt at precisely the right time without it becoming contaminated by the others. The remaining salts, collectively known as the bittern, were usually discarded.