When we think of history, we tend to think of the big events: Wars, revolutions, rulers, and sweeping changes.
But of course, there was everyday life back then, too. People lived their ordinary lives just like we do, taking care of their families, spending time with friends, and running errands.
Recently, a little slice of that ordinary life was discovered in Kent, England.
Archaeologists were looking for pieces of history at Knole, a historic country house there. While gold and treasure are maybe a little more romantic, it’s the everyday things that people would have used, like clothing, that really teach us what life was like so long ago.
When they lifted the floorboards in Knole’s attic, that’s exactly what they found.
Under the boards, they found letters dated 1603, 1622, and 1633. The 1633 letter was even more interesting because it containeda 384-year-old grocery list!
Now, it wasn’t a list in the way we might think of one, as just a collection of items in bullet points. Instead, it was written in the form of a letter to a “Mr. Bilby,” and signed by someone named Robert Draper.
The letter instructed Mr. Bilby to pick up some items, and also to bringsome things to another estate. It’s just a little snippet of a day in the life of the people who lived in Knole nearly 400 years ago.
It’s not a great treaty or work of literature, nor does it reveal some long lost secret. However, in its simplicity, it tells us so much about how life used to be.
One of them, dated 1633, was a grocery list of sorts, requesting certain items. It read:
Mr Bilby, I pray p[ro]vide to be sent too morrow in ye Cart some Greenfish, The Lights from My Lady Cranfeild[es] Cham[ber] 2 dozen of Pewter spoon[es]: one greate fireshovell for ye nursery and ye o[t]hers which were sent to be exchanged for some of a better fashion, a new frying pan together with a note of ye prises of such Commoditie for ye rest.
Your loving friend,
We’ve left the original spelling and grammar. The letters in brackets have been added in by the National Trust to make it easier for the modern reader to understand.
Archaeologists were thrilled not only at the find itself, but also by how well the letters were preserved. Other than the letters, the only other things they found were some old nails and small animal bones.
Basically, the grocery list is asking for the transfer of some items between Copt Hall and Knole, which were about 36 miles apart.
The owner of Knole, Richard Sackville, had married Frances Cranfield, daughter of the Earl of Middlesex, who lived at Copt Hall. The marriage would have required the transportation of various goods.
As for the other letters, the one from 1622is a sort of thank-you note to a benefactor for some gift.
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