Feeding the Brethren: Grain Provisioning of Norwich Cathedral Priory, c. 1280-1370

Feeding the Brethren: Grain Provisioning of Norwich Cathedral Priory, c. 1280-1370

By Philip Slavin

PhD Dissertation, University of Toronto, 2008

Abstract: The present dissertation attempts to follow and analyze each and every individual stage of food provisioning of a late medieval monastic community. Chapter One is an introductory survey, describing the topic, its status quaestionis, problems and methodology.

Chapter Two establishes the geography of crops in the rural hinterland of Norwich, with each manor specializing in different crop. A close analysis of the crop geography partially supports the Von Thünen thesis.

Chapter Three looks at the agricultural trends of the demesnes. Roughly speaking, the period between c. 1290 and 1370 was a history of wheat’s expansion at the expense of rye, on the one hand, and legume shrinkage at the expense of grazing land.

Chapter Four discusses annual grain acquisition, its components and disposal. It shows that about eighty per cent of the total supply derived from harvest, while the remainder came in form of tithes, grants and purchases.

Chapter Five deals with the human and equine interaction. The bovine population was certainly dominant, but the draught horses easily outnumbered the oxen. Each year,the Priory authorities saved a great deal of money, because of (virtually) free customary carting service.

Chapter Six explores the space for storing and processing of the annual grain supply. The five adjacent buildings, namely the Great Granary, brewery, bakery, mill and staples, allowed most effective cooperation between dozens of Priory labourers working in victual departments, on the one hand, and decreased transportation costs.

Chapter Seven attempts to establish the relation between the Priory population, its annual grain supply and demand. Conversion of the grain into approximate calorific and financial equivalent reveals that the supply must have exceeded the demand.

Chapter Eight is deals with the actual consumption of the grain supply. As far as Norwich monks are concerned, their annual bread and ale supply has certainly exceeded their normal requirements and there is no hint about selling the surplus. Joining the bread and ale accounts with those of the cellar, we arrive at astonishing calorific figures.

Chapter Nine discusses the charity activities of Norwich Priory, particularly connected to the distribution of bread and ale among the needy. There were three distinctive groups: hermits, prisoners and paupers. According to almoner’s accounts, the Priory allocated generous sums of loaves and ale to the paupers.

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