Thomas Was My Cousin...Five Hundred Years Ago

I still struggle to equate the names of the people I find on Ancestry with real people...sounds silly doesn't it...of course they were real people, but when I'm lucky enough to find Church records which give a person's occupation for instance, and try to imagine being a Tanner in 1629 in a small parish in Cheshire...then that does take all of my imagination, with some more besides, to make such a person talk to us down the last five hundred years or so...

Thomas Gaskell was such a Tanner...he was also one of my many times removed cousins...so he's family. I might have invited him and his wife and children round for supper or given the latest baby a shawl for a present...if I'd been able to afford it.

His working area must have stunk to high heaven, what with huge vats of animal skins soaking and others stretched out on frames for him to scrape off the fat and odd bits of flesh still remaining after the skinning...I wonder if he worked on his own or if he employed men from the surrounding area...he'd have had a big container for the locals to empty their piss pots into...stale urine was an essential in the tanning process, the hides laid out flat, soaked in urine and then trampled on over and over again to soften the leather and make it supple.

I wonder where he bought his skins...presumably from the local slaughterer, who would have lived and carried out his work in the Shambles...it'd have probably cost too much to have them transported on a cart from the nearest town. He might have specialised in making vellum for legal documents and for expensive books...or perhaps his leathers were bought by shoe and boot makers, maybe glovers bought the smaller pieces...

Thomas would have needed his workshop close to running water...those hides had to be washed again and again before being hung up to dry...no one would have paid any heed to pollution in those long ago days...

It's doubtful he was literate...there wasn't any need to be and if he was to have a written a Will then the church curate or the vicar would have obliged...for a small fee.

He must have been strong, this cousin of mine...constantly moving sodden hides from one place to another wouldn't have been a task for a skinny man...did he occasionally ask the slaughter man to save some of the cattle horns so he could hollow them out and use the bigger of them to hold ale...he could have done.

Don't suppose Thomas had many days off in the year...but he probably went to the hangings just outside the village or perhaps he'd stop on the green and throw a couple of rotten eggs at the baker in the stocks...the baker still hadn't learned his lesson from the last time he was caught adulterating his flour with powdered chalk...

Thomas would had attended the Sunday service in the church though...that wasn't so much out of choice but obligatory. He and his family probably stood at the back...it's doubtful his friends and neighbours would have wanted to be too close to him.

He could have heard vague stories about people travelling to the New World on ships...he may even have contemplated finding out more about it, until he told his wife and she dismissed the idea straight away.

So Thomas spent the rest of his relatively short life in the same village he was born in...he's buried in the graveyard surrounding the church...his name and the dates carved out of the headstone with an unpractised hand...his burial carefully written down in the thick book of records, alongside those of newborn babies and widows...Yeomen and their wives...

Thomas was my cousin, many times removed...

3 Replies

oldestnewest
  • Imagine what your tanner would think if he fast forwarded 500 years, the life we live now would be so hard for him to imagine .........cars planes TV electricity computers and so much more.

    You have a knack of putting yourself in someone else's life....wise woman indeed

  • Very interesting Vashti and as knitter said, I would love to see how they would react to this day and age...what a shock it would be. :-) x

  • Vashti you remind me of my lovely aunt may who died 8years ago.They lived where Cabra is now,she was the village w ise woman.from birthing the babys to washing and laying out the dead.I remember as a child trolling the field for herbs and mushrooms,she also grew her own herbs.I used to walk miles with her and the dog.You bring so much back vashti snd all of it good. mags xx

You may also like...