Ruth Goodman is a historian who specialises in the real lives of people during different periods. She has appeared on television many times exploring and explaining the realities of the experiences of ordinary people, whose lives are rarely captured in the history books. Equally, their real lives and technologies are often skated over to focus on the opulence of the rich and famous.
Ruth has presented the six BBC historic farm series through the ages and secrets of the castle.
In the absence of written evidence, it is feasible that interpretations have been regularly made about how people lived, and this then becomes the stuff of experimental archaeology. This can range from building houses based on the patterns of post holes left in the ground, with limited knowledge of how the parts above the ground were put together. I remember meeting Peter Reynolds in the 1970s, as he was starting his experimental Iron Age site on Butser Hill, building round houses in different forms to explore how long they stayed standing to establish how the roofs might have been put together. Other areas of life were also being explored.
Generations, over thousands of years, had used wood as their essential fuel for heat and cooking, for much of that time as a central hearth with smoke seeping through a roof, often thatched. It's interesting to think that Roman villas used a form of flue to create underfloor heating, but this technology was ignored by coexisting cultures. It was in the later Middle Ages when smoke bays were created to take smoke through a specific point in a roof, a very early chimney. From around the 14/1500s, bricks were becoming a little more common as a building material, often imported from Flanders, with the creation of chimneys to funnel smoke directly out of the house.
Coal was brought, by boat, from the North East, especially Newcastle, so first had an impact in towns along the East coast and into London. Burning hotter, it became a "must have", especially as the population grew. Ruth shared thoughts on the change to cooking habits as a result of the change. Where one-pot, pottage or stews, was a staple of wood fire cooking, iron pots on iron ranges led to such food being easily burnt, so they had to be watched constantly. Boiled foods became more popular, as they could be left for a while to simmer. Pots, pans and other utensils would therefore also be adapted to the new needs.
One interesting point that Ruth made was that, in many ways, women became more tied to the house as a result, possibly because some aspects of home needs increased. Perhaps technological change can move us further from earlier simplicities.
We can do more, but the "more" takes time from other thing, or maybe becomes a distraction in itself. I've just spent an hour typing this, when I could have been doing something else. In another time, this might have been essentials like vegetable or animal husbandry, making beer, making or mending clothes and shoes, cutting and carting wood...
I will look forward to getting a copy of Ruth's book, to look at topics in greater detail. Questions lead to questions.