Monday, 18 July 2005

The Spit Boys

Henry VIII - excessive masticator

No, before you even think of it, this has nothing to do with spitting.
Meat was the main part of an aristocrat's diet in Tudor times. In Henry VIII's time, at Hampton Court Palace, there were about 1,000 servants or more, depending on the times of year (there were more in the winter). There was a strict hierarchy amongst the servants and so even kitchen staff were divided into ranks. Around two-hundred or so people worked in the palace kitchen. At the very bottom of the kitchen staff hierarchy were the so called 'Spit Boys'. Their job was to turn the enormous iron spits used to roast the large quantities of meat. Their job was arduous and painful as they had to do this for hours on end. The spits were over big open fires which emanated alot of heat. These guys were not boys though, as the sheer size and weight of the loaded spits meant that no mere 'boy' could do this. The term 'boy' was used in a derogatory way.
The spits were 2cm thick and almost 3 m long. There was a small alcove in which the 'Spit Boys' had to be in order to do their work, because the distance between them and the fire was the same as that of the meat and the fire. However, the high temperatures were almost unbearable and it is surprising that they were not called 'Cooked Boys'.
To make matters worse, they had to be fully clothed. They had to get up at 4am to prepare the fire and then work solidly for the next six hours. There were no toilet breaks and the 'boys' were strictly forbidden to urinate in the fire.
During Lent spit boys got to rest for a bit as nobody was allowed to eat meat during that time...


Perdita said...

I remember reading about a spit-jack that ran on dog power. Do you know anything about this?

Anna said...

No, but I could look into it. :-)