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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

A Tea Break and Some Feoffes

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas DECEMBER. 09, 2020

[125-365] 8th. December 2020- This is my slightly humorous title for today, because there are no biscuits today even though a biscuit called Feoffes sounds like it would be delicious. Normally you would have biscuits during a tea break but we are having a break to discuss tea which gives us a break from posts about biscuits. In that case it is also a biscuit break as opposed to a broken biscuit.

Many years ago when virtue signalling had not been invented and people didn't go around explaining loudly how much they hate waste and care about the environment and wearing badges saying they hate war, people tended to just hate waste and care about their environment and hate wars in silence, it was a given, so there were shops that actually sold broken biscuits by the pound. Broken biscuits weren't what virtue signalling activists today would throw in the bin when nobody is looking they were something people cherished and looked forward to, a real treat.

But first Feoffes. Having read some of my posts before, and if you have not, why not, you will now be assuming I am having one of my moments again when I just make stuff up. Like the word Feoffes. But you would be wrong as it very definitely is a word unlike Fruitli which is not a word. I can prove it is a word because here you can see it carved in stone and who would go to the bother of carving out of stone, something I had just made up.

This was a conduit erected by the Feoffes, a public supply of fresh water, no longer functioning, which is a shame. Conduits were built by charities to provide fresh water to individuals who were too poor to have water pipes laid to their homes.

A sign above it gives some explanation of what Feoffes are. These particular Feoffes are pertaining to the nearby church of St. Petrox. They were trustees appointed by the church to administer the properties and sums of money bequeathed to the church. They were appointed for life and paid an annuity.

The word originates under the feudal system and relates to a fief or fiefdom, a trustee who holds a fief. The act of setting up the trustee was called enfeoffing feoffees with fees. I know this is hard to believe but it is strangely true. When they weren't enfeoffing feoffees with fees, Peter Piper was picking pickled peppers, and in the house next door the pheasant plucker's mate was only plucking pheasants because the pheasant plucker was late.

The washing of clothes was prohibited at public conduits and there is frequent reference in the records of the Mayor's Court to women of the town "acting like common washerwomen at the conduits". So were they just acting like washerwomen as in street theatre or were they actually washerwomen? I much prefer the idea that a women's theatre cooperative regularly turned up at a different conduit every week and all screeched and fought and threw washing around just to annoy the Mayor, a sort of pre-internet trolling.

After the Reformation, the Town Council appropriated the church bequests and the conduits started to fall into disrepair, but when the Plague arrived in 1627 it scared the town into carrying out much needed repairs. It's amazing what public officials manage to do when there's a plague.

This conduit was moved in 1835 to this position from the slipway and continued to supply water to the poor long after a new water system was begun in the 1860's.

This is the narrow entrance to Dartmouth Harbour, looking very tranquil today. There are two castles, one either side, the Kingswear one on the left is out of view but the Dartmouth one on the right has a commanding position to defend this historic strategically important harbour. The castle is near the waters edge and the other building set slightly higher is St Petrox's church mentioned above.

During times of war which was pretty much throughout the whole of Dartmouth's history until about last Friday, a chain was pulled across the channel between the two castles to prevent ships from gaining unauthorised access.

Below, the Butterwalk, 1635 - 40. The Butterwalk in Dartmouth is an outstanding example of a Tudor building with its intricately carved wooden fascia it is supported on impressive granite columns. Famous visitors include King Charles II in 1671. It had only been up thirty years when he came and his first impression was "they obviously didn't use set squares much".

It is one of the finest rows of merchants' houses dating from the first half of the 17th century anywhere in England. It was built on reclaimed land as part of the same scheme which created the New Quay. The row is dated 1635 and 1640 because someone's watch had stopped. It was renovated in the 1950s after severe bomb blast damage in 1943.

If you ever visit Dartmouth don't miss the chance to dine in the Sloping Deck Restaurant on the first floor. Here you will really experience the quirkiness and age of the building as you climb uphill across the room as the name suggests. The waitresses wear crampons.

Butterwalks can be found in several towns in Britain. Traditionally they were a covered area for stalls specifically selling dairy produce to keep off the rain in winter and the sun in summer. Who wants sour milk in their tea?

In the recent plague it has acquired external tables and chairs.

Now I have to explain the concept of the Tea Cosy. As far as I know this is British Cultural Heritage on a par with Japan's Tea Ceremony.

If there is a cultural tea drinking straight line, Japan is at one extreme and Britain at the other. Every element of the Japanese Tea Ceremony appears to be contrived to ensure that the tea will be drunk as cold as possible, while in Britain the Ceremony of the Tea Cosy is contrived to keep the tea as hot as possible. The Tea Cosy is a sort of sandwich of two asbestos filled cushions sewn together on three sides. The fourth side remains open creating a large pocket which is fitted snugly over your teapot. Some specialist Tea Cosies even have holes in the sides which allow the handle and spout to stick out. In these rare examples it is possible to lift up the whole teapot and huge flowery cushion and pour hot tea without having the great encumbrance of having to take off the cosy in between pourings, thus endangering major heat loss. Early visitors to England marvelled at a technology that allowed us to pour hot water from cushions.

Archaeologists working in Pompeii were able to identify one of the figures they discovered trapped in the layers of ash as a British traveller fatefully stopping off for a quick cuppa just as Vesuvius erupted. They were cleverly able to reach this conclusion by discovering next to the body an ash buried teapot covered with a tea cosy, which still contained steaming hot tea.

It is in fact rare to see Tea Cosies in public in Britain today as it is one area of cultural heritage that has slipped from our grasp with the emergence and popularity of the Cafetiere and taste buds.

I was wandering around outside the Butterwalk while my other half bought Sherry in the Butterwalk wine shop, a step up from milk. There is also a museum at the Butterwalk so I initially thought this display of Tea Cosies were in the Dartmouth Museum but it turned out to be a Tudor fabrics shop next door that apparently still has some Tudor customers.

It was really remiss of me today to forget to actually photograph some tea but we do have the water conduit, the dairy stalls selling milk under the Butterwalk and the Tea Cosy, so we are well on the way to a tea break.

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