Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Feast: Hall Layout

Several months prior to the The Feast of St. Nicholas, I invaded the library of Master G. Emerson True for information and sources. Having done a great deal of imagery research, I had an idea of how I wanted the Great Hall to feel, but I was lacking in layout specifics and sources. Master Emerson was invaluable in the planning and execution of the layout and service of The Feast.

After riffling through a great deal of books, I found the following excerpt, which perfectly described the picture in my mind.
Wooden trestles and boards... were laid out along one or both of the long sides of the Hall, while the high table stood on a raised dais at one end. At that table, the host and his family and special guests ate their meal.¹
The Banquet in the Pine Forest
Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510)
As the expected guest count exceeded what we could accommodate with the borrowed trestle tables, we opted to use the trestle tables for the Above the Salt seating, and the more readily available plastic folding tables for the Below the Salt and off-board seating. For High Table seating, Lord Harvey Wynegoode offered us the use of his brand new 16th century tables for the event. As tables in Tudor times were more heavy and sturdy, due to the Lord's ability to remain in one castle for their tenure¹, these were perfect!

The musician's gallery was typically set in a balcony, or second level at the foot of the Great Hall, when one was available.² As our site was an old church, it was built to accommodate the musician's gallery.

While stools and benches would have been appropriate seating for such a feast, we did not have access to a large number of these. As such, we opted for the limited number of wooded chairs the site provided, for the High Table and Above the salt seats, and the plastic folding chairs for the remaining seating.

The kitchen at our site was located in the basement. Accordingly, we would need a formal staging area. This staging area is called the buttery.
At the far end, opposite the dais, was built the carved wooden screen, with its doors onto the screens passage. This passage led from the kitchen and the buttery to the Hall.¹
Boards were also used in service of medieval feasts¹. These would be laid out with the platters and covered bowls filled, with the bounty of beautiful board to be enjoyed by the guests These boards would be carried from the buttery to the head of the Great hall, and placed on trestles for service. As we had a limited staff and were concerned with the stability of trestles, we chose to place the boards on more sturdy desks.
The Peasant Wedding
Pieter Bruegel (1567)
¹C Anne Wilson, The Appetite and the Eye (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991)
²Maggie Black, Medieval Cookery: Recipes & History (Swindon: English Heritage, 2003)