‘Inn’ crowd pass their history test

THE ‘Inn’ crowd produced a masterclass in ale making and bread baking as Ripley rang in another hugely successful remembrance of the village’s history.

The annual Assize of Bread and Ale, held in the High Street’s Talbot Inn, pays homage to a 13th-century custom that rigorously ran the rule over bread and ale more than 800 years ago.

LORD OF THE RINGS – bell man John Mercer opens the ceremony

LORD OF THE RINGS – bell man John Mercer opens the ceremony

Dressed in their finest Victorian garbs, residents led by event chief Lieutenant Colonel John Molyneux-Child, enjoyed the sounds of the drums, fifes and bugles of the Surrey Army Cadet Force as the evening got underway.

Also providing energetic entertainment in the Talbot coach yard were 11 dancers from the Thames Valley Morris Men, many being based in the Claygate area, and the Fleur de Lys side from Godalming, the latter a talented women’s dance group of 16 strong, supported by their most accomplished musicians with fiddles, pipes and accordions.

Lt Col Molyneux-Child explained the significance of the practise, which became a more modern custom around 400 years ago as a way to expose crooked traders.

“Going back four centuries, the concept of the traditional Assize of Bread and Ale when the manorial ale taster – sometimes referred to in the ancient records as an the ‘ale conor’ – would visit each ale house within the lordship to carry out checks on the quality of the beer and descend on every bakery in the area to assess the bread,” he said.

“Medieval bread was usually sold by weight, and corrupt bakers would be brought before the manorial court standing accused of ‘ye stones in ye bread’ and receive a significant fine. Another problem with Medieval loaves was the inclusion of handfuls of chalk and sawdust to cut down on the amount of flour used, and the ale taster was tasked to watch out for this illegal addition.

“The amercements, or fines, for each offence started at tuppence, which was a lot of money in ancient times.”

Lt Col Molyneux-Child added that repeat offenders might expect a visit from a manorial Beadle, a village constable, accompanied by the Bailiff of the Lordship, when the baker’s ovens would be demolished, putting him out of business.

“Fortunately, no sawdust or chalk was detected at this year’s Assize,” joked the organiser.

The ‘Bakers Dozen’ enabled the 13th loaf to be seized by a manorial official to act as quality control sample. A special handmade loaf was baked by Mij Mahoney for the occasion and was found to contain two large stones when cut by the ale taster.

The traditional cries of ‘Oyes, Oyes, Oyes’ were proceeded by the bell ringing of the deputy bell man John Mercer to herald each stage of the tasting and evaluation of the ales and bread. Peter Skinner, who was firstly appointed in 1993, is the current and long serving ale taster for the Papworth Lordship, being one of 23 manorial officials appointed each year by the Lord of the Manor, Lt Col Molyneux-Child.

Each officer, of which there were four, receives an embellished scroll of appointment in the time-honoured format and wording but the ale taster’s role is the only really burdensome one, as he can demand a free drink in any of the hostelries in the manor.

Concluding the historical celebration, Lt Col Molyneux-Child said: “Generous cheques for this year’s charity, Help for Heroes, were received from ACK Automotive Services, Euro TV, J Hartley Antiques Ltd, Gites in Dordogne, BRW Simon AH Stansfield, and Surrey Quality Leisure Services.”

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