What did children drink in 16th century England - source suggestions, please?

Nov 2015
5
Bristol
For a project at university we have to write an essay on a topic of our choice, and I was considering the topic in the title. Areas I might look at are how much children's consumption of alcohol varied according to social class, and whether if changed over the century, especially focussing on the impact religious changes.

However, I'm struggling to find any secondary sources that cover the topic. We have been advised to use secondary sources as a starting point and go on from there, so if I can't find any, I may have to choose another topic.

Does anyone have any suggestions for secondary sources?
Suggestions for primary sources also welcomed :)
Thank you!
 

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,219
For a project at university we have to write an essay on a topic of our choice, and I was considering the topic in the title. Areas I might look at are how much children's consumption of alcohol varied according to social class, and whether if changed over the century, especially focussing on the impact religious changes.

However, I'm struggling to find any secondary sources that cover the topic. We have been advised to use secondary sources as a starting point and go on from there, so if I can't find any, I may have to choose another topic.

Does anyone have any suggestions for secondary sources?
Suggestions for primary sources also welcomed :)
Thank you!
Have a look at:

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Milk, from cows, sheep and goats would have widely consumed in northern europe. Also ale made from barley and flavoured with gruits.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gruit

Gruit merchants became very wealthy. The family who owned this house in Bruges had the monopoly there:

 
Jun 2015
1,252
Scotland
Simple really, drink the water and your going to die. The brewing process sterilised the water. May be worth looking at death rates of water born diseases in that period.
 

Ancientgeezer

Ad Honorem
Nov 2011
8,895
The Dustbin, formerly, Garden of England
Every medieval household in Britain, high or low, brewed its own "small beer". The basic recipe consisted of malt, a grain (usually barley, but sometimes wheat and often oats in Scotland) and yeast--the malt is roasted in an oven and mixed with the grain and yeast, boiling water poured over it and the lot mashed up and allowed to ferment overnight--the mix has to be decanted a couple of times and more water added to the mix--known as second, run, third run and so on. Because the time for fermentation is so short, the alcohol level is very low--a forth run may still only have 0.05% alcohol.
Many communities had their own recipe, adding pine needles was popular in Scotland and in colonial times in Canada-giving rise to Spruce beer, George Washington brewed both a low-alcohol "small beer" and a full-strength ale with added molasses.
The standard small beer is reputed to taste like liquid bread and would last for up to six months in stoppered jugs.

Of course, they could have just boiled the water in the first place.



http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~pwp/tofi/medieval_english_ale.html
 

martin76

Ad Honorem
Dec 2014
6,646
Spain
Maybe beer? When I was a child I was liviing in South Afrika and I was educated in a Boer comunity (Afrikaner if you prefer) and when I was 2 yo I begun to drink beer (My parents give me usually beer and I remember my neighbors (a Boer-Doctor) also gave usually beer to their children..(and Milk and Water, of course).
So, maybe in England in Medieval Age, children drunk beer.
 
Nov 2015
5
Bristol
Thanks for the replies so far, everyone.

Perhaps I didn't clarify this properly in the initial post, but for this project I have to focus on early modern England, preferably 16th century although possibly 17th century also. Of course, any information about the later middle ages will be useful for context, but this is not the period of focus.

Questions I would like to answer as part of my essay are:
What did children in 16th century drink? (well, obviously)
Did this vary according to social class?
Were there every any problems with alcoholism among children?
What was the public perception of children drinking? (ie, what was considered acceptable)
Was this public perception affected by the religious changes of the 16th century?

I am after secondary sources such as journal articles/books by historians which may cover this topic, however vaguely, rather than general information, interesting as general information is!
 

Peter Graham

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
2,626
Westmorland
Caution: Real Ale Bore Approaching

the malt is roasted in an oven and mixed with the grain and yeast, boiling water poured over it and the lot mashed up and allowed to ferment overnight--the mix has to be decanted a couple of times and more water added to the mix--known as second, run, third run and so on. Because the time for fermentation is so short, the alcohol level is very low--a forth run may still only have 0.05% alcohol.
Great post - and quite right - but as a Real Ale pedant, the yeast has to be added after the boil. Boiling water kills the yeast and no yeast=no fermentation. The yeast gets pitched (bunged in) once the boiled up malt, hops and water have cooled sufficiently.

Small beer could be quite strong. As Ancient Geezer says, the same ingredients could be reused to make successively weaker brews. This process became known as 'striking'. It worked like this - the malted grain and hops were boiled up with water and then the resulting mucky brown liquid (known as wort) was run off to be fermented. What you had left in the boiler was a thick mat of boiled grain and hops, all still covered in sugary wort. Modern brewers use hot water to rinse the grains off, with the runnings joining the cooling wort. This process is known as 'sparging'.

Early brewers didn't sparge. Instead, they'd fill the boiling vessel with fresh water and reuse the ingredients. They'd do this four or five times.

The first 'strike' (the first load of wort run off) would be a mind-bendingly strong, dark spingo, drunk by the wealthy or on special occasions. Each successive strike would have less and less sugar (as the ingredients became exhausted) meaning that the colour and strength of the successive brews would decrease.

The second strike was the table beer for the adults. The third or fourth strike became known as AKA (Amber Kitchen Ale) and was given to the servants. The final strike was small beer - but I've seen articles written by superbly bearded men in knitted sweaters which argues that even small beer could come in at about 4% ABV, thus making it highly suitable for children and Australians.
 

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,219
Great post - and quite right - but as a Real Ale pedant, the yeast has to be added after the boil.
Yes, heat kills yeast but, adding yeast???

Open the windows, or better still, skylights, and left the natural yeasts drift in and kick start it.

I don't brew but I do bake using sourdoughs and leaven sponges.




The older the sourdough and the longer the proving times, the better tasting the bread and, the longer it lasts. It might be the same for beer but I don't really know for sure.


If you do brew Peter, try growing your own cultures from grape skins. You're not making wine, just using the natural yeast that lives on the skin.
 

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,219
I am after secondary sources such as journal articles/books by historians which may cover this topic, however vaguely, rather than general information, interesting as general information is!
There is a copy of Markham's The English Housewife online at Countrey Contentments, or the English Huswife | LSE Digital Library

On page 129 you will see a section on 'the nature of waters' and distillation of waters to get clean water to then use with a herbal remedy. This water could of course also be used with things like elder flowers to make a cheap but refreshing drink. Elder flower waters go back to roman times.

Only the poorest people drank water on its own. In addition to milk, ale, beer, cider, perry and mead would be drunk and the brewing of beer was part of the household duties. It was seen as a food, not a recreational drink. New drinks became fashionable, such as tea but, like wine, these were for wealthier people. A popular drink was posset which was milk curds mixed with beer, as a drink, or thickened with bread crumbs from stale bread to make a sort of sponge. Wealthier people could afford to add spices like cinnamon or thicken with eggs, even add drinks like sherry but, for most people, it was beer and milk curds.

For alcohol related problems, have a look at this timeline. It lists all the references at the bottom:

World Alcohol and Drinking History Timeline

and click on the relevant time period.
 
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