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Bread and Beer

Bread and Beer

1. Bakers

In 1496 the bakers among other crafts were said to be causing pollution in the loch and the town's water supply.

At Upperkirkgate, archaeologists have discovered a simple baker's kiln, suggestive of domestic bread manufacture. Larger scale production is attested to by the number of ordinances concerning the pricing and selling of cakes and bread and by the naming of a number of bakers in the Council Registers. Willelmus Boyl, baxter 1398, Fynlaus, baxter 1399, Thomas Gladi 1457 and Alexander Stevin 1591 are some of the bakers registered.

Whatever the scale of production, bakers' ovens would have been a fire risk, particularly when they were in the heart of domestic settlements and were built, like the excavated example, of wood and clay. In Peebles in 1658, John Turnbull was ordered to be observant of his oven and to raise the chimney when the weather was seasonable.

2. Brewers

Medieval brewers were almost always female. In 1509, Kacherin Wrqhard and Amy Sticklar who lived in the Green, were among 153 brewers in Aberdeen. Some probably made beer commercially but the majority will have produced it for themselves and their families and sold any extra to neighbours.

The large number of brewers relates to the environmental conditions of the time. As the water supply was so filthy, a clean drinkable alternative had to be found. It was common practice across the world at the time, and in developing countries today, to brew low alcohol beer for consumption as water. This was often known as small beer, with the term porter later coming to denote the stronger version. Brewers tended to sell watery beer, and their customers would object when they turned up with oversize stoups or buckets, possibly some of those found on excavations, and the brewers refused to fill them.

There are no statutes to show that brewers in Aberdeen had any significant adverse impact on the environment. In other towns, where brewing was conducted commercially, it resulted in complaints about the brewers taking too much water and not enough left for others to use.

Some of the grain used by the brewers would have been grown in Aberdeen, supplemented by imports from the surrounding area, bought by them in the Castlegate market. Some of the charred grain found on excavations may have resulted from the malting process. Bog myrtle, used to flavour beer, has been discovered at Upperkirkgate and Gallowgate.

3. Millers

Alexander Makysour worked at Justice Mill, one of the four oldest known mills of Aberdeen. The other mills included the Upper and Nether Mills, in what is now the city centre. Corn grown in the burgh had to be milled at the burgh's mills, controlled by the Council. The Council found the letting of mills to be a useful money-spinner. In 1394, one of the earliest entries in the Council Registers, refers to the letting of the town's mills at 20 Scots. In 1575, the Council paid off a debt of 600 merks through feuing out its mills.

The cost of milling led to a number of disputes. In 1546-7 the Blackfriars were before the baillie court several times for failing to pay the miller of Gilcomston Mill, John Brabner.

Indirectly, millers affected the environment considerably as they were an integral part of an industry which used both natural resources and provided a staple food. In turn, that industry would have been seriously affected by changes in weather and climate.

Archaeological excavations have taken place very near to the site of the medieval Upper Mill, where it is possible that a 14th century circular feature and gullies may have been associated with grain drying. At the site of the most recent Justice Mill, still standing into the 20th century, excavations have not yet found traces of its medieval predecessor.