Thursday 30 August 2012

One Family and Empire Christmas Pudding

The King's Christmas Pudding made from the 1927 recipe published by the Empire Marketing Board
Towards the end of our previous post The Pudding King we touched on the subject of plum pudding as a potent emblem of British patriotism. We also explained how the dish was reinvented in the early decades of the twentieth century for a variety of political reasons, including the emergence of its role as an imperial symbol. The story about plum pudding which follows is from a time when Britains's vast empire included almost one fifth of the world's land surface and one quarter of its population. Its colonies provided the mother country with a remarkable range of raw materials, including many food items. It is ironic that a number of celebratory British food stuffs are made from ingredients that cannot be grown in the British Isles - plum cake, plum pudding, mince pies and marmalade all depend on exotics imported from warmer climates.

It is often said that plum pudding was first consumed at Christmas in the medieval period and then banned during the Commonwealth by Cromwell until revived by George I in the early eighteenth century. However, we have not found any contemporary sources which verify these claims. So far, the earliest reference we know that firmly associates plum pudding with Christmas is in the diary of Henry Teonge, a British naval chaplain who served on board a number of Charles II's ships. On Christmas Day 1675, somewhere off the west coast of Crete on board His Majesty's Ship Assistance, he wrote in his journal,

'Our Captaine had all his officers and gentlemen to dinner with him, where wee had excellent good fayre: a ribb of beife, plumb-puddings, minct pyes, &c. and plenty of good wines of severall sorts; dranke healths to the King, our wives and friends; and ended the day with much civill myrth.'*

Perhaps HMS Assistant's cook bought the dried fruit, sugar and spices to make the pudding in the market at the ship's last port of call, the Levantine town of Iskendarun. 

From at least the time of Henry Teonge until the Great War, roast beef and plum pudding were the British celebratory foods of choice for all sorts of festive occasions, not just Christmas. By the first half of the nineteenth century, cookery authors such as Elizabeth Hammond and Eliza Acton had started to call it Christmas Pudding rather than Plum Pudding, a process that Food History Jottings research assistant Plumcake has discovered had started back in the eighteenth century, or possibly earlier. We will say more about Plumcake's findings in another post.** Charles Dickens also played some part in fixing the pudding as a dish more specifically linked to Christmas. Despite this more specialised role during the Victorian period it continued to be served at occasions such as jubilee ox roasts and other junketings. During the First World War plum pudding took on a new patriotic role as a symbol of solidarity. Embroidered silk Christmas cards showing a pudding struck with allied flags became a popular souvenir, which soldiers sent from the trenches to their loved ones back home. 

No doubt these striking images of plum puddings spiked with the flags of the nations had some influence on the members of the British Women's Patriotic League, who in the decade after the Great War urged families to buy Empire goods. In 1922 they inaugurated the first Empire Shopping Week, during which they set up displays of food and produce from Empire countries and encouraged the big West End stores to follow suit. This was a period of unbridled free trade when Californian dried fruit was coming into Britain on the back of an aggressive advertising campaign. The American importers were aware that dried fruit sales in Britain were rather poor other than at Christmas time and attempted to boost the market by publishing advertising leaflets with raisin recipes for cakes and raisin loaves which could be eaten all year round. Australian vine fruit growers were horrified with the American competition, as were the rank and file of the British Women's Patriotic League, who recognised the debt that Britain owed to the Australians for their sacrifices during the war (though of course the Brits also owed a great deal to American troops!). In 1924 they urged the housewife to 'make your Christmas Pudding an Empire Pudding' and to boycott imports from non-Empire sources. They published a leaflet with a recipe which listed ingredients from various Empire countries. The concept of the Empire Christmas Pudding was born.

Spiked with both the Australian flag and the Union Jack this giant Christmas Pudding paraded in London in 1925 was sandwiched between a stuffed emu and a kangaroo. 
In 1925 when the Lord Mayor's Show explored the theme 'Imperial Trade', the Australian fruit growers paraded a huge Christmas Pudding pulled by a team of white horses. Emblazoned on the back of the pudding were the words 'make your pudding of Empire products'. None of these initiatives came directly from the British government, who in these difficult economic times wavered between unfulfilled whispers of protectionism and unregulated free trade. They could not formulate a firm policy on supporting Empire trade and at first were very quiet on the whole issue. However in 1926 they inaugurated a rather ineffective quango called the Empire Marketing Board (EMB), whose main purpose was to research the production, trade and use of goods throughout the British Empire and to promote the idea of 'Buying Empire'.

Taking their initiative from the British Women's Patriotic League, the EMB adopted the idea of the Empire Pudding. A short time before Christmas 1926 they issued a recipe in the form of a poster with an image of Britannia holding a flaming plum pudding surmounted by a union jack flag.

The Empire Marketing Board's first campaign poster. Only a few Empire countries are listed.  Courtesy of Public Record Office
The EMB's campaign was a little late in the day, but they did boost their publicity by asking the ruling monarch King George V if he and the Royal Family would eat the empire pudding on Christmas Day. He agreed and as a result the pudding also became known as the King's Christmas Pudding.

The last ingredient in the 1926 recipe above was a silver 3d. bit 'for luck!' 
Another body which promoted the pudding was the Empire Day Movement, led by the charismatic Irish peer Reginald Brabazon 12th Earl of Meath. Lord Meath masterminded a publicity stunt in which the pudding was made at Vernon House, the headquarters of the Overseas League in London. He ensured this event was filmed for a newsreel called Think and Eat Imperially, which was shown in cinemas all over the Empire, giving the campaign a tremendous amount of publicity. As early as 1909 Meath had realised the power of  the cinema as a promotional tool. In that year he commissioned a film of a vast Empire Day gathering in the town of Preston. This remarkable archive movie  has survived and I have supplied a link to it at the very end of this posting.

The chef adds Australian sultanas to the mix, while Lord Meath (on the right) looks on
Meath's vision of Empire saw Britain and its distant colonies as one large extended family. So at his publicity event, he invited representatives of the various empire countries to stir up the pudding. The various ingredients were also delivered to the chef by ushers from each producing nation. The 'pudding spice' from India was brought to the table by two Indian ushers in turbans.

The family tradition of stirring the pudding was adopted by Meath as an emblem of imperial unity
Meath stirs the 1926 Empire Pudding in the garden of Vernon House
The following year, the campaign took on an added dimension when George V's chef Monsieur Cédard provided a better recipe with a few more nations listed in the ingredients table. The campaign lasted well into the thirties, only fizzling out with the outbreak of World War II. In 1930 a propaganda film called One Family was released to promote the pudding and Empire Trade. In its day it was a complete flop. It was originally filmed as a silent movie in 1929, but to keep up with dramatic new developments in the cinema, a sound track was added to it. The film stars a London schoolboy who notices an Empire Christmas Pudding recipe in his father's newspaper. He lingers on his way to school to admire a display on the pudding in a grocery store and is late for his lessons. During one on the subject of empire geography, he falls asleep and dreams he goes to Buckingham Palace. He meets the king and is sent on a quest to collect the ingredients in the producing countries. It is sixty nine minutes long, but as a period piece is really worth watching. Much of it was actually filmed in Buckingham Palace and there is a tantalising glimpse of the palace kitchen in one scene. I have put a link to the full One Family film at the end of this posting.

Though suitable for a royal palace where puddings were made in vast numbers for distribution to staff as Christmas  presents, the large quantites in this recipe were not practical for modest family households. This is the recipe which the schoolboy sees in his father's newspaper in the 1930 movie One Family. Courtesy of Public Record Office.
A somewhat whittled down recipe, but with more Empire producing countries credited. Courtesy of Public Record Office
Courtesy of Public Record Office

Watch One Family, a 1930 British propaganda film on the King's Christmas Pudding

An Empire Day meeting in Preston in 1909. You will recognise Lord Meath to the left of the mayor

* Henry Teonge, The Diary of Henry Teonge, chaplain on board His Majesty's ships Assistance, Bristol, and Royal Oak, anno 1675 to 1679. Charles Knight. London 1825, pp. 127-28.

** Plumcake has pointed out to me that in A Voyage to Virginia, by Colonel Norwood, from A Collection of Voyages and Travels by Awnsham Churchill and John Churchill (1745) Vol. 6 p.153, there is the following diary account of an improvised shipboard Christmas dinner - and the pudding is called a Christmas Pudding,

'Many sorrowful days and nights we spun out in this manner, tille the blessed feast of Christmas came upon us, which we began with a very melancholy solemnity; and yet, to make some distinction of times, the scrapings of the meal-tubs were all amassed together to compose a pudding. Malaga sack, sea water, with fruit and spice, all well fryed in oyl, were the ingredients of this regale, which raised some envy in the spectators; but allowing some privilege to the captain's mess, we met no obstruction, but did peaceably enjoy our Christmas pudding.'

Norwood's voyage took place in 1649, so if Churchill's transcription of Norwood's diary is reliable, then this would mean that this is the earliest reference we have so far found to a Christmas pudding.

Food anthopologist Kaori O' Connor has written a marvellous paper on this subject. I would encourage you to read it. Here is the citation -

Kaori O’Connor, The King's Christmas pudding: globalization, recipes, and the commodities of empire,  in Journal of Global History. Volume 4, Issue 01. March 2009,  pp 127 -155.

Ivan was recently interviewed by Michael Mackenzie, the host of the excellent Australian ABC RN First Bite food programme. We chatted about the extraordinary phenomenon of Empire Christmas Pudding, the subject of which Ivan dealt with in a former posting on this blog. Click here to listen to the programme.

Watch a video of Ivan making and discussing the Empire Christmas Pudding.

Monday 20 August 2012

Dining with Empresses, Cardinals (and Vermeer)

One of two sugar paste pavilions I made for an 'evocation' of Empress Maria Theresa's Feast of the Oath of Allegiance for the exhibition Imperial Privilege: Vienna Porcelain of Du Paquier, 1718–44, at the Metropollitan in New York
Over the past few decades I have attempted to recreate a considerable number of major period table layouts for museums and art collections in Britain, Europe and the US. These have usually been designed as vehicles for displaying important period tableware in the context of historically accurate meals. In 2009 I worked on a table at the Metropolitan Museum in New York based on the engraving below, which shows the Archduchess Maria Theresa enjoying an instalment feast in Vienna in 1740. I was invited to work on the installation by the exhibition curators Jeffrey Mungar and Meredith Chilton. Our version of the Archduchess's table was laid out with an extraordinary array of du Paquier porcelain from the period. It was dominated by two sugar paste baroque baldacchini, which I based on those depicted in the engraving. These were filled with pyramids of paper and sugar flowers as in the engraving. But it must be understood that even the Metropolitan Museum could not fully muster the resources to make an exact replica of a table from this lofty imperial level. To quote from Meredith Chilton, our version was more of an evocation than a recreation.

The Feast of the Oath of Allegiance, Vienna, November 22nd 1740. Engraved from a drawing by Andreas Felix Altomonte (1699-1780) in Kriegl, Georg Christina. Erb-Huldigung welche... Mariae Theresiae... Als Ertz-Herzogin zu Oesterreich von denen gesammten Nider-Oesterreichischen Ständen... abgeleget den 22 Novembris Anno 1740. Vienna: Johann Baptist Schilgen, [1742].
A few years earlier at the Bard Graduate Center, also in NYC, I was invited to set up another imperial table using Elizabeth Empress of Russia's 1745 Meissen St. Andrew's service, which was on loan from the Hermitage. The service was a gift to the Empress from Augustus III, Elector of Saxony and included a remarkable Parnassus centrepiece made up of figures of Apollo and the Muses modelled by J.J. Kandler. This animated table setting illustrated the vivacity and energy of baroque table art at this elevated social level. But again it was only possible to evoke the spirit of the age rather than stage a perfect reproduction of the Empress's table. For instance you will notice in the image below that there is no cutlery. This was because very little of that belonging to the service has survived. 

A table at the Bard Graduate Center laid with the St. Andrew's Service, a gift from Augustus III of Saxony to Elizabeth Petrovna Romanova, Empress of Russia 1741-1762.
Another exciting table I put together in 2011 at Hillwood Museum in Washington DC was designed to evoke a French dessert of the 1770s by using elements of the precious celestial blue service made at Sèvres for the Cardinal Louis de Rohan. At Hillwood we only had enough pieces of the service to construct a fairly modest table with a surtout dressed with chenille covered parterres. Rohan was famous for very large scale entertainments, especially when he was Louis XV's ambassador to Maria Theresa's court in Vienna. Our modest arrangement would have been dwarfed by Rohan's actual table settings, but again the aim was an evocation rather than an exact recreation. Rohan had a troubled relationship with Maria Theresa and her daughter Marie Antoinette. If you have heard about the remarkable 'affair of the diamond necklace' then you will know what I am talking about. If you don't, look it up, because it is an unbelievable story.

My table at Hillwood laid out with elements of Cardinal Rohan's Sèvres dessert service
All of the plates in Rohan's service are decorated with his monogram. You will notice that slightly to the right of the nearest place setting in the photograph above is an object ornamented with the same monogram. This was me having a bit of fun with history. The object is actually a sugar place name marker I made in the form of a rococo cartouche supported by gilded dolphins. In 2003 I made a number of these for an exhibition I curated at the Bowes Museum here in the UK called Royal Sugar Sculpture. I made them from two very important wooden sugar moulds which originally belonged to the office (confectionery kitchen) of the Princesse Lamballe de Savoie Carignan. The princess was a confidante and favourite of Marie Antoinette. The moulds, details of which are depicted below, are carved with motifs in the form of the ciphers of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. One that could also be used to make a small sugar basket.  

Sugar place markers ornamented with the cipher of Marie Antoinette and the arms of the Princesse de Lamballe. In the foreground is a sugar basket and in the background one of Marie Antoinette's actual Sèvres dessert plates, kindly lent by Lord Rothschild. Lamballe, who tended to ape Marie Antoinette in matters of fashion, ordered an identical service from Sèvres for her own use. 
These moulds were almost certainly carved to make sugar table ornaments for an entertainment in the Princess's palace in honour of the king and queen. Although they are tiny and fairly inconsequential, these stunning sugar objects tell us much more about the dining style of the ancien regime than the silly story about 'let them eat cake'. In fact, because they are authentic, they get us much closer to the excesses of Versailles court life than the grand slam displays of food in the recent movie Marie Antoinette, which though beautifully crafted were entirely wrong for the 1780s.

Sugar basket made from the confectioner's mould below
Motif for making the sugar basket and the ciphers of the king and queen of France- 1780s
The Princesse de Lamballe
Rococo sugar table marker ornamented with the arms of the Princesse
Carved motif on sugar mould to make the arms of the Princesse
Taking precious table objects out of the display case and arranging them with authentic period food in the manner for which they were designed can be a revelatory experience, but can only really be undertaken within a museum context. Period table settings in movies and television for instance, are in many cases spurious because the tableware - silver, porcelain, flatware etc is usually hired from prop companies and is rarely true to period. For instance, a few years ago I created the food and arranged a table for 100 guests for the Scorsese film The Young Victoria. The production designer organised the hire of the tableware, but what he provided me with on the set was a medley of late Victorian and early twentieth century middle class crockery, which was disappointingly inappropriate for a royal setting from the time of William IV.

At the king's original birthday party held at Windsor Castle in 1836, which the film was attempting to recreate, the table was actually dressed with brother George IV's extraordinary silver-gilt Grand Service, which is still in the Royal Collection. Of course it is highly unlikely that a film company would be allowed access to a precious royal service like this. So as glamorous as our table may have appeared on the big screen, it would have faded into insignificance next to the real one, which all goes to show that it is rather difficult for Hollywood to do royal.  Though loosely based on historical events, films like these are of course in reality fictional exercises. What is most important to the viewer is how well the stars perform their parts in the overall drama, not minutiae such as their knives and forks. So you might argue that it is a rather sad and obsessive of me to expect perfect historical accuracy in minor background details like table settings and food. However, a great deal of research often goes into other aspects of these productions, such as costume, hair styling, choreography of ballroom scenes etc., but only rarely does food and its service get truly expert attention. 

Let me give you an example. One film which I really enjoyed for the extraordinary effort that was made in recreating the atmosphere of place and period was the movie version of Tracey Chevalier's historical novel Girl with a Pearl Earring. This was set in seventeenth century Delft, mainly in the home of the artist Johannes Vermeer.  The almost miraculous lighting of the sets throughout the film was inspired by that mysterious soft diffused illumination for which the artist is celebrated. Art historians specialising in Vermeer must have been consulted because the rooms in the set were hung with paintings we know the artist actually owned. This attention to detail was tremendous and the film quite rightly won many awards for its remarkable cinematography. 

A still from Girl with a Pearl Earring showing the offending forks and spoons
However in the context of such a well researched film, one scene really disappointed me. This dealt with the preparation and service of food for a meal at which the artist entertains his patron. And I am afraid it was truly awful. There were many contemporaries of Vermeer who specialised in nothing but pictures of tables laden with food. As a result the Dutch table of this period is the most scrutinised in the history of art. Surprisingly this incredible wealth of evidence was entirely ignored by the filmmakers. At one point a servant cleans and lays out a ridiculous set of nineteenth century silver gilt forks and spoons. In 1665 most Dutch dinner guests turned up wearing their own cutlery at their belt or girdle. Sets like the one above of forks and spoons just did not exist. Because you carried it with you, your dining equipment was an expression of your status and each guest's was different. Some were extremely decorative and were probably used to show off, rather like the way that some people flaunt their mobile phones today. The kind of knives used by Vermeer's family and guests probably looked more like the Dutch seventeenth century examples below.

Left - knife and fork with ivory handles. The other two images are details of other ivory knife handles. All are Dutch and all were made during the lifetime of Vermeer. The example on the right depicts Bacchus. 
I have chosen these particular Dutch eating implements in order to illustrate another detail in the film that irritated me. This was the manner in which the actors held and drank from their glasses. Look at the knife handles above and you will note that all of them depict somebody drinking. Note how they are holding their glasses - in every case by the foot. Dutch paintings of this period are also full of images of drinkers holding glasses in this way. Compare those I have reproduced below with the still from the film. The actor Tom Wilkinson is drinking from his glass in an entirely modern way. Imbibers all over Europe at this period held their glasses by the foot. Despite the wealth of evidence illustrating this mannerism, I have never seen a single actor in any period film or drama drinking in the correct style.

Tom Wilkinson drinking. A still from Girl with a Pearl Earring
Note how this drinker in a painting by Frans Hals is holding his glass by the foot
Detail from a painting by Vermeer's Delft neighbour Peter de Hooch
Another detail from a painting by Vermeer's Delft neighbour Peter de Hooch
Woman drinking. Detail from a painting by Jan Steen

So if a number of Vermeer's contemporaries (not just painters, but also the cutlers of the day) clearly show us the correct way to hold a wine glass, what did he himself have to say on the matter? Well below are details from two of his paintings. I think they speak for themselves. The second one, The Girl with the Wine Glass is actually shown in the film and Tom Wilkinson explains that the lecherous male is the character he is playing. A pity that a little more attention wasn't paid to the lesson that could have been learnt from looking at the picture more carefully. 

Johannes Vermeer. The Drinking Glass. (Detail). 1658-60.
Johannes Vermeer. A Girl Drinking. (Detail). 1659-60.
Attempting to recreate the food and dining culture of the past, whether in museums, film or television is fraught with problems. Authenticity for its own sake can be rather dry and pointless, but when it enhances the narrative and makes for better cinematography it can be wonderful. I would have loved to have seen Vermeer's guests showing off their fancy custom-made knives and quaffing their wine in the highly mannered style of the period. 

Thursday 9 August 2012

A Jubilee Ox Roast

The first slices of rump cut from the ox after thirty hours roasting - served on an 1887 ox plate
In a previous posting about food for royal jubilees, I described how ox roasts were frequently held to celebrate these important national events. During the 1809 Jubilee to commemorate George III's 49th year on the throne, scores (probably hundreds) of oxen were roasted all over the country. Similar events also took place at the time of the Jubilee celebrations in 1887 and 1897 in honour of Queen Victoria. Special ox roast medals, plates and knives were frequently distributed among the crowds as souvenirs. The fine transfer printed plate below is one of a number in my own collection. It was made by B. Hancock of Stoke-on-Trent for a Jubilee ox roast which took place in Whittle-Le-Woods near Chorley in Lancashire in 1887. Last weekend I got a rare chance to use this plate for its original purpose, because we roasted an ox in the traditional manner here at Penrith in the English Lake District as a somewhat belated Jubilee celebration.

A 1887 commemorative plate on which the first slices were served. They were  carved from the beast using the Earl of Lonsdale's ox carving set (illustrated below)
Our Penrith ox roast was the brainchild of Frank Jackson, a friend of mine who is a master butcher and caterer. Frank hails from four generations of master butchers. He was assisted in preparing the ox for the spit by his friend and fellow butcher Tony Willetts. Since at least the sixteenth century it was always the local butchers who roasted oxen, so Frank and Tony were continuing this ancient tradition. In the past many butchers owned the necessary equipment and possessed the skills and experience required to carry out what is a demanding and difficult task. Unfortunately ox roasting is no longer part of a butcher's training so Frank came to me about six months ago to discuss how he should proceed. I have had some experience of roasting oxen and have written on the subject. Frank had had experience of contemporary style 'hog roasts', where a pig is rotated over a bed of charcoal or gas flames. This practice was rarely carried out in the past because it is actually not a very good way to roast any animal - fat drips on the coals and flairs up, sometimes making it difficult to control the fire. Roasting a 640kg animal using this method would be very difficult and probably disastrous. You can get away with a pig, but a large bovine needs to be slowly roasted in front of the flames, not over them. Unfortunately, the mistaken idea that meat was roasted 'over a fire' has taken such a hold, that the British have forgotten the most basic techniques of what was once their national style of cookery. To cook over the flames is 'to broil' or 'to barbecue', not to roast, which was always done in front of the fire. Frank decided he wanted to have a go at the traditional method. Some other towns have been 'roasting' oxen for the Jubilee celebrations, but they appear to have gone down the route of getting so-called 'barbecue chefs' to dig fire pits. This is not how it was done in this country in the past. Temporary roasting hearths were always built out of brick - just look at the evidence in the historic photographs and images below. 

Originally an ox was put down to the fire by impaling it on a sturdy spit. This was placed directly under the animal's spine and secured to it by a number of large staple-like skewers. Unfortunately, this method is impossible to carry out now in the UK, because the law demands that the animal's spinal cord has to be removed. This means that a modern ox or bullock is divided right down the centre of the spine into two separate halves making it impossible to spit it in the time-honoured way.
The 5th Earl of Lonsdale's ox carving set - the knife is a massive 25.4 inches long. Photo - Michael Finlay

Watch a video of our ox roast - this was made after 28 hours in front of the fire
In order to fit our divided ox on to a spit we had to commission a blacksmith to construct a specialised cradle spit. Frank and Tony decided to subdivide the carcass again into forequarters and hindquarters for ease of carving and serving. The video above shows how the four quarters fitted into this cage-like basket or cradle. In order that the spit could be turned with little effort by one person, a large stone block was lashed to the spit wheel direcly in line with the lightest side of the carcass. This was a standard technique in the past, which can clearly be seen in some of the old photographs below. We roasted our 640 kg monster for 30 hours. Volunteers turned the spit in shifts throughout the day and night. Frank and I cut the first ritual slice of rump off the rear quarter with the 5th Earl of Lonsdale's extraordinary 1890s ox carving knife and we served it on my 1887 plate. Despite a black caramelised surface and being rather well done, this meat really had an extraordinary texture. It literally dissolved on the tongue like savoury marshmallow. It was marvellous. In some of the deeper reaches of the prime joints there was plenty of rare, but perfectly cooked meat. We fed about 400 people, though there was enough meat for at least 600.

A great deal of pageantry was associated with ox roasts. This noisy procession took place in Buckingham in 1844. The ox, slaughtered to honour the 21st birthday of the Marquis of Chandos, was roasted in the town centre. Note how the ox is bedecked with garlands of bay leaves, ribbons and flowers. The animal's horns were frequently gilded.
The Marquis's ox being roasted by the Buckingham butchers. The method of turning the spit is here quite different to the usual wheel at one end of the spit method. It looks like very hard work.
This very rare bill gives some interesting details about the celebrations in Windsor town in 1821 to celebrate the coronation of George IV. Note how the ox and the four fine sheep were taken to the Batchelors' Acre (the traditional site for these events in Windsor) in a procession, probably similar to the one in Buckingham held in the following decade.
Ox roasts continued to be held to celebrate coronations into the twentieth century. This souvenir plate from Darlington was made to commemorate the ox roast in the Market Place in 1911 for the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary. Ten years earlier a similar ox roast took place there for the coronation of Edward VII.
This postcard of an ox roast at Tamworth in the early twentieth century clearly shows how the equipment was set up. The  spit or 'stang', to give it its traditional Midlands name, is supported on two sturdy wooden trestles. Note how the spit is balanced by the weight lashed to the wheel on the light side of the carcass.
Again note at this Stratford-on-Avon mop fair ox roast from just before the Great War that the spit is balanced with a weight lashed to the wheel. The basting ladle has a very long handle.
At the mop or hiring fairs in Stratford-on-Avon, the butchers had an ancient charter which allowed them to roast a number of oxen in the Main Street. The practice probably died out when the street was surfaced in tar macadam, which would have caught fire. Ox roasts were once very popular in the English Midlands.
In pencil on the back of this postcard is written 'Brierley Hill 1927'. This beast was roasted for the town carnival that year. The mayoress of the Black Country town is basting the ox, from which she later carved the first slice. Frequently this slice was sandwiched between two slices of bread and auctioned off to raise money for charity. The photograph shows that ox roasting techniques and equipment had not changed since the seventeenth century when the woodcut below was published to record the 1683/84 Frost Fair on the frozen Thames, when an ox was roasted on the ice.

This very interesting video includes some amateur footage of an ox roast which took place in Ledbury in Herefordshire in 1953 for the Coronation of Elizabeth II. Note the two cartwheels on the ends of the spit for ease of turning.