Punch cartoon


A Punch cartoon from 1880 depicting a middle-class mother and son discussing the carved Gothic lettering on a breadboard.
“Well Austin, can you read that?”
“No, Mama.”
“Well it is rather difficult! Those are Old English letters.”
“Are they? Then no wonder the Ancient Britons couldn’t read or write!”

Mr Andre Gailani of Punch kindly referred to the magazine’s archives and explains how the cartoon was probably referring to political efforts to solve mass illiteracy: 

‘The year the cartoon was published was 1880, and in that year a new version of the Education Act (first introduced in 1870) came into force, which henceforth made it compulsory for children to attend school from the age of 5 to 10. The cartoonist du Maurier often added social/ political commentary to his cartoons, specifically in the way it affected the middle classes.’

The trencher, ancestor of the breadboard


A well-worn trencher or wooden plate, used on a daily basis by rich and poor alike from the 15th century until the arrival of chinaware. Trenchers began as flat pieces of wood, improved designs appearing later with indents, the larger to retain the juices and the smaller for salt. The latter would suggest it may have been used in a wealthy household as salt was a precious commodity. The town of Abingdon has a rare collection of over 100 trenchers, and the inventories to prove their date of purchase, 1556, for official dinners to entertain local dignitaries. The Mary Rose has dredged up 6 examples, one carved with a rough zig-zag pattern, possibly by one of the crew.


Interestingly they have made a come-back in gastro-pubs and restaurants serving traditional English food, the wood being sourced from South East Asia as England no longer has sycamores old enough to make a standard 12″ plate.