Some of my favourite treasures that the river brings are pebble-smoothed sherds of blue and white crockery. I love finding these on the slate beaches where the river flattens and quietens.


I wonder who owned these dishes, what meals were eaten from them, and how they broke and ended up on the midden heap, eventually to be carried away by the winding river and ending up in my pocket.


A midden, also known as a kitchen midden, is a dump for domestic waste – broken crockery, discarded pots and pans, bottles, food scraps. The farmhouse at Langdale Farm dates back to the 16th century. I investigated part of an exposed midden heap . . .


and found these pretty little bottles. . . . .



One of them had held ‘St Jacobs Oil‘ which ‘Will Put Both Men and Horses Right For it Conquers Pain’. This was a patent medicine from the late 1800’s for the treatment of rheumatism, lumbago, neuralgia and sprains.






Recipe for St. Jacob’s oil

Gum Camphor 1 ounce
Chloral Hydrate 1 ounce
Chloroform 1 ounce
Sulp. Ether 1 ounce
Laudanum 1/2 ounce
Oil Origanum 1/2 ounce
Oil Sassafras 1/2 ounce
Alcohol enough to make 1 gallon





St. Jacob’s oil bottles


The little bit of midden heap that I looked through was literally the tip of the iceberg. Who knows what else lies buried in the earth?



The Hen’s March To the Midden is a traditional Sheltland reel and was known to almost every Scots fiddler in the 18th century. It is a fiddler’s ‘party piece’ and attempts to musically describe chicken clucks. Here, Dave Swarbrick and Simon Nicol (from Fairport Convention) sing, play and showboat The Hen’s March Through the Midden and the Four Poster Bed in 1981 at Pebble Mill.  Guaranteed to get your toes tappin’.



One thought on “Midden

  1. I came across your blog while searching for images of middens which I wanted to use to help me think about the process of turning compost and finding tiny unexpected things in there. Things that don’t compost but were dropped in by us at the time that we tipped in kitchen rubbish. Pen lids, hair ties, bottle tops, sequins. It struck me that our compost is a midden of sorts, and I so appreciated reading your thoughts.

    Broken china also used to show up in formal flower gardens (including council maintained ones) as an aid to good drainage.

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