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Barn The Spoon’s London Spoons

April 3, 2013
by the gentle author

Barn the Spoon examines a two-thousand-year-old spoon

When I first met Barn the Spoon, the professional spoon carver, he told me he wanted to make London spoons – but he did not know what they would be like. So I offered to help him find out and, to this end, we paid a visit upon Roy Stephenson, Head of Archaeological Collections at the Museum of London, recently to take a look at some old spoons in his collection.

Barn’s eyes sparkled with excitement from the moment they fell upon the ancient spoons lain upon tissue, though Roy was a little apologetic at the dearth of such artefacts in his collection. We learnt that there is a mystery surrounding the lack of Medieval spoons discovered in London compared with other European capitals. “We might not have got lucky yet,” Roy admitted, “or they might have been using horn spoons that have decomposed.”

Fortunately, sufficient spoons have survived to fascinate Barn the Spoon and, with Roy’s permission, he began to lift each one in turn and scrutinise it lovingly. As I watched him, I thought of what Barn had told me once – that he could look at any wooden spoon and know how it was made. In his mind, Barn was travelling across time and making contact with the spoon carvers of Medieval London. “If I met the maker of one of these, I could immediately have a conversation with them,” he confided to me, “I’d have more in common with them than I do with most people today.”

Barn was curious that they all so tiny and I wondered if this was because people had smaller hands centuries ago, but Roy was able to resolve this dilemma for us by explaining that the wood had shrunk over the centuries. Two spoons in particular caught Barn’s attention, a modest fig-shaped apple wood Medieval spoon collected from Railway Approach, London Bridge in July 1914, and an alder wood spoon of more formal design with a pattern of incised bands across the shaft. Roy showed us another similar alder wood spoon found in Tabard St in the City of London 1912, housed in a display devoted to the Rose Theatre and artefacts of Shakespeare’s era,.

The experience of holding them,” Barn revealed to me as we walked back east through the City, “it was soothing, like coming home, because in my mind I live in a world where spoons are made with axes and knives, so those designs were familiar to me – and they came from here.”

Three days later, Barn surprised me when I dropped in to visit him, by tumbling a fistful of spoons in these same designs into my hand with a burst of triumphant laughter. I was filled with awe to see new spoons in these age-old styles that would have been familiar to our distant forebears. All were subtly different, just as every one of Barn’s spoons is unique, but the spirit of the originals was still present. “It’s about trying to wean yourself away from your natural tendencies and towards the tendencies of the people who first made them and get inside their spoon carving mentality,” Barn confessed, turning contemplative as he saw me wondering over the spoons, “I’ve made about twenty to get a good idea of how they were made, specifically the cuts used and their sequence.” In fact, he had manufactured two of the “Shakespearean” spoons but more than twenty-five of the Medieval one – this most humble of artefacts was the spoon that had caught his imagination.

“Making spoons professionally, I’ve always shied away from that design in the past – which is linked to how quick and easy they are to make, but I realised there’s a very beautiful naive aesthetic.” he told me, “it’s like doing a different dance and I like it.” In contrast to the later design, which more closely resembled spoons we used today, these spoons in the Medieval design spoke of those Londoners in an earlier world who long ago huddled by fires to enjoy their bowls of porridge, broth or stew, eaten with the most utilitarian of implements. “It was fascinating to hold those old spoons at the museum and, by trying to copy them, I learnt something new,” Barn assured me fondly, “I loved making those spoons in this design, when I had once turned my back on it.”

“That particular one, I shall be offering it for sale in my shop permanently,” he informed me, continuing his thought, “and I’d love to sit in the Museum of London one day, knocking them out and selling them.” It was a satisfying notion, yet we realised that our quest was not over – we shall be taking these new spoons back to the museum to see how they closely they compare with their venerable antecedents, the spoons of old London.

A fig-shaped apple wood Medieval spoon collected from Railway Approach, London Bridge in July 1914

An alder wood spoon with incised band decoration, of a design used in Shakespeare’s London.

“If I met the maker of one of these, I could immediately have a conversation with them.”

Barn the Spoon’s versions of the Medieval London spoon in cherry.

Barn the Spoon’s versions of the Shakespearian spoon in hawthorn.

“The experience of holding them – it was soothing, like coming home, because in my mind I live in a world where spoons are made with axes and knives, so those designs were familiar to me – and they came from here.”

London Spoons are available from Barn the Spoon at 260 Hackney Rd, E2 7SJ. Friday – Tuesday, 10am – 5pm.

You may also like to read my original pen portrait

Barn the Spoon, Spoon Carver

and

At the Cemetery with Barn the Spoon

13 Responses leave one →
  1. April 3, 2013

    Thanks so much for such an amazing amazing blog. It brings East London to life in such a rich & brilliant way, I am captivated ! I cannot wait to roam around when I get to London in May ! I must come back home with a Barn the Spoon spoon !

  2. Patty permalink
    April 3, 2013

    Wow, amazing. I wish Barn offered his products online through etsy.com, then I could buy a spoon. Love the fig one, beautiful work.

  3. jeannette permalink
    April 3, 2013

    i love this guy. thanks for putting him together with the old ones.

  4. Adrianne LeMan permalink
    April 3, 2013

    Can I buy these spoons online?

  5. Tom Shevada permalink
    April 3, 2013

    Barn please consider going online via Esty.com so I can get a few of these spoons over here in the U.S.

    Thanks for another wonderful story.

  6. Vicky permalink
    April 3, 2013

    I bought a spoon from Barn a few months ago and love using it. Beautiful to look at, beautiful to handle. You can’t imagine what its like to handle a handmade spoon until you own one. Perfect. I’m now going back to look at his London spoons.

  7. Andrea permalink
    April 3, 2013

    Lovely story and the photos in which you can see his fascination and delight.

    All those of you who have a sudden yearning for a spoon should look in the comment section of the original profile, for how to mail-order. (But surely Barn would want you to hold a spoon first, to see how it feels in your hand. So you should all go to London.)

  8. Ant Smith permalink
    April 3, 2013

    It is fascinating this stuff. Still amazing how we can find a wealth of history in the most mundane of objects. There is so much in London (granted all these spoons may not have come from London) that can help us understand the past so much better. Impressed to see someone totally in tune with our history.

  9. April 4, 2013

    I was captivated by Barn and his spoons when we first met him on your blog. Now you and Barn have taken us back in time on a wonderful journey. I have always been fascinated Medieval and Tudor history. As a cook, I adore wooden spoons. Combine the two and I am in heaven!

    It’s the mundane and ordinary artifacts that give us the most insight into the past. I would love to have one of Barn’s beautiful spoons.

    Thank you for another delightful post.
    Debs

  10. April 6, 2013

    Imagine the stories linked to these old spoons and stories in the making for these beautiful new spoons. When I next make a trip to London I hope to call in on Barn.

  11. Rodney Duerden permalink
    April 11, 2013

    Barn, I have a source of recently cut alder which I knew to be durable in water but until seeing the London spoons, didn’t know how durable the wood is. Made one for your Mum, not as good as yours of course, still learning. Best wishes, Rodney

  12. Tim Calvey permalink
    August 28, 2013

    Barn the Spoon…you are a legend and appear to be ‘living the dream’! I remember sharing coffee with you at the back of the workshop with your kelly kettle…I long for another Kelly Kettle moment, as life was less complex! Barn, we have a sweet meadow here in Harrow and if you feel the need to string your hammock on a hill…head over! There is a generation of pupils at our school who need your knowledge and wisdom!!!

    Stay well and happy…I will get your shop asap

  13. November 19, 2013

    Great!

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