"ABOVE AND BELOW" THE SALT

" Home connoisseur " collectors rarely possess these magnificent pieces which known as " standing salts " were commonly used in private households in the days when feasting in common hall appertained to the every-day life of noble lord and his retainer, just as it did in the halls of the colleges and the civic banquets of that day. The great salt-cellar was the dividing line which marked sharply the difference between the upper and the lower grades of society-a division none the less marked although all dined in the same hall and feasted off the same joints, and to some extent drank from the same flagon. To fully understand the value of the great salt cellar it is necessary to make pen pictures of the position it occupied on the table of the baronial hall of Mediaeval England and its still greater significance in the days of the Plantagenets. The hall was crowded at the hour of feasting, for here it was that vassals and adherents, guests and servants assembled. The company was very mixed and some were far from desirable companions for the fair maids who also dined off the boards. The baronial hall of the large dwelling which even then retained some semblance to the castle but with the added comfort of the family mansion had its great hall where the oaken table was loaded with viands and none too dainty morsels. Screens were found useful in these large and draughty halls, they were handy too, to form a passage to the kitchens, where the provisions were prepared before a huge fire before which the meat revolved upon a giant spit. It was from these lower halls that shining pewter flagons and platters were brought forth. What an assembly lounged about waiting for the lord and lady of the feast ! Among them were pages, heralds and men-at-arms, and not the least the Jester,

FIG 53.-SILVER LONDON Hall-marked 1695-6 (In the VVictoria and Albert Museum.)

FIG. 54.-PEWTER TANKARD. 18TH CENTURY.

Fig 55 PEWTER CANDLESTICK. 18th CENTURY.

the fool who made merry and took great liberties. The upper table upon a raised dais-such an one is found in all ancient halls-was for the family and their chosen guests of equal rank. It was necessary that they should be better served and separated from the great oaken table in centre of the hall. At this table, however, there was mixed company for some of the household were of good birth and breeding and could scarcely be forced to consort with the lowest rank entitled to a seat. Here it was that the great salt-cellar was placed forming a dividing line of quality-above and below the salt. It was a moveable fixture, one which could be adjusted according to the standing and quality and number of the guests and retainers. The smoking dishes were brought in, and the guests were seated where they could see the cup-board near the table on the raised dais and here was arranged the plate. It was the salt-cellar that marked the dividing line, hence its importance and the need for an imposing piece of plate. There were many vessels of silver and pewter for the more favoured guests and retainers, and wooden platters and horn drinking cups for those of lower rank. The provisions consumed in those days were immense and the liquor quaffed amazing. The hour of dinner was then ten o'clock in the morning, and supper was partaken of at four in the afternoon. Many years came and went before society changed its habits and the standing salt became little else than an ornament upon the dining table. Its use lessened, but long before the great standing salt was discarded as a piece of family plate other vessels of smaller size and less elaborate forms came into use as receptacles for the salt oonsumed.