Mrs Johnson died in 1733
I don't usually get excited about something as ordinary as wooden shelves, but these are some of the nicest I've ever seen - even if the little cottage loaves on them are way past their sell-by-date.
They are bread shelves, something I never knew existed until I came across a couple of incredibly stale, dried-out loaves sitting on what looked a tall, narrow bookcase in a Wren church in the City of London. I wondered why they were there (a bit late/early for a harvest festival, and definitely not being sold by some local artisan bakery) until I did some reading and Googling when I got home. And this is how I came to find out about bread shelves and the earlier 'dole cupboards' which held bread for those in need, a very appealingly ordinary and everyday act of charity which took place in many churches in the British Isles until the beginning of the C20. (There are still some that continue the tradition; St Ann's in Dublin puts out bread every Sunday and 'any person may remove the bread without hindrance or risk of question'.)
Mr Blissett died in 1713 and Mr Smith died in 1624
Bread shelves began to appear in the C17, mostly in town and city churches. In style they match simplicity of looks with simplicity of gesture, and I like the fact that something as basic as bread was provided by bequests and benefactors who donated money (usually a quantity of guineas) so that a certain number of loaves of bread could be distributed according to their wishes, for example every Sunday or on a saint's day, Good Friday or at Christmas (sometimes the recipients had to attend the service first in order to qualify - no such thing as a free loaf in some places).
Some of the shelves are plain, some are quite elaborate, with columns and lettering to explain and proclaim the donor's generosity, and some have loaf-sized pigeon holes, while dole cupboards look more medieval/Tudor with spindles on the doors. They continued to be fitted in the C18 (these are from around 1713 and are in St Mary's, Warwick) and though the Victorians didn't put up bread shelves they gave out the bread and the bread benefactions continued, as evidenced by the often huge benefactors'and benefactions boards you find in prominent places in churches (with lovely lettering, often near the entrance, no doubt to cajole others into giving and being remembered this way, because not everyone gets a mega-tomb like Ambrose Dudley).
'Benefactors to the Poor of the Parish board' in St Nicholas' Church, Kenilworth
These boards show how benefactors made provision in their wills for the poor of the parish to receive coal, clothing, linen, food, fuel, clothing, 'a gown or coat at Christmas' - and bread. It was a kind of local welfare state, a food bank, a lifeline. How brilliant.
tomb of Ambrose Dudley (d 1590)
Bread is immediate, cheap and nourishing, and a bread benefaction is great way to give and be remembered. I think bread shelves are needed once again, and not just in churches.
flour, water, and salt - sourdough made this morning