Could you connect with a bygone era through scent? It’s a question which obsesses me. Why?
Well it all started with the purchase of Letheringham Lodge. As this site explains, it was originally thought to be late Tudor but we uncovered a huge amount of the history and discovered that it was half medieval (built 1472) and half Jacobean (extended in 1610). I tell you this because, as a trained scent-maker, I have been obsessively making scents in the genre of these two centuries.
In 1472, the lodge (or ‘logge’ as it would have been called) was a copy of the french or dutch viewing pavilion used for state banquets and weddings. They are often depicted on European court marriage paintings (as left) and historians think that Letheringham Lodge was probably the first of its kind in England.
So what scents would have been prevalent at this time? The belief that medieval times were dirty and odorous, is true only for England’s very poorest. For the average person, washing and bathing was a hugely popular pastime. Most wealthy people had a bathhouse and every town had one for public use. They consisted of huge scented cauldrons perfumed by attendants and filled large barrels amply able to accommodate two people. Many of the essential oils we use today would have been used for scenting these waters especially appreciated for their medicinal properties; specifically anti-inflammatory and antiseptic.
Bitter oranges had just arrived at the time the logge was built. Citrus fruit was used as the most popular women’s contraception; halved and used as a cap and the juice used as a spermicide. Oils were made by every household for use within medicine, cuisine and fragrance. So the most popular scent palette for medieval times were: basil, citruses, cloves, clary sage, frankincense, rose, rosemary, mint, musk, myrrh, thyme and vetiver. Today this style of scent making is becoming hugely fashionable as we move to natural products and distrust commercial chemicalisation. My most popular scent is based on an organic grapefruit oil and was chosen to be the scent for the in-house candle at Vanil, on Church St in Woodbridge.
What made scents in the Jacobean age?
Civet produced from the urine of the Asian civet cat, had been introduced into the court of Henry VIII and caused a revolution in scent. In fact the perfume created for the King became the de facto accord for over 100 years and included ambergris, tobacco and Peru balsam.
In this way, scent was used as a way of communicating status and identity; relying on the inclusion of exotic florals blended with exclusive imported spices and musks. The richer you were, the more exotic imports you included.
Today, new technology enables us to abstract scents at a molecular level and then recreate them chemically. The scientific has become the new exotic but at the same time, we are wanting to return to a time where naturalness and purity of ingredients is paramount. In some ways these two centuries have merged; we prefer natural ingredients in soaps and cosmetics but delight in the highly sophisticated scientifically produced scents in perfumes.
If you would like to learn how to make scents you are most welcome to visit the logge. To find out more about half-day workshops, simply visit loggique.com.