If you’ve never heard of Herb Strewers as an occupation, it is likely because the job has been obsolete for almost two hundred years. And that’s a shame. Well, sort of.
While the image of making a living strewing herbs is alluring, especially for us garden types, the necessity of the occupation was a little less romantic.
Sewage systems being what they were before the wonders of flush toilets, made cities smell less than lovely. The herbs when tossed about and then subsequently crushed underfoot, served as a medieval version of automatic air fresheners to mask the smell.
From approximately 1660 to 1830, Herb Strewers were tasked with tossing fragrant herbs throughout the British royal chambers, as well as at the site of public ceremonies.
The first Herb Strewer in recorded history was Bridget Romney, who tossed herbs about for a living from 1660 to 1671. Her yearly salary was 24 pounds, plus two yards of Scarlet Cloth; a very expensive woollen Medieval woven fabric.
Mary Rayner is recorded as the last full-time Herb Strewer, serving George III and his sons for 43 years.
George IV appointed his good friend, Anne Fellowes (pictured above) to scatter flowers and herbs in Westminster Abbey for his coronation, along with half a dozen attendants. She was described as wearing the traditional dress of white satin with the Scarlet Cloth mantle edged in gold and a head dress of wheat laced with laurel and oak leaves.
Anne Fellowes applied for the position again, for the coronation of William IV, but financial cutbacks left no room in the budget for a Herb Strewer. None of the subsequent monarchs hired a Herb Strewer again, though the Fellowes family still reserve the position for the eldest unmarried daughter of the family, should the need ever arise.
Today the closest thing we have to a Herb Strewer is a child scattering rose petals down the aisle at a wedding; not to mask the scent of sewage (thank God) but simply to add to the ambience. And that’s a very, very, good thing!
None of this means we can’t be official Herb Strewers in our own homes. It’s your home, so why not? Of course, a bowl of pot pourri would be a little less messy, but the choice is yours.
Just in case you are so inclined, and would like to start a Herb Strewing garden patch, here are a list of herbs that were often used by Herb Strewers.
- Lemon Balm
- Maudeline (Sweet Yarrow)