Robert Casboult—Maultster

The theme for the Guild of One-Name Studies Blog Challenge in June is “What’s in a name?” I suspect many of the posts will be about a unique given name or surname. I have explored that idea in many posts, so instead, I will be looking at a unique occupation.

I’ve been writing and researching on the topic of forbears—early ancestors with variants of the Casbon surname whom I have not been able to connect with their modern descendants—especially in the area of southern Cambridgeshire. While reviewing parish records for Thriplow, Cambridgeshire, I came upon this burial record from 1609.[1]

Source: Bishop’s Transcripts for Thriplow (FamilySearch.org)

The given name is almost faded out, but with careful reading and a bit of imagination, one can see the words “Robert Casboult Maultster was Bury[ed] the Six & twentieth of June” [1609]. “Maultster” was Robert’s trade or occupation. It can also be spelled Maltster. It is a fairly common occupation in early records.

What is a maultster? The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) gives this simple definition: “A person whose occupation is making malt.”[2] The OED further defines malt as “barley or other grain prepared for brewing, distilling, or vinegar-making, esp. by steeping, germinating, and kiln-drying.” The word malt is of Germanic origin.

I could end the post here, but where is the fun in that? Let’s explore the work of a maultster in more detail.

Barley grain with husk; source: Wikimedia Commons, Barley Seeds.jpg; this file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Malt is an important ingredient in the production of beer and whiskey. I’ll focus on beer because that is almost certainly how the malt produced by Robert Casboult was used. Malting allows the starch in barley (or other grains) to be converted into the complex carbohydrates and sugars needed for fermentation (conversion to alcohol) to occur. There are three basic steps in the malting process.

  1. Steeping. The dried and cleaned barley grain is placed in a vessel and submerged in water, which is changed several times during the steeping process.[3] Modern steeping vessels are made of steel, but in Robert’s time, they were probably made of brick or stone, and possibly lined with lead. The grain is steeped for two to three days. According to an industry web page, “The absorbed water activates naturally existing enzymes and stimulates the embryo to develop new enzymes. The enzymes break down the protein and carbohydrate matrix that encloses starch granules in the endosperm, opening up the seed’s starch reserves, and newly developed hormones initiate growth of the acrospire (sprout).”[4] At the end of steeping process, tiny rootlets can be seen emerging from the grain.
  2. Germination. Germination is the further growth or sprouting of the grain. In Robert’s time, this would have been done by spreading the soaked grain on a floor, possibly lined with stone or clay. Modern germination lasts four to six days but in Roberts time it might have lasted up to three weeks. The growing grain had to be turned over periodically in order to prevent the growing rootlets from becoming a tangled mass. Robert would have done this with a shovel. At the end of the germination period, the “green malt” might have been heaped up and allowed to lie for several hours so the growing plant could wither and dry.
  3. Kilning. The final step in the malting process, heating and drying the germinated grain in a kiln arrests the germination process and allows the starches produced during germination to be preserved. It also reduces the moisture content so the malt can be stored and ground. Kilning also adds color and flavor to the malt.[5] The grain would be spread onto some kind of a heated surface—possibly heated tiles. The malt was turned during the kilning process to allow for even drying.

The finished malt can be stored until it is sold and transported to the brewer for the production of beer.

You can view an excellent short video of the modern malting process here:

Other than his occupation, little is known about Robert Casboult. It is likely that he married Margaret Thurlow at Fowlmere 19 September 1574.[6] Margaret was buried at Thriplow 29 May 1612. Fowlmere and Thriplow are directly east of the parishes of Meldreth and Melbourn, where many of my ancestors lived.

Detail from Ordnance Survey map showing locations of Meldreth, Melbourn (both circled in blue), Fowlmere and Thriplow (circled in red). Sheet 148 – Saffron Walden – A// Edition (Chessington, Surrey, 1954; reprinted with minor corrections 1960); Library of Scotland Maps (https://maps.nls.uk/view/91577086 : accessed 12 Jun 21) >Maps home > Ordnance Survey > One-inch to the mile, 7th Series, 1952-1970. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC-BY-NC-SA) license

A daughter, Joan, was baptized at Thriplow 17 June 1579, and a son, William, was baptized there 25 December 1583.[7] As an essential tradesman, Robert probably held a respectable social standing in the tiny parish of Thriplow. He might have had trading connections with brewers in surrounding parishes.

Remember Robert next time you enjoy a cold glass of beer!


[1] Bishop’s transcripts for Thriplow, 1603-1848, record for 1609; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007680236?cat=1131249 : accessed 16 Jun 2021) >digital film 7680236 > image 20 of 739; citing Cambridge University Library.
[2] Oxford English Dictionary (accessed online, by subscription through local libraries).
[3] Amber Patrick,” (English Heritage, 2004); PDF document available for download from English Heritage (https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/maltings/maltings-pt1/ : accessed 15 Jun 21).
[4] “The Malting Process,” Briess Malt & Ingredients Co. (https://www.brewingwithbriess.com/malting-101/malting-process/ : accessed 15 Jun 21).
[5] Patrick, “Strategy for the Historic Industrial Environment Report No.1: Maltings In England.”
[6] “England Marriages, 1538–1973 ,”database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:N237-JPB : accessed 14 Apr 2021).
[7] “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975”, database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JWKN-BY7 : accessed 21 Jun 2021) (Joan Casebolt), and (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NR33-J9P : accessed 21 Jun 2021) (William Casebolt).

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