Q From Dominic Gittins: I’m doing a play set in Elizabethan times, but have come unravelled trying to find out the meaning of the phrase shilling ordinary. The context is ‘a message was brought to me while I was sitting in the shilling ordinary.’
A One of the many senses of ordinary was that of a meal in an eating-house or tavern. The term comes from a thing that is ordained, or set out as by rule or custom, in this case a set meal. So a shilling ordinary was one for that price. By extension, ordinary was also used for the place where it was served, and for the company who frequented such a meal. And it’s a note on the lack of inflation in earlier centuries that there are references to a “shilling ordinary” at the end of the eighteenth century. In fact, the word continued to be used into this century in Britain, particularly on market days in provincial towns, where a farmer’s ordinary was a filling but plain set meal at a reasonable price, usually the traditional “meat and two veg” followed by a substantial pudding.