Life in the 1500’s…..and you thought we were living in tough times. Don’ t believe everything you think. Things could be worse…..Lee
A home usually did not have a lot of chairs and beds, so a wooden board was
used for sleeping at night, and, on trestles, as a dining table during the
day. So one could offer “Room and Board”, to guests called “Boarders”, to earn a few extra farthings. Thus, you had a “Boarding House”.
The owner would sit at the head of the table in the only chair — boarders
were on rude benches, hence the owner was the “Chairman of the Board”.
The owner would watch that diners kept their hands in sight during meals, so
they could not use weapons concealed beneath the table. Thus the meal was
“Open and Above Board”
Few people owned dishes or utensils, so each diner would be given a piece of
flat bread called a trencher, which served as a plate. Those hungry men who
also ate the trencher were called “Trenchermen”.
Single women kept their hair tightly pinned up in public, until they were
married. Some single women “let their hair down”, these were called “loose
The few beds had no springs. Instead, they had ropes stretched tightly
across a frame, on which was placed a straw mattress. These ropes tended to
stretch with use, making for an uncomfortable sagging bed. So one would
re-tighten the ropes to “Sleep Tight”.
Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May,
and they still smelled pretty good by June.. However, since they were
starting to smell . .. . brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the
body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting
Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house
had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men,
then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then
the water was so dirty you could actually lose > someone in it. Hence the
saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the > bath water!”
Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath.
It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other
small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became
slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence
the saying “It’s raining cats and dogs.”
There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a
real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up
your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the
top afforded some protection. That’s how canopy beds came into existence.
The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence
the saying, “Dirt poor.” The wealthy had slate floors that would get
slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to
help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh
until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A
piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Hence, ” a threshold”.
In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always
hung over the fire.. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the
pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat
the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and
then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been
there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme: Peas porridge hot, peas porridge
cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.
Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When
visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a
sign of wealth that a man could, “bring home the bacon.” They would cut off
a little to share with guests and would > all sit around and “chew the fat”.
Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content
caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning
death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or
so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.
Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the
loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the “upper
Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would >
sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking
along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They
were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family
would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake
up. Hence the custom of holding a “wake”.
England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places
to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a
bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25
coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized
they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the
wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground
and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all
night (the graveyard shift.) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be
“saved by the bell” or was considered a “dead ringer”…
And that’s the truth…Now, whoever said History was boring ! !
If you are bored, you are boring…Lee