Life in the 1500s
- Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in
May and were still smelling pretty good by June. However, they were
starting to smell, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the
- Baths equaled 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 pets... dogs,
cats and other small animals, mice, rats, 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 really
mess up your nice clean bed. So, they found that if they made beds with
big posts and hung a sheet over the top, it solved that problem. Hence
those big, beautiful four poster beds with canopies.
- 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 on the floor to help keep their footing.
As the winter wore on they kept adding more thresh until when you opened
the door it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed
at the entry to hold it in. Hence a "thresh hold."
- They cooked in the kitchen in a big kettle that always hung over the
fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They
mostly ate vegetables and didn't 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 the stew had food in it that had
been in there for a month. Hence the rhyme: peas porridge hot, peas
porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old."
- Sometimes they could obtain pork and would feel really special when that
happened. When company came over, they would bring out some bacon and
hang it to show it off. It was a sign of wealth and that a man "could
really 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 a high acid content
caused some of the lead to leach onto the food. This happened most often
with tomatoes, so they stopped eating tomatoes... for 400 years.
- Most people didn't have pewter plates, but had trenchers -- a piece of
wood with the middle scooped out like a bowl. Trenchers were never washed
and a lot of times worms got into the wood. After eating off wormy trenchers,
they would get "trench mouth."
- 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
- Lead cups were used to drink ale or whiskey. The combination would sometimes
knock them 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 they started running out of places to bury
people. So, they would dig up coffins and would take their bones to
a house and re-use the grave. In reopening these coffins, one out of
25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized
they had been burying people alive. So they thought they would tie a
string on their wrist and 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 to listen for the bell. Hence on the "graveyard
shift" they would know that someone was "saved by the bell" or he was
a "dead ringer.