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 was 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
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 if they made
beds with big posts and hung a sheet over the top, it addressed that
problem. Hence those beautiful big 4 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 which 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 way, hence a "thresh hold."
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 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.
Trencher 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 "upper crust."
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 was 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."
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