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 b.o.
Baths equalled 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
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 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 whisky. 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 realised 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"