Olde England


Next time you are washing your hands and complain because the water
temperature isn't just how you like it, think about how things used 
to be. Here are some facts about the 1500s:

Most people got married in June because they took their annual bath in 
May and still smelled pretty good by June. However, they were starting 
to smell, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor
- hence the custom of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

Baths consisted of big tubs filled with hot water. The man of the house 
had the privilege of 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 
dogs, 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 where bugs and other droppings could really mess up your 
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 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 in the entranceway - hence a "thresh hold".

In those old days they cooked in a 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 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 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, they would hang up their bacon to show off.  
It was a sign of wealth that the 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 into the food, causing lead poisoning 
and 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, family got the middle and guests got the top or "upper crust."

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 to see if they would wake
up - hence the custom of holding a "wake".

England is old and small and local folks started running out of places
to bury people. They would dig up coffins and would take the bones to 
the "bone-house" and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, one
out of 25 were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they 
realized they had been burying people alive. 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 (graveyard shift) to listen for the bell, thus 
someone would be "saved by the bell" or was considered a "dead ringer".


[Contributed by Peter, who happens to be English!]