IJMC Life in the 1500's

                   IJMC - Life in the 1500's

Ok, two for your troubles today. Actually, two for each of the next 
following days since I'll be out of town for a bit over a week. Friends 
marrying, lovers graduating, and all of Boston to harrass. I'd say it's 
going to be a good trip. So, if you don't want a dearth of IJMC's next 
week...save 'em while you can...or I'll try to update the archives, you 
can drop by the website and check out oldies but goodies...       -dave

Life in the 1500's:

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 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 loose 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 kithen 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.  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

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 reuse 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

And that's what life was like in the 1500's. 

IJMC May 1999 Archives