The next time you wash your hands and complain that the water temperature isn't just how you like it, think about how things used to be. Here are some stories about family life the Middle Ages:

Because animal hides used to be tanned with urine, poor families would all pee in one pot and then once a day sell that urine to the tannery. If you had to do this to survive you were "Piss Poor.”

But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn't even afford to buy a pot; they "didn't have a pot to piss in" & were the lowest of the low.

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

Baths consisted of 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, which created the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the Bath water!"

Houses had thatched roofs of straw with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so 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 in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. So 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, which brought about the saying "Dirt poor." The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entryway: a “thresh hold.”

In those old days, 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 ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat that stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew got quite old, which was the source for the rhyme “Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.”

If a family could obtain pork, they felt quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a 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 onto the food, causing lead poisoning 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, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or “the upper crust.”

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would Sometimes knock the imbibers 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.”

Unfortunately they discovered they WERE burying some people alive. To prevent that from happening, they would tie a string on the wrist of a corpse, lead it through the coffin, up to the ground, and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit in the cemetery all night—the “graveyard shift”—to listen for the bell; thus the freshly buried person could either be “saved by the bell” or considered “a dead ringer.”



Mary V said…
All very interestingI knew about the “wake “ and bell ones. I was born in 1949 we had no hot water in apartment so I still remember my Mother boiling big pans of hot water for bath night. Luckily we only shared water with children not adults. Thank goodness! I remember moving to a place with running hot water age 9. What a thrill to have a bath then!
jaime said…
Thank you for posting this. I am always interested in the origins of words and common sayings. This was a real treat as well as an education into those origins.
My mother bathed the baby first after she filled a tiny metal tub with water. The rest of us were small, so we bathed in order of age, backward. I only knew about half of these.
WOW that was quite informative. loved it.
Unknown said…
Don't know if these were true or not but it made for an interesting read.
Kay said…
This was super interesting! Thank you for posting this.