More Traditions and Sayings

There is evidence that the origin of some of these traditions and sayings are not 100% true. Nevertheless, I find them interesting. The following are a few more theories about life in England during the 1500s.

  • With the thick thatched roofs that were filled with all sorts of bugs and animals, it was impossible to keep things from falling from the roof into the house. That posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and droppings would fall on the beds. A bed with four tall posts that held a cloth covering offered some protection. That’s how canopy beds came into existence.
  • In those days, they cooked with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They would eat stew for dinner, leaving the leftovers in the pot for the next day. Sometimes the stew had food in it that had been there for quite some time. Hence the rhyme, “Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old”.
  • People with money had plates made of pewter. Food with a high acid content caused some lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning and death. This happened so often with tomatoes that tomatoes were considered poisonous for the next 400 years.
  • Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle – while guests received the top or “upper crust”.
  • Lead cups were used to drink ale or whiskey. The combination would sometimes knock them out for a couple of days. Others would take them for dead and prepare for burial. Prior to burial they would be laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days. The family would gather around, eating and drinking, while they waited to see if the dead person would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a “wake”.
  • Since England is so old and small, the local folks started running out of places to bury people. To alleviate this problem, they would dig up coffins and take the bones to a “bone-house” and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, one out of twenty-five coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside. They realized they had been burying some people alive.
  • To reduce the incidence of burying people alive, some would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the lid of the coffin and up through the ground where it would be tied to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (“graveyard shift”) to listen for the bell. Thus, someone could be “saved by the bell”.

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