Life in the
Origins of Many Expressions Still Common in the English Language
Anne Hathaway was the wife of William Shakespeare. She married at the age of 26.
This is really unusual for the time. Most people married young, like at the age of
11 or 12. Life was not as romantic as we may picture it.
Here are some examples:
Anne Hathaway's home was a 3 bedroom house with a small parlor, which was seldom used
(only for company), kitchen, and no bathroom. Mother and Father shared a bedroom. Anne had
a queen sized bed, but did not sleep alone. She also had 2 other sisters and they
shared the bed also with 6 servant girls. (this is before she married) They didn't sleep
like we do lengthwise but all laid on the bed crosswise. At least they had a bed.
The other bedroom was shared by her 6 brothers and 30 field workers. They didn't
have a bed. Everyone just wrapped up in their blanket and slept on the floor. They
had no indoor heating so all the extra bodies kept them warm. They were also small people,
the men only grew to be about 5'6" and the women were 4'8." SO, in their
house they had 27 people living.
Most people got married in June. Why? They took their yearly bath in May, so they were
still smelling pretty good by June, although they were starting to smell, so the brides
would carry a bouquet of flowers to hide their b.o. Like I said, they took their
yearly bath in May, but it was just a big tub that they would fill with hot water. The man
of the house would get 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 pretty thick. Thus, the saying, "don't throw the baby out with the bath
water," it was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it.
I'll describe their houses a little. You've heard of thatch roofs, well that's all they
were. Thick straw, piled high, with no wood underneath. They were the only place for
the little animals to get warm. So all the pets; dogs, cats and other small animals, mice,
rats, bugs, all lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery so sometimes the
animals would slip and fall off the roof. Thus the saying, "it's raining cats and
dogs," Since there was nothing to stop things from falling into the house they would
just try to clean up a lot. But this posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and
other droppings from animals could really mess up your nice clean bed, so they found if
they would make beds with big posts and hang a sheet over the top it would prevent
that problem. That's where those beautiful big 4 poster beds with canopies came from.
When you came into the house you would notice most times that the floor was dirt. Only the
wealthy had something other than dirt, that's where the saying "dirt poor"
came from. The wealthy would have slate floors. That was fine but in the winter they
would get slippery when they got wet. So they started to spread thresh on the floor to
help keep their footing. As the winter wore on they would just keep adding it and adding
it until when you opened the door it would all start slipping outside. SO they put a
piece of wood at the entry way, a "thresh hold."
In the kitchen they would cook over the fire, they had a fireplace in the
kitchen/parlor, that was seldom used and sometimes in the master bedroom. They had a big
kettle that always hung over the fire and every day they would light the fire and start
adding things to the pot. Mostly they ate vegetables, they didn't get much meat. They
would eat the stew for dinner then leave the leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight
and then start over the next day. Sometimes the stew would have food in it that had
been in there for a month! Thus the rhyme: "peas porridge hot, peas porridge
cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old."
Sometimes they could get a hold on some pork. They really felt special when that happened
and when company came over they even had a rack in the parlor where they would bring out
some bacon and hang it to show it off. That 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 they would all sit around and "chew the fat."
If you had money your plates were made out of pewter. Sometimes some of their food
had a high acid content and some of the lead would leach out into the food. They really
noticed it happened with tomatoes. So they stopped eating tomatoes, for 400 years.
Most people didn't have pewter plates though, they all had trenchers, that was a piece of
wood with the middle scooped out like a bowl. They never washed their boards and a lot of
times worms would get into the wood. After eating off the trencher with worms they would
get "trench mouth."
If you were going traveling and wanted to stay at an Inn they usually provided the bed but
not the board. The bread was divided according to status. The workers would get the burnt
bottom of the loaf, the family would get the middle and guests would get the top, or
the "upper crust."
They also had lead cups and when they would drink their ale or whiskey. The
combination would sometimes knock them out for a couple of days. They would be walking
along the road and here would be someone knocked out and they thought they were dead. So
they would pick them up and take them home and get them ready to bury. They realized if
they were too slow about it, the person would wake up. Also, maybe not all of the people
they were burying were dead. So they would lay them out on the kitchen table for a couple
of days, the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would
wake up. That's where the custom of holding a "wake" came from.
Since England is so old and small, they started running out of places to bury people. So,
they started digging up some coffins and would take their bones to a house and reuse the
grave. They started opening these coffins and found some had scratch marks on the
inside. One out of 25 coffins were that way and they realized they had still 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. That is how the
saying "graveyard shift" was made. If the bell would ring they would know that
someone was "saved by the bell" or he was a "dead ringer."