Every century was so different than the ones before it and the ones following. Lives were lived in a different manner and even language wasn’t the same. In the sixteenth century lead cups were used to drink ale. Today we know the dangers of lead but in those days the combination of lead and alcohol would occasionally knock someone out for two or three days. Often a passerby would see the person and think they were dead. The body would be prepared for burial and then laid out on the kitchen table. Family and friends would eat, drink and wait to see if the “dead” awoke. Thus, the expression of holding a “wake” for someone who has passed.
As England’s cemeteries filled the graves would be dug up and used again. Bones would be removed and taken to a designated area. As the bones were removed from their coffins workers noticed that there were scratch marks inside the coffins, proving that some of these people were not truly dead. To prevent this they invented a contraption with a bell on a string so that the dead person, if awakened, could pull a string inside the coffin and others would know he was alive. A worker would walk through the cemetery several times a night to listen for any bells. The expressions “graveyard shift”, “saved by the bell”, and “dead ringer” all come from this historical phenomena.
Baths of the era usually consisted of a large metal tub filled with water. The man of the house went first, then all other men. Next came the women, then children. By the time a family had bathed the water would be black with dirt. The saying “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” comes from this disgusting fact.
Have you ever seen those big, beautiful beds with the luscious canopies? If you knew the reason canopies were invented you might not love them quite as much. In the sixteenth century there was nothing to stop bugs and their droppings from falling through the roof and down onto the bed. So, someone came up a great idea: hang a sheet, from four posters, over the bed to prevent the insects from landing in the bed.
Some things that occurred in the sixteenth century were dangerous or even deadly. A large kettle hung over the fireplace at all times. Every day the fire was lit and foods were added to the pot. Although most of the foods were vegetables, occasionally meat pieces were also dropped into the mix. Whatever leftovers remained in the kettle were left to add to the following day’s food. This continued, day after day. Sometimes food could remain in the kettle for weeks. The kids’ rhyme, known by many, explains this situation: “Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot, nine days old”.
Those who were better off than others often had pork and would hang it up to display it in front of their less fortunate neighbors. “Bringing home the bacon” meant you were doing pretty well for yourself. If you were in a sharing mood you would let some of the neighbors come over and partake, thus the expression, “chewing the fat”.
Dinner plates made of pewter were strictly for the rich but when food with high acid content were dished out on the pewter plates lead often entered the stomach causing illness. Since this happened the most often with tomatoes, which contain much acid, that fruit was dropped from the menu – for over 400 years.
Life of long ago was difficult and, thank goodness, things have changed since those days. We’re smarter, healthier and more able to take care of ourselves. Trivia from days gone by is intriguing, and sometimes, hysterical. Read more online by looking for “sixteenth century trivia” or “little known facts of the sixteenth century”.