Thursday, November 5, 2020

What Does a Cottager do all Day?

Living in Georgian England was very different from our life today in modern times. Imagine not having electricity, heating or fresh running water. These three things make modern life comfortable, but to a cottager who had none of these, life was busy from the moment they arose in the morning until they retired to their beds in the evening.

Water is all important for bathing, cleaning and laundry. Larger houses had their own wells but cottagers visited the public well to draw their water; a laborious task. Keep in mind one person can carry two buckets of water at a time but these two buckets are not enough to get through the day. Once you have filled your kettle, cooked and washed up your dishes with these two buckets of water, you would most likely have to return to the well. Laundry would be washed in large copper tubs, boiled and then hung to dry requiring several more trips to the well, but before you could even begin doing your laundry, you must make your own soap. It was tiring work and those who could afford it would enlist the help of the local char woman. The weather dictated when you may do your laundry and rainy spells that lasted for more than a week were a frustrating setback indeed. Many did not have tubs for personal bathing and were limited to a bowl and pitcher for their toilette, however, should you own a tub to bathe in, it would require a lot of water to fill and so a nice long soak was not something one indulged in more than once a week and on those occasions each in turn in the household would often bathe in the same water.

Cottagers as well as those who lived in larger houses would have kitchen gardens in which their vegetables were grown. Every inch of garden would be utilised, front and back. Flowers were a luxury and often the only place left for them to grow was close to or in vines on the cottage. Things were eaten in season and also preserved for winter when the garden was not producing. Vegetables were salted, kept in root cellars or pickles and chutneys were made. Fruit was dealt with in the same manner and all of these tasks took time. It’s safe to say that a good portion of your week was spent in your garden sowing, weeding or harvesting. The garden also had to be nourished and “put to bed” in colder months, ready for the spring sowing.

Not everyone was able to visit the market or the shops for their groceries; many kept chickens for eggs and meat, pigs whose meat may be smoked or dry cured and put by, their diet was also supplemented with rabbits that were brought in by the men. Because the woodland was owned by the estate, hunting in the wood for deer, or game birds was not permissible, and poachers were severely dealt with. Chickens and pigs must be fed and kept in good living areas which meant cleaning the chicken coops, keeping fences in good repair to deter the fox and maintaining pig sties was also added to the list of your daily chores.

Cooking was done over a fire or small stoves and was fuelled by wood. Coal did not become readily available for household use until the Industrial Revolution. In order to cook, one must have wood to stoke the fire that entailed sourcing, chopping and stacking wood. This is time consuming work for those not lucky enough to have the funds to purchase wood from the local woodsman. Wood was also required for warmth, making it doubly important. Small cottages had one fireplace in the common area. When one retired to bed, the sheets may be warmed with a bed warmer or hot stones wrapped in cloths as there was no fireplace in the bedroom. Extra bedclothes were put on the bed and often siblings would share beds for warmth.

Your cooking was all done from scratch and this included the making of your own butter and bread. One did not have the convenience of looking in the refrigerator for dinner, meals were made from the things you preserved or harvested and were made each day as there was no way to keep food fresh. Herbs were grown and dried to add flavour to meals, but cottage fare was generally simple, consisting of things such as porridge, soups or stews.

The clothes you wore were most often made yourself. Nothing was wasted, clothes were handed down when they could be and repurposed when they could not. When they were too shabby to wear, they were used as rags for cleaning.

In addition to all of these daily chores, cottagers usually had what were known as cottage industries. Basket weaving, sewing and dressmaking, taking in laundry as a char woman, carpentry, making pins or nails ( hence the term pin money,) spinning and weaving or fattening up geese for the festive season were just a few of the ways a cottager may earn money. Some form of income was needed to purchase those things which you could not easily make such as candles and shoes which were very necessary.

All of this is very daunting and tiring work, but it was complimented by community. People helped one another, for example, some banded together to buy a pig to fatten to benefit several families. When someone was ill, others pitched in and helped. Skills were shared and things bartered for when there was no money to buy them. Quilting bees meant many hands produced a quilt in much less time. The Baker often allowed the villagers to put their Sunday roasts in the ovens while they were still hot, once the bread had been made. The tuck box went from house to house and items for the poor which were sewn, filled the box allowing the vicar to distribute these much appreciated things to those in need. Living in a village meant everyone looked after one another, something which is sadly missed today.

The day of a cottager was often filled with many tasks; routines were often employed to ensure time was being used efficiently so there may be leisure time also to meet with friends and family and attend church. Children would be given chores to do, girls being taught at a young age to sew to help with mending and the making of clothes. Boys would source wood, tend animals and help in the garden. Everyone had their part to play and together they endeavoured to keep house and live as comfortably as they could manage.

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