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History Index : Estate Life in the 18th Century
Houses of the Tenants
The houses of the poorer folk were usually very simple and built of rough stones packed with earth or clay. In the very primitive houses the walls were about six feet high and the roof constructed of wooden supports fitted to posts built into the walls. The supports were overlaid with branches covered with thin turf laid instead of tiles, which in turn was covered with heather or thatch. The roof reached to within a few feet of the ground and the windows were very small so it would have been quite dark inside.
The 'Lum' or chimney was a wooden box let into the roof and open at both ends to allow the smoke from the peat fire to escape. Most houses consisted of a but and a ben, a front and a back room, which must have been quite cramped as all the many daily household tasks such as baking, milking, butter- and ale-making, and spinning would have been centred in these two rooms. In some households these rooms were also the only space available for the families who were employed as wage earners in the cottage industries such as in the preparation of flax, weaving or knitting. The floor of the houses were earthen and the furniture sparse consisting of items such as the box bed, a table, a few chairs or stools and a long bench or 'deece'.
The size of the houses and furniture within them of course varied depending on the wealth and social status of the occupants. The school master and the bailiff, or ground officer to Sir Archibald, who were among the most important people in the community, occupied much larger and grander houses in the village than those of the ordinary folk. The first bailiff was Moses Morgan and his house on the right hand side of the church comprised of a living room with a fireplace and a stand bed (a bed with posts), a pantry with two stand beds, a chamber with the best bed, and an inner chamber or box-room. This was certainly a much more substantial house than the others in the village.
Food and Drink
Oatmeal was a staple ingredient in the Scots diet and used to make porridge, brose, oatcakes and bannocks and sowen. There were milk- and water-porridge and a variety of broses; beef-brose, kale-brose, milk-brose. For ordinary brose the meal was put into a wooden cup with salt, covered with boiling water and stirred with a spurtle or horn to a knotty consistency.
These were also eaten by the Grant family at Monymusk House, although to a lesser extent than the ordinary Monymusk folk. In England, bread made from wheat had become popular and the Grant family were also influenced by this trend, which was gradually spreading to Scotland.
Wheaten bread was lighter in colour and more palatable, although of the same nutritional value, but to people who were used to the bulk of oat or rye bread as in Scotland, it did not satisfy the hunger. Therefore the habit did not catch on so quickly among the masses and the transition was slow. In addition, wheat did not grow as well in Scotland's colder climate and harsher conditions, so it wasn't until agricultural methods were improved during the middle of the Century, that wheat became more widely cultivated.
An indispensable kitchen item was the 'griddle', which was used to make the oatcakes, and the 'sowen bowie' for making 'sowens' was a wooden tub in which the inner husks of oats were soaked in luke-warm water and left there for a week until quite sour, then put through a sieve. The strained liquid stood for a further two days and then the clear liquid on the surface was poured off leaving a sediment. This sediment was thinned out with water, boiled for ten minutes, when salt was added, and the resulting porridge was served with milk. 'Sowens' could also be used with warm water as a nourishing drink.
Ale was brewed from local barley, and was the chief drink of the country people. It was even drunk at breakfast time and out on the fields, although it was much weaker than today. The Grant family also drank ale and they had their own brewer and brew house, but they also drank fine wines from France and Spain, and other spirits such brandy and rum. In 1736 the largest item of household expense was for wines and spirits, so heavy drinking and lavish hospitality was certainly practised at Monymusk House, as was the custom of the time.
Tea was a drink which caught on fairly quickly during the course of the Century. It had been known in England since the 1660s, but was a rare and expensive drink at the time. Tea was certainly drunk at Monymusk House, as an inventory of items in 1721 included a fine china tea-set.
Tea-drinking was associated with refined social habits influenced by the complicated tea-ceremonies of the East, and it provided a way for ladies to entertain friends informally. There was however some opposition to tea-drinking amongst the local population, as it was seen as another foreign product replacing a local one and some also felt that it was a product which reinforced a false and artificial social habit. It was also an expensive habit that only the wealthy could afford although it did become very popular and replaced ale as the beverage of choice.
In another inventory made at Monymusk House ten years later, items for tea drinking appeared on a list of 'breakfast items', which suggests that tea-drinking had become a well-established habit and was no longer merely a ceremonial affair.
An advantage of tea drinking was that the water had to be boiled and meant that any germs in the water were killed, and as a result, the people suffered fewer infections from contaminated water supplies.
Soup was the most common dish among the ordinary people, and could be made of bear or barley, which would first be beaten to remove the husks and known as knockit bear. Cockie-leekie soup was also popular and made by boiling the bones of a cock and adding leeks or kale. These two vegetables were the chief vegetables in the diet and the only source of Vitamin C. A greater variety of vegetables including potatoes were not grown until much later, so scurvy was a common disease until improved farming increased the supply of vegetables. Meat was not commonly eaten either, there was a lot of cheese and butter in their diet. Most people would have kept hens and geese for eggs, but much of the fowl and eggs had to be paid over to the landlord in part payment of the rent. The cattle that they kept would also have been taken to market to be sold in November time as this trade was one of their chief sources of income. Before the introduction of the new crops such as the turnip, which was grown as a winter fodder for the cattle, most beasts could not survive the winter and were therefore sold or slaughtered before the cold spell.
Most of the food eaten in Monymusk House was produced locally on the Mains or Home Farm, grown in the walled kitchen garden or came from the tenants in the form of produce rent, whereby each tenant's lease would detail how much produce should be given to the landlord: chickens, geese, eggs, meal, barley, etc. Meals in Monymusk House therefore consisted of more meat and fowl than the ordinary folk were used to. Heavy meals had been the norm for well-to-do families since the previous Century, and dinner was often a lavish affair and an opportunity to entertain guests. A great many varieties of vegetable were grown in the kitchen garden, which were mostly used in salads and soups.
Fruits such as gooseberries, currants, pears, apples and strawberries were also grown in the kitchen garden and served as a dessert in the form of stewed fruit, pies and tarts. The growing use of fruit in the diet increased the need for sugar in cooking, and the sugar trade became very important in the 18th Century. Spices were also used extensively in cooking, as they had been since the 15th Century, when they became a useful way of adding flavour to a monotonous diet. They were also good at masking the taste of rancid foods that had been stored for many months. Vegetables were preserved in soured milk, which today we would find very distasteful.
Clothing and Dress
Wool and linen yarn were also produced locally on the Home Farm and accepted by the landlord in part payment for rent. Local spinners were employed to make the yarn, which would then have been woven into cloth by the tenant women. The finer yarn was made into bed and table linen, while the poorer yarn was woven into clothes for servants, or used for sacking. These home-produced materials were used to make some of the clothes for the upper and middle classes, but their extravagant tastes called for fabrics from abroad.
Since the 15th and 16th Centuries, the expansion in commerce had encouraged people to follow fashion in order to define their status and wealth. The style of dress of the upper classes was often ostentatious and elaborate and Sir Archibald's wardrobe was no exception. There is an account given in the Monymusk Papers, detailing the variety of materials required to produce such a fashionable wardrobe. This included lace and fine linen from Holland, which was a centre of excellence at the time, fustians, muslins and calico from India, and buttons and buckles from Birmingham.
The servants at the house of Monymusk wore clothes in the same style as that of the family, although their clothes would not have been made from such fine materials.
The ordinary country folk would most likely have worn the plaid, a garment made of tartan cloth worn loosely around the waist and over the shoulders, or the belted kilt, which was made with less material and was more tailored than the plaid. These were made out of locally produced wool and linen, but even the country folk became influenced by those higher up the social scale.
By the second half of the 18th Century the plaid was very rarely worn at all, except by old folk who were attached to the old modes of dress and instead most people would have been wearing cotton instead of linen and finer woollens instead of the rough homespun. There were calls from the 'Buy Scottish Campaign': encouraging people to buy materials of Scottish manufacture rather than from abroad. Although this did have temporary success, the fashions had changed and the young people no longer wanted to be seen in such an out-dated garment as the plaid. By the end of the eighteenth Century the silk or velvet cloak and bonnet had become the norm for the young women, and the young men would be seen in English broad cloths, fashionable cotton stripes and fine linen.
Tartans, bagpipes and Episcopalianism having been outlawed immediately after the 1745 Uprising were allowed back half a century or so later. Much of the myth surrounding Scottish culture is difficult to prove, for example there appear to be two versions of which shoulder a Scottish woman should wear her sash on.
According to modern theory, women married to the head of a clan, their daughters or the wives of British Army officers should wear their sash on the right shoulder and everyone else should wear them on the left shoulder. This would seem to be based on an English class system quite different to the thinking behind the Scottish Clan system. The other version is that married women should wear their sash on their left shoulder and unmarried ones on their right, which would seem to be a much more primitive and realistic reasoning as in a Clan based society. This small painting of Anne Grant is interesting in that she was the daughter of a minor branch of the Grant Clan, she is clearly wearing her sash on her right shoulder. As this was painted in the 1840s it is surely most likely she is showing she is unmarried, rather than pretending to be someone she isn't.
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Sunday, February 1st 2015
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