This interesting document was written by Eliska Schoenfeld and distributed at a Czech workshop in St. Paul, Minnestoa in September of 1990.
Life in Bohemia in the 1800s
Our ancestors may not have had cash money, but life for many was pleasant.
Some years food was scarce but for most families who lived in farm villages there was enough to eat. Potatoes were planted in Bohemia from America beginning about 1770. Crops included rye, barley, wheat.
Many villages had a large dated gate, usually stucco, that carts and people went through. Gates were often attached to two buildings such as the city hall, a house or a barn. Houses hugged the ground and local craftsmen often traveled to other villages for new ideas in architecture. Villagers often built around a large pond used for geese, ducks, water and mainly to put out fires which could ravish not only the village but the surrounding farm fields and the forests.
Maria Theresa outlawed wooden houses and people turned to rock and stucco over rock with tile roofs but many still had wood eaves and wood roofs for another century.
Several outdoor museums show life in the 1800s with buildings still existing from the 1600s on.
While some houses had dirt floors, baked tile and large wood plank floors became common. Wood was plentiful and used for bowls, furniture, cheese makers, shoes, spinning wheels, grain holders, milk churns, even in the glass business to hold molten glass — so strong was beech wood. Food and water bins for the cattle were made of wood plus farm wagons, implements and machines. Even cranks and gears of the huge wells were wooden. Iron, brass and copper were also used for utensils.
Other wooden items were coffee mills, rolling pins, nutmeg graters, meat tenderizers to pound, flour and sugar scoops. Furniture was often handmade, but mayors and merchants ordered hardwood furniture, often walnut from traveling merchants. Local pine furniture was heavy, thick, with heart motifs carved out in the backs of chairs which had splayed legs. Holes in the shapes of hearts often were at ends of tables, under the tops. Carvings were added to window openings inside doors and some homes were decorated with what we associate with “gingerbread”.
Our ancestors were artistic. Special white clay in various areas in Western and Southern Bohemia led our people to specialize in kitchen pottery, beautifully and colorfully decorated under glaze. Flower motifs were prized. Men and women loved handsomely embroidered clothes, often with hearts and flowers. Each village had its own style and colors of clothing. A woman worked on her embroidered linen and wool wedding dress for several years. She wore it to other weddings, special church functions throughout her life, and then, often was buried in it.
Women wove tablecloths and during the warm months often had a bouquet of wild flowers on the table. They dried flowers to make wall decorations for the winter. Most houses had a vegetable garden with its own fence. Keeping rabbits out of farmsteads and crops was a problem. Like in America today, deer came down from the mountains in the winter looking for food.
Inside doors were often painted with bouquets of flowers, as were chests and wardrobes, used for clothing storage.
Villages often had a dove cote because doves were valued for food, as was hare, deer, bear, elk. The lord who owned the villages hired game wardens to prevent our people from poaching their land but many enjoyed the challenge of poaching from the lord – and from land owned by the bishops. Bishops and lords vied to have the most land and the most control.
Education was valued and from the 1400s, many Bohemians could read. They were taught their native Czech by women who valued their native tongue even when it became outlawed. In the 1800s, many of the elite spoke German. This thirst for knowledge among adults led to the formation of many clubs where they studied poetry, read from newspapers from major European cities, often outdated, discussed their views on politics, religion and their various biases. Any group of people not like themselves were disliked and often included Jews, Poles, Russ, Austrians and Hungarians, English.
The belfry was important because it not only called people to church, it announced fires, deaths and births. The size of the village church depended on the size of the village, with some very little, seating only 10 people. Small churches were used during the week but most traveled to a larger village to worship on Sunday.
Log houses were prized in the 1600s, with logs squared off and white chinking even with the flat edge of the log. Houses were placed on rock foundations. Homes often had grass or thatched roofs. For several hundred years, double windows kept out the cold – one window was level with the inside of the log home with the other level with the outside wall. Between these two windows, flowers bloomed in pots during winter. Often villages shared a smokehouse for meat, a drying cabin for herbs, a large covered well and the water from the nearby river.
Plain brown pottery was prized and used for animal and family use. Some of these were two feet high, others had a metallic glaze. Now more than 100 years old, they are seen in many museums. I was given an elaborate cake mold on my last trip. Most homes had a food scale, hand carved presses for cookies in the shapes of pretty girls, religious motifs, and animals. Even wooden butter molds were used with the lamb of God an importanat mold for butter.
The kitchen was the most important room because the large oven was located here. However, utensils, foods and grains and various milk items were kept in another room. The parents’ small bed was located in the kitchen. It was smaller than the size of today’s twin bed and I measured my shoulders in one. Two small people could barely lie side by side. Adults would have to cuddle in these beds. Imagine the possibilities — the reason why couples had so many children. Large carved cradles stood by the parents’ bed. Children sometimes slept on the floor in the kitchen, but sometimes in the loft or crowded in other bedrooms. Often the husband’s parents lived with them.
Throughout the years, God’s Corner was very important. Usually located above the kitchen table it included a crucifix plus glass paintings with religious pictures purchased at pilgrimages. Everyone tried to go on a nearby pilgrimage once a year with certain sites hoped-for once in a lifetime. The End.