A middle-level peasant probably lived in a three-bay house, the commonest type, [with three areas separate but open to each other].… Dwellings commonly still lodged animals as well as human beings, but the [barn] was more often partitioned off and sometimes positioned at right angles to the living quarters.…

Interiors were lighted by a few windows, shuttered but unglazed, and by doors, often open during the daytime, through which children and animals wandered freely. Floors were of beaten earth covered with straw or rushes. In the center, a fire of wood or of peat … burned on a raised stone hearth, vented through a hole in the roof. Some hearths were crowned by hoods or funnels to channel the smoke to the makeshift chimney, which might be capped by a barrel with its ends knocked out. The atmosphere of the house was perpetually smoky from the fire burning all day as water, milk, or porridge simmered in pots on a trivet or in footed brass or iron kettles. At night a fire-cover, a large round ceramic lid with holes, could be put over the blaze.

Trials of Domestic Life

A thirteenth-century writer, contrasting the joys of a nun’s life with the trials of marriage, pictured the domestic crisis of a wife who hears her child scream and hastens into the house to find “the cat at the bacon and the dog at the hide. Her cake is burning on the [hearth] stone, and her calf is licking up the milk. The pot is boiling over into the fire, and the churl her husband is scolding. ”

Medieval sermons, too, yield a glimpse of peasant interiors: the hall “black with smoke,” the cat sitting by the fire and often singeing her fur, the floor strewn with green rushes and sweet flowers at Easter, or straw in winter. They picture the housewife at her cleaning: ...

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