Here are some facts about the 1500’s and probably earlier!

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and they still smelled pretty good by June.. However, since they were starting to smell, brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, Then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!”

Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying, “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings Could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That’s how canopy beds came into existence.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, “Dirt poor.” The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery. In the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on the floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, It would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Hence: a thresh hold.

Talking of doors..’dead as a door nail’…Before the days of the electric or mechanical doorbells, anyone coming to your house just had to pound a metal knocker that was nailed to the front door.  Sometimes it took a lot of heavy smacks to get attention.  This meant that the nails holding this metal plate on the door got a lot of wear, eventually having the life pounded out of it and it fell out.  Today anything that is totally withered or a failed project or situation that is hopeless is considered to be as dead as a doornail.

Alternate origin: Nails were in short supply and high demand in colonial times. People would go out in the night and steal the nails from their neighbors doors. To prevent this from happening, the ends of the nails inside, were bent and hammered down to prevent them from being pulled out, from the outside. The nail was said to be dead and the act was deadening the nail. It could not be removed and all other uses were of that nail were eliminated….i.e. the nail was dead.

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers. In the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme: “Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.” Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special.

When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, “bring home the bacon.” They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and chew the fat.

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes,so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.


In Saxon times drinkers used large communal drinking vessels with each measure marked by a peg. The drinker was only supposed to drink down to the peg and pass the bowl onto the neighbour. If they drank more and went past the peg their fellow drinkers were annoyed. Hence the saying “to take someone down a peg”.

Churches brewed there own beer and held ‘ale’ celebrations (beer festivals). Parishioners helped the church fund by donating their home brews called ‘Scot Ales’. Some of them kept their brews to themselves. Hence “getting away scot free”.

‘On the House’ “The drinks are on the house!” We all have heard this in a bar.  The origin actually comes from British pubs, where the owner would invite their customers to taste their stock (pubs made their own beer back then.) Their hope was to give them a desire to have more and create sales. Today, anything that is given free (whether by a business or a person) is said to be “on the house.”

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the upper crust. 

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom; “holding a wake.”

England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be, “saved by the bell” or was “considered a dead ringer.”

A “Windfall” originated when the colonie’s where young, the British deemed any tree weak enough to be blown over by wind was not worthy of shipbuilding, the landowner was allowed to keep it and use it for themselves. Great fortune for house repairs, furniture building, firewood, etc. 

And that’s the truth. Now, whoever said history was boring!!!



2 responses to “Sayings”

  1. Maggi Simpson says :

    Hi I’m a direct descendent of Harriet Hadley and David Waterhouse. Let me know if I can help in any way, or if you have any missing information we can collaborate on. Thanks Maggi Simpson (Nee Waterhouse)

    • oldburyhadley says :

      Hiya sorry for the late respond. If you have any information that you may wish to share and is of interest to Oldbury please do. Can you please home me in as to where you are on the 1901 and 1911 census.

      If you look at the “Hall of Hadleys” you may be connected to the john Hadley murder with Andrew. Waterhouse. If you have any more info about this it would be brill

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