Copyright
David Storrar Meldrum.

Home life in Holland online

. (page 15 of 31)
Online LibraryDavid Storrar MeldrumHome life in Holland → online text (page 15 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


His theory will develop itself as we proceed. In
regard to the dairy farms more particularly it tells us,
briefly, this.

The Frisian type is a building with low walls and
a high-pitched pyramidical roof, standing four-square to
all the winds that can blow so bitterly over the dike
upon the treeless meadows. You find it most pure
in Friesland and North Holland, and with different
modifications elsewhere (as in Zeeland, we have seen),
whither the Frisian race has wandered. No traveller in
Holland can have forgotten its beautiful, orderly lines.
I seem to remember it at its finest in a score of examples
on the way between Enkhuizen and Hoorn " The
Streek," par excellence, near by Blokker; their formality,
and perhaps an excessive neatness of surrounding and
appointment, relieved by the flushed grey in a summer
night of their irregular thatch.

I have mentioned them, while writing of them here,
to an old lady, who tells me she remembers spending
winter holidays in such a North-Holland farm, when a
girl, sixty years ago. She has recalled for me a long
deel, or threshing-floor, with a passage, kept perfectly
clean, down the centre, next a trench beside the stalls in
which stood the cows, with the calves and horses beyond,
Frisian fashion, heads to the outer wall.

On the opposite side were the box-beds of the
servants, of whom there were several. The owner was
one of the " warm " North-Holland boers. Yet the



198 HOME LIFE IN HOLLAND

family lived at the fore-end of the deel, with no partition
between them and the cattle ; it was to recuperate in the
warm fragrance of the byre that the sickly town child
was sent there. The " best " room was never used, the
front door never opened, all the exits and entrances were
made by the barn door at the other end.

My informant's description fixes the type developed
in a hay and cattle-rearing country, if we add to it, what,
after all, is its main feature hence the name of the
" hay-stack house " by which it is sometimes called ; the
storing of the hay and grain under the thatch of the roof,
steep-pitched for the purpose, which overarches all the
farmer's goods and gear.

That is one, and the more characteristic, type of
building in the cattle-rearing country. The other, in one
or other variety, is a modification, developed on the
grasslands, of the so-called Saxon farmhouse. Its chief
feature is the cabin, on account of which it is known as
the " halle " type. It is, in fact, one large cabin, the
centre of which is the barn, while a kind of pent-house on
either side, but under the same spread of roof, shelters
the cows and the calves and horses. Along these pent-
houses are side passages,' with entrances in the same
gable as that into the central threshing-floor. Some hay
and grain is stacked on the rafters ; but mainly the hay
is ricked outside, and cart-sheds and piggeries are
so many out-buildings, separate from the " halle " ;
thus presenting the chief contrast to the Frisian
type.

I have not seen examples of the pure Saxon boerdery ;
in which there is no partition from end to end of the
building, but the family occupy the vlet near the
hearth, practically on the deel, to which the heads of
the cattle are turned. In those I know, the living-rooms
and kitchen are more or less separated from the deel> at



ON THE MEADOWS 199

the end farthest from the door, and in some cases are
considerably extended, after the latest plan.

It is a day at a farm of this type at the heart of the
country in Utrecht Province that I wish to recall.
Its extent is some 75 acres. Kooi, the boer, does a little
horsebreeding, something is picked up from poultry, and
no inconsiderable profit made out of an increasing trade
in pigs. After Denmark and Prussia, Holland owns the
largest number of pigs per acre of any country in Europe.
All over it they are being reared for the German and
other foreign markets, which seemingly never fail them,
especially that of England for the tenderest porkers.
The price is good, and freight is cheap; a farmer
over at the Lek Dike quoted me some incredibly low
rates of carriage by steamer from Schoonhoven to
Rotterdam. In consequence, the condition and housing
of his varkens is becoming the farmer's concern and
pride. I have sometimes thought his children would be
envious of his sucking-pigs, did their native taste relish
abluent attentions. I met one man who washes his
porkers with antiseptic. This, of course, will not be
believed, any more than that I saw a Deventer boy
playing on the street with a tip-cat sewn in flannel. I
can only declare the literal truth of each experience.

On this 7 5 -acre farm there are twenty-three cows,
mostly of the black-spotted breed. This is fewer than
usual, as it happens. The number of heads on the mixed
farms here is considerably over one to every three acres.
On the meadows in the Schiedam district it may run to
three to every four, but that is exceptional. From the
milk of the twenty-three, Vrouw Kooi makes six cheeses
per day, seven days in the week, three morning and night.
The cheeses are full-cream, of the Gouda type, running a
little small, about 10 Ibs. a-piece. Kooi does not bring
them to market, but sells them on short contract to an



200 HOME LIFE IN HOLLAND

agent for an Amsterdam firm in the nearest town. He
is getting 3 1 cents per Holland lb., which is nearly five-
pence per pound English, and he is moderately cheerful.

The farm-building, as I have said, is of the Saxon
or " halle " type, but with several of the most recent
modifications. There is still standing, a little way off,
nearer the dike, the old building of the older model,
lower in the walls, with a handsome spread of oak roof,
with eaves coming close down to the ground. The
living-room in it, where Kooi tells me he was born, has
been partitioned off, you can see, from the deel and the
stalls, but the general plan is evident of the " halle," into
which cows and calves and horses turned their heads as
sharers with the humans of one shelter. Besides this
old schuur there are detached buildings : cart-sheds and
piggeries, and a hay-rick with its four stout oaken posts.
In one of the sheds, where stands also a Utrecht wagon,
built on ancient lines, a young stirk is stalled.

The living-rooms are in the front gable of the house,
facing the river dike, entrance being given to them by
a door in the long wall, leading into the vestibule which
separates house from deel. They are sleeping rooms at
most mine is the opkamer, over the butter cellar for
the household uses the near end of the deel for eating
and the midday slumber, practically the only indoor
occupations at this season. The Koois do not, like
some of their neighbours, use any of their outside build-
ings as a summer house. The cows have been out in
the fields since the middle of April this has been an
early spring, and fodder was scarce ; and the family have
the whole schuur to themselves.

Traces of their occupation are seen in scattered
children's garments, sabots, dishes, pots, plates, tins, and
bottles : the table for meals drawn up near the door
leading from the vestibule, with Kooi's chair close by.



ON THE MEADOWS 201

Vrouw Kooi makes her day's darg of cheese at the other
end, where the schuur and pent-house doors lead out into
the yard. " Clarty, but cosy."

Kooi is a rather small, clean-shaven, circumspect and
open man, Frankish in type, whose fathers have been
boers here for generations. His wife, watchful and silent,
came from Abcoude way, also of boer stock. They
have three children, two of whom go to the lower school
in the village, and have a healthy appetite for lekkers
(sweets). The third is a youngster of four. I saw him
asleep when I passed through one of the rooms this
morning early. He lay, perspiring, on a kind of child's-
cart close by the box-bed, tightly wrapped up over his
day-clothes. I do not know if many children are
swaddled in this manner now. The old Dutch custom
of rolling up the babes like .^Egyptian mummies, ex-
posing the head, which Dr. Smollett elaborately ex-
plained is the only part that ought to be confined, will
go out with the baker, a contemporary of Mrs. Sarah
Gamp. I cannot say I have noticed excessive bandy-
leggedness, or many cases of a hydrocephalus. But
certainly all Amsterdam street boys give one the
impression of suffering a reaction from some severe
restriction of their limbs at an earlier age.

For the rest, the household consists of a farm hand
(knecht) and a maid, the usual domestics on a farm of
this size. Only unmarried ploughmen live on the farms ;
the labourers, as required, are drawn from the village.
In this case Adriaan is a round-faced, smiling, rather
slack-looking youth, for whose services Kooi pays
15, 133. 8d. per year. He gets those of Grietje, the
maid, for fifteen guilders a year less, and with them a
bargain. His domestics, putting their keep at fl. 200
each, thus cost him from 60 to 70 per annum.

The morning is accompanied in by a fine drizzle of



202 HOME LIFE IN HOLLAND

rain, through which Kooi, the knecht, and the maid have
already made their several ways to the milking. It is
no especial virtue in me to follow them out, close upon
their heels, at the rising of the sun. Nine o'clock last
night found a household already " bedded " with the
dusk, and myself in my opkamer, possessed of only a
guttering dip against the coming night. Refreshed and
comfortable in my bed in the recess swung mattress,
sheets spotless, the cover-lid of red-rose such as appears
to mantle all slumbering Holland I watched the dawn
reveal the treasures of this " best room."

It came in through linen blinds, with a scalloped
border of lace inlay, falling three-quarters over the
window space and moving not up or down. In these
fixed blinds, immutably a quarter up, I discovered the
secret of that gaze of inevitable detachment which meets
you on the faces of Dutch boerderyen.

Coming in grey and sharp over the dike, the dawn
discloses a room of ordinary appointment, newish, solid,
inelegant furniture on a drugget over stained boards, an
epergne, a few small pieces of Workum ware, a framed
print of Queen Emma, and the latest portrait of the Babe.
It discloses also, by and bye, slowly, two fearsome coloured
cards of proverbs or spreekwoorden, the sole decorations
of the walls. I cannot keep my eyes off them up there.
They fascinate me like the dominees in their pulpits,
flanked by high pews in the spacious churches. I look
round unconsciously for the brisk deacon with the collec-
tion ladle to interrupt the monotony of their unctuous
gutturals. But only a Dutch nightingale sings in his
peaty depths. In booming couplets about Gezondheid
and Godsdienstigheid, their philosophy rolls over me
from these cards in the accents of a preacher of the
Doleerende kirk. I fly from it to the meadows where
Kooi and his milkers, according to their lights, reconcile



ON THE MEADOWS 203

the Antinomian doctrines of Geneva with a conviction
of the saving grace of good farming works.

I come upon Kooi himself across the road from the
plashing, tussocky meadows leading out from the home-
stead. The domestics must be in the fields farther off.
The cows in an acre or two here have been called into
a little enclosure alongside of the ditch. The little black
bent figure sits on his low stool in the rain, eyes intent
on the teats he manipulates, too absorbed in his work,
not yet waked enough perhaps, to do more than " good-
morning " me over his shoulder. Conversation must
wait until all the milk has been got in, and I have re-
turned from my first walk over to the dike, shaved,
redressed, feel six-o'clock-ish, and on terms with the
sun which has the good sense not to get up so
soon.

In that earlier drizzle I met no one on the road,
except a magpie that shot by me in among the willow-
plantation. Here and there in the meadows and boer-
deryen a figure was sighted : a knecht and a maid
" darting " milk with a bowl, transferring it, I don't
know why, from one pitcher to another ; a boer feeding
frisking calves ; two men in vivid white, masons in
Monday's moleskins, walking with (as it seemed in the
shimmering grey) long strides along the shore outside
the dike ; all with the large movements and stealthy
silences of the hour after dawn. I get with my walk a
faint sourness in my nostrils, which I attribute to the
butter and cheese industry that permeates the air. But
I think now that it was ferment from the decayed bark
of the willows, heaps of which lay in places on the road
behind the villages, where all day, in some back-yard
or garden, you can see the quick movement of stripping
for the basket-making, carried on by the old hand-
method.



204 HOME LIFE IN HOLLAND

When I got back, Grietje was coming down the
east side of the meadow yoked with her two full pitchers,
dirty and draggled with the work and the rain, all the
glamour of the dairy-maid evaporated on a wet morning,
4.30 by the clock. By five, Vrouw Kooi had already
commenced her prosaic but skilful labours, the art and
practice of which have come down to her through genera-
tions of South Holland cheese-makers.

Twice this forenoon, while we tramped about these
meadow-lands, an old picture of the seventeenth century
reappeared before our eyes in a wonderful perfection of
survival. In one of the most beautiful of their villages,
passing through the back ways and achter-huizen^ we
were arrested by a startlingly familiar scene : a yard,
with a woman and child in it caught in a lull of their
domestic duties, and, beyond, a gang, or passage, with
a figure silhouetted at the far end of it against the even,
placid sunshine that flowed in at its open door. It was
a Pieter de Hoogh, the " Courtyard of a House " in our
National Gallery in the life.

The other reincarnation was still more curiously
vivid, if less sensibly complete. Another friend and
myself called at a farm where the boer, a youngish,
frank, capable fellow, with the Dutchman's concentration
and patience, but also the poise many Dutchmen lack,
showed us some ingenious fruits of the agricultural
revival. When we went indoors the house also had
been renovated we sat down to talk at a table drawn
clear from the window, in a room that was modern in
its furnishing, and crude in its decoration the lithograph
of the Princess on the wall, for example yet lofty, and
singularly simple and distinguished in its general dis-
position.

There we were joined by the Vrouw. She was
under middle age, younger than her sallow com-



ON THE MEADOWS 205

plexion warranted, I fancy, tallish, spare, with refined
shoulders, and dressed with the simplicity and austere
fine line of early Victorian fashion. Her greeting, her
manner of seating herself at the table beside us, her
interpolations in the conversation flowing over local
affairs between my friend and the boer, all had the
accent of an extreme self-possession. She disappeared
for a few moments later, to re-enter bearing a coffee
tray. Still standing by the table, in the softened light
of forenoon shut out by half-lowered blinds, she turned
up the cups that stood inverted on the tray, dusting
them with her black apron, that somehow one guessed
was spotless, before sinking their transparency in the
bean-black liquid, and handling them delicately in her
long, fine fingers that matched their own fragility. I
watched, fascinated, her slow, beautiful movements, the
perfection of an animal, rather than of any artificial, refine-
ment ; and then I was aware that at the back of that
impression was the other Pieter de Hoogh at home, with
the transparent figure of the woman through whose
skirt the background tiles push forward, and that behind
that again was the whole range and spirit of the domestic
art of the seventeenth-century Dutchmen which survives
in a thousand such appearances of their country to-day.



CHAPTER XVII

IN THE FENS

I WISH the reader to imagine himself with me in a
" terp " village in Groningen. Already a very kind
and patient host has pointed out to us that the short way
from the station to the village is an ascent right up to
the church, with its narrowing Frisian tower, round which
the houses cluster. Walk past it, and the descent begins,
until at the last of the houses you are once again upon
the plain, with its fields no meadows more of barley
or rape. Continue round the hill, and you will see that
in one place men are cutting into it, great clay-covered
fellows digging and wading in a grey-brown ooze. From
the floor of the quarry the hillside, where they have
sliced it down, rises to a height of some twelve or fifteen
feet ; solid, even clay, except for a foot or two at the
bottom, in which you can distinguish, though faintly,
another texture of soil, and even (when guided to them)
traces of vegetation and human occupation.

Now our host will explain.

We are, you must know, on the old semi-submerged
edge of the land, looking out to the Groningen wadden.
Before any dike was built and that was a thousand years
ago the natives of these regions made themselves
" terps," mounds of clay dug from the surrounding
meadows, to which they betook themselves for safety

when the sea-floods threatened. The line of these

206



IN THE FENS 207

" terp " villages can be traced, following more or less that
of the innermost (and earliest) dike, their houses clustered
together, not straggling here and there, as in the later
dike-sheltered hamlets. Many puzzles lie in these ex-
cavations. Who were the inhabitants, earlier than the
" terps," who have left their traces at this thin, faint,
joining layer on which the clay rests ?

They had cattle, it appears, which is contrary to the
witness of ancient explorers : did they live here all the
year round ? or were they nomads ? And, again, those
young willows springing up on the floor of the quarry,
and not another willow to be found in the whole country
round : have the seeds lain dormant a thousand years,
waiting the light ? No one knows, and it is not to find
out that these spaders are digging into the secrets of a
thousand years. " Terps " clay, it has been discovered,
is precious, more fruitful far even than the fruitful
dalgrond of the fen-colonies, whither it is being
sent to grow potatoes to feed a gaping potato-meal
mill.

We follow the story (so far as it is written) when
later in the day our cicerone drives us from the " terps " to
the wadden, another of the countryside's sights. First
we cross the line of the earliest dike ; a few ruins of its
steep, inexpert construction remain visible. The way
is through fields of grain, with here and there a farm-
house, or hamlet, until we cross another dike. More
fields, and then a third dike, strong, massive, broad-based,
green-grown on the inner side. The Watcher, the
Dreamer, and the Sleeper, we may call them. The wide
fields between the outermost, the Watcher and the Dreamer,
are the reclamations of a hundred years ; and outside them
further reclamation is going on. We can walk out on
the quaking soil, beside the draining ditches running
north to the oozy margins flowing over on to hard sand.



208 HOME LIFE IN HOLLAND

Here also one day there will be green fields, pushed
forward under a new protecting dike towards the white
houses of the island of Rottumeroog, which are just
visible in the sun across the shifting wadden.

In this day's expeditions we have been in touch with
the two notable cultures of Groningen, if we take the
clay of the " terps " as connecting the arable north with
the fens of the east and south. The Groningen farm-
house may be said to approximate to the Frisian type in
construction rather than in appearance, for its general
principle is that of storing the forage and the grain under
the same roof as the stock and the humans on the farm.
But as the nature of the agriculture demands a greater
space, the building, unlike the " hay - stack house,"
stretches out longwise, and the in-roofing of the residence,
often shut off from the remainder of the structure by
iron doors, is scarcely more than nominal ; since, in fact,
the boerdery adapts itself to farming conditions, it varies
greatly with its location.

The one I have in view, with its really noble barn,
is yet not pure in type, for the living house has been
rebuilt ; and perhaps with its old aspect has gone much
that was characteristic in the lives of the inmates. Ten
years ago I could write of a Zeeland boerdery bearing
over the gateway a motto in Latin (the meaning of
which the farmer knew very well) ; and of its sitting-room
where there was a piano, from which all the musical
mechanism had been removed, so that the case might be
used as a cupboard. There was another still more hand-
some farmhouse I knew in the lowlands, where the
family used the kitchen only for a sitting-room, and slept
altogether in one bedroom. These things are to be
found still, but not so commonly as then among boers
with a large capital account. The scale of living, and
still more the elegance of life, are approximating them-



IN THE FENS 209

selves to the income and the fortune, and that betokens
a profound change.

It is one that is constantly startling societies, for
complacent classes, living in a consciousness of distinc-
tion among their neighbours, awaken to find that all that
gave themselves distinction can be bought; and though
their pride may be hurt, their honour in few cases impels
them to cultivate a nobler ideal than a large banking
account.

Among the boers, it is only perhaps those of Gronin-
gen who could suggest these speculations. They have
long enjoyed a repute that is no doubt justified by their
estate as practical owners and successful farmers. Their
farms are of more considerable size than in the other
Provinces, as the traveller's eye ranging the country can
tell. They hold them, too, on " beklemrecht," a kind of
perpetual feu, with " accidents " on the side of the tenant,
the death of the boer, or the bringing home of a bride,
which is peculiar to Groningen alone. This " beklem-
ming," it ought to be noted, with its provision against
sub-division, does not involve the reclaimed fields outside
the dike, which a great law-case many years ago decided
to belong to the farmers of the adjoining lands.

Like all Groningers they have hard heads, and their
great farming tradition is stated on an unusually fruitful
soil. It is no mere traveller's tale that the stiffish clay of
the Bollard has been growing crops for three hundred
years without manuring. Wheat, barley, oats, peas, barley,
clover, is the usual rotation, with two years' meadow, and
the cows kept are not necessary for the soil. Though
not all so rich as the Bollard, the whole north of the
Province is a fine land, growing wheat, barley, rape-seed,
flax, beans, peas, turnip, mangold, sugar-beet, mustard,
colza, clover as the general rotation. Such are some of
the conditions of the Groningen boer who has generally



210 HOME LIFE IN HOLLAND

been held up to, and consequently by, the stranger in
Holland as a beacon in the boerestand.

His class, the high price of farming land (which, and
not the low, is the danger ahead that the foreseeing fear)
may specially threaten. One does hear of members of it
leaving the farms to which they are linked by many
generations, and making their homes in the towns.

These are largely matters of hearsay. I will only
add to them that in my brief glimpse of a north
Groningen boerdery I was wonderfully carried back thirty
years, to others lying here and there behind the sea-
board towns of Scotland. The fields, if you could
forget the water boundaries here, were not dissimilar.
The desultory gardens within stone walls in both were
filled with the same grey yet kindly air. Despite
the altering touches of centuries of widening tradition,
the houses had not lost the aspect of the homes of a
kindred people : blond, grey-eyed, brainy, and without
artistry, blood - strangers both to the little boer on
the Lek or the woman out of Pieter de Hoogh's canvas.
The talk here ran on crops and the neighbours, and
a son in foreign parts, as for certain it would be in
Fifeshire. These big-boned lassies might have yoked the
gig for a Kincardine market. I knew lads like the sons
who whistled down the Eden water. The mistress a
little remoter, perhaps, than she I can think of across the
sea and the years, who yet wore the same aspect of
having sat long with Pain entertained us, it seemed to
me, with a little suffering, like one who knows as well



Online LibraryDavid Storrar MeldrumHome life in Holland → online text (page 15 of 31)