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David Storrar Meldrum.

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in naming his house to-day, showing exactly how much,
chiefly of comfort, it means for him. His are not the
regrets of an exile, such as carry our own suburban
householder back with some longing to his childhood,
when he names one house of a row in a Brixton or
Stoke Newington street " Tiverton," " Dunkeld," " Killie-



14 HOME LIFE IN HOLLAND

crankie." The Dutchman will be comfortable without a
pang in his Lust en Rust (Rust is a great word in
Holland), Buiten Zorg (" Without Care "), Myn Genoegen
(" My Joy "), or some ascription (as Holcroft said, noting
the same custom a hundred years ago) that might
characterise the Vale of Tempe or the Garden of Eden.
I dare say it is largely because it was the custom a
hundred years ago that he follows it now. Yet he can
vary it to suit the circumstance. I have found him in a
London suburb at the address not known in Holland,
Twist Niet (" Do not quarrel ! "), a tribute maybe to the
more strenuous air of England.

Indoors also one is sometimes curiously reminded of
the house of two or three hundred years ago. I can
remember two cases at least where this is so.

The first, in an ancient town, is the width of the
front room and the vestibule upon which one enters from
the street ; flanked on both sides by other houses, from
which very thick walls separate it. From the vestibule
the narrower gang, floored with marble, and the walls
whitewashed, runs through its whole depth to the
garden ; past a bedroom, the inner courtyard, the kitchen,
and another public room, with a door into each. The
front room (yoorkamer}, which has windows on the street,
and the bedroom behind, which looks out into the court-
yard, compose the " front-house " of old. The old " back-
house " is represented now in the kitchen (looking and
giving upon the courtyard) and the parlour (kuiskamtr)
behind. There are windows as well as the door in the
gang towards the courtyard.

Access to the second storey is gained by a stair
between kitchen and parlour. This storey and another
above it contain bedrooms ; and higher up is the attic
(zolder), itself surmounted by still another, the uttering.
These double garrets, often spacious and massive, are



DUTCH INTERIORS 15

reminders of the days when the merchant citizens stored
their goods in their houses. There is a room in many
town dwellings known as the opkamer, because you
ascend to it by one or two steps. The construction is
explained when you remember that the opkamer in the
farmhouses, the " best " room, seldom or never entered
or used, is raised a few steps, because situated above the
milk cellar.

The voorkamer is the reception-room ; the huiskamer
is the real living-room and (in the absence of a separate
eetkamer} the dining-room as well.

This is a type of hundreds of houses in Holland
to-day, old, of course, and found chiefly in the older
towns.

The second house I am thinking of is more ancient,
much larger, and therefore particular. It is, in fact, the
old town house of a great family, and dates back to the
sixteenth century. To adapt it to the use of two
families, the ancient cellars and turrets have been closed
up ; but the ground floor, which alone I know, preserves
the model described above, with a gang running from
street-door to garden, past the voorkamer^ an alcove, a
bedroom, an enormous zaal, a passage leading to kitchens
at the side and another bedroom beyond. What a time
we had to wait, listening to the approaching footsteps of
old Doortje, pattering down that long hall, before she
gave us entrance ! In the salle was a four-poster,
curtained with yellow damask, which looked, I re-
member, like a tent in a desert. And on the curtains,
where you must handle them to part them in getting in
and out of bed, the careful housekeeper, I remember
also, had sewn a strip of crochet.

The likeness in general plan of present-day houses
to those of the Little Masters need not be pressed too
far. How the comparatively new house, with its voor-



1 6 HOME LIFE IN HOLLAND

kamer and huiskamer en suite, its hall still faithful to
whitewash if not to marble, its little consulting-room
(spreekkamer) which might be a comptoorke, the loftiness of
its living-rooms, to which (on a narrow site) are sacrificed
ease and elegance in the staircases, how far this has
been developed from the old model, and the evolution
does not seem difficult to trace, is less to our purpose
than the fact that it is the uniform type throughout
Holland now. Granted difference of scale, all Holland,
all middle-class Holland, at any rate, is lodged much
in the same manner; though probably it is rather the
limited range of estate in Holland that calls for remark.

Even in the so-called bovenhuis, built into endless
dreary blocks in the cities, the straitness and precipitous-
ness of whose stairs (with ropes for opening the street
doors from above, and draw-baskets by which to send up
your wares or calling-cards from below) would make life
intolerable to an English household, the model is followed
as far as may be. This bovenhuis t above a shop, or
above another dwelling, or benedenhuis (in which case
the two dovetail in the restricted space with the in-
genuity of a Chinese puzzle), is the nearest approach in
Holland to our flat, and is occupied by families of all
conditions. A bachelor acquaintance of mine in one of
the large cities pays for his bovenhuis over a shop the
same rent as another in London is charged for his small
flat in Piccadilly.

The high price of land and heavy communal
taxes explain, no doubt, the constancy to this type of
town house, which contrasts with the vagaries in
taste, of the owners or their architects, displayed in the
most modern country villas. Many of these, large and
sumptuous, frequently " Art-y " and frequently not very
beautiful, are the homes of the city class for whom the
name of " Forenzen " has been coined. As early as the



DUTCH INTERIORS 17

seventeenth century, long before op centen or surcharges
on taxes were invented, the Dutch began to build them-
selves comfortable retreats for the villegiature. Some of
these, buitenplaatsen, as they were called, remain,
square, a little formal, with spacious rooms, yet with a
careless overflow into surrounding gardens, on the Vecht
and the waterings of the Rhine. Like the chateaux of
the Eastern provinces, the moated mansions of Overyssel,
for example, with their ample provision for the reception
of guests in an isolated countryside, they sometimes
discover recesses and passages and porches and other
relics of a more ancient construction.

The uniformity in the plan of Dutch houses, to which
I have referred, is noticeable in their furnishing also.
Though that is more mobile at the direction of the
occupant's taste, there are many conditions still tending
to conserve it in the old fashion. The increased ex-
penditure on furniture, it is true, is one of the signs of the
present times remarked by Dutch economists and statis-
ticians ; but how constant, until recently, were Dutch
households, and how constant are the majority of them
even now, to the inherited furnishings and treasures,
among which the parent doves ensconsed themselves
when first they made their nests !

Some of these nests are imposing edifices, some are
tiny structures. Some are built out in the open, others
against the grey faces of the towns. From among them
there has been left on my memory a composite impression
of the Dutch middle-class house, which I propose that we
explore now, in a leisurely manner, passing from one phase
of it to another, in a search for the essence of the whole.

Perhaps there is a stoep. The stoep is not only
the single or double flight of steps leading to the landing
outside the front door, but also the strip of street flanking
the house, usually raised a step or two, of blue granite,



1 8 HOME LIFE IN HOLLAND

or railed off with granite posts and an iron bar or chain.
That is why, especially on the older grachts and streets,
one has so much difficulty in finding and keeping to a
pavement Op de stoepen te loopen to jump in and out
of the stoeps in front of the windows is a temptation
against which well-bred Dutch children are admonished.
I can remember, nevertheless, how some of them, as well
as the raggamuffins in one town used to invade that of a
cantankerous old lady, who kept her groom with a whip
behind her door ready to chase them off.

In place of a pavement a narrow strip of yellow
bricks the kleine steentjes, the " small stones " is found
running along the level of the street, and this, when
walking with a lady, you always reserve for her. The
natives keep naturally to the " small stones " (though
these are not sacred from hand-carts or any vehicle :
what part of a Dutch street is ?), and they tell me they
can generally determine the foreigner by his betaking
himself to the crown of the caus'ay in his irate impatience
of the inequalities of the stoeps. In earlier times the
citizen was fined if he failed to preserve in cleanliness
the street, quay, and even the bridge in front of his
stoep ; so that for hundreds of years, night and morning,
there have no doubt been in progress those purifying
activities which still entertain foreign eyes in Dutch
thoroughfares.

The leisure that was passed on the stoep (where
occasionally still a bench or garden-seat is placed invit-
ingly) is now enjoyed under the verandas, which cling to
the houses on whatever wall they can, after the manner
of the Indies, whence, like their name, they come. To
that extent, life, at least in the towns, is lived less in the
view of the neighbours. In the country, however, and
in summer, only the lattice of the verandas screens some
of its intimate hours from the public gaze, the family



DUTCH INTERIORS 19

reunion at the after-dinner tea-drinking, for example,
the tea-lights (thee-lichtjes) star the countryside like glow-
worms in the summer twilight or the little gathering of
friends invited to a " bowl."

This " bowl " is simple cup of Rhine wine, flavoured
with woodruff here called " straw from the bed of Our
Lady " and sociably poured and shared round the table
in the open air. Perhaps a ben or basket of fruit has
arrived as a present from a Betuwe orchard, and a
youthful company summoned to a feast agree to " eat
for the last cherry." In this diversion you eat cherry
by cherry in turn from the heaped-up dish, the penalty
for having the last one fall to your share being the cost
of some little treat, a cycling-party tea at an inn in the
woods or dune fringes, or a run down the canal in your
motor yacht. Such are the simple, homely pleasures
that variegate life in Holland.

Under the stoep in an old town house such as I am
imagining, a door gives entrance to a half-basement.
Here is the butler's room, from which he looks out upon
the street, a little under the level of his eye. The lower
hall is marble, or tiled. Off it are the kitchen quarters,
and farther back is a room where the family dine en
famille. Giving upon the garden, this room is often
known as the tuinkamer.

A Rotterdam house, of the same social estate, but
newer, in which I have sometimes enjoyed hospitality,
is of another construction. The drive leads to a low
ground floor with the domestic offices, and from it a
broad staircase mounts to a suite of lofty living rooms
an ante-room and a large drawing-room, with sliding
doors giving entrance to a spacious dining-room, and
windows looking out upon the river side of the city.
One of these windows leads out into a balcony, from
which a stair descends to the garden.



20 HOME LIFE IN HOLLAND

I am writing as if it exists still as it was many years
ago, when we used to be received in it : since then our
entertainers, at least, have gone down among the " dusty
dead," and doubtless many common customs have be-
come uncommon. We dined, dining well, at an early
hour, before going on to the opera, where Madame had
a box. Dressed in black, not d/colletie she kept no
maid, but each morning a hairdresser from the town
came in to dress her hair our hostess looked the type
of robust Dutch comfortableness. There was about her
what the Scots call a " bein air," which her polished,
massive surroundings reflected ; she had in her face the
blended dignity and knowingness of Elizabeth Bas,
aristocrat, or rather patrician of burgher womanhood,
as she sat in the heavily-panelled and curtained dining-
room with a young company around her. At her foot
under the table, I remember, was a bell for summoning
the servants, who did not remain in the room during
the courses I think that conversation might flow more
intimately.

This youthful company was interesting, because it
was very special old Rotterdam. I do not recollect
observing (though it was noticeable in other classes)
the loudness of dress, but there was sometimes unmis-
takable the accent, which the rest of Holland, in
disconsideration of this city, imputes to all its natives.
The Dutch pay ourselves the compliment of calling it
an English town. The ground of this discrimination, I
gather, is not so much its wealth as the manner of
amassing wealth, and less the amassing it by trade than
the unabashed pride in trade itself. Distinctions between
Piet Plank and Piet Zeep were readily accepted by
wood merchant and soap boiler themselves ; and one of
them had proudly incorporated a wheelbarrow in his coat
of arms, to commemorate the lowly round in which his



DUTCH INTERIORS 21

family first trundled to fortune. This foundation on the
bare half-crown, it seems, is the English manner. We
are a nation of " men from Sheffield." How various is
our national repute abroad !

There has been an English colony in Rotterdam
ever since the passing of the Navigation Acts made it
profitable for British shipowners and traders to establish
themselves there. Mr. Peregrine Pickle, it will be re-
membered, was invited to meet a large company of his
countrymen at Rotterdam, of all ranks and degrees, from
the merchant to the periwig-maker's 'prentice. Their
numbers are greatly diminished now, but English words
and phrases have crept into the town's everyday parlance.

" Hebje lucifers, Mina ? " " O ! ja, ^>\&nty,juffrouw"
This conversation I once overheard between a Rotter-
dam young lady and her maid. And from the adven-
tures of " Boefje," the Wee Macgreegor (with a differ-
ence) for whom M. Brusse has achieved popularity, I
gather that the Rotterdam raggamuffin decorates his
debased speech with occasional English, "'t vagevuur
was hem te heet an ze boddie " : Boefje opined that hell
would be too hot for his " body."

But let us get back to the house with the stoep and
seek admittance by the front door, on or beside which,
by the way, the name of the occupier and the number of
the house are generally neatly displayed. It used to be
a half-door, which is still not uncommon. In most new
houses, as in many of the old, the street doors have a
grille or rooster, protecting a glass panel, which in
summer is kept open, letting in air and light and a
glimpse of what is passing in the world outside. When
you make a call after nightfall, dropping in to drink tea
in the friendly fashion of the country, you are sighted
through the rooster by the housemaid before she admits
you with a kind of family smile.



22 HOME LIFE IN HOLLAND

A constant object in the hall, which attracts the
stranger's eye, is the fonteintje, with spotless towel
looped on a nail beside it. This " little fountain " is
merely a marble or earthenware hand-basin and reser-
voir, which has come into general use in a country
where water, so plentiful everywhere outside the house,
was seldom led within it. It is comparatively seldom
led into it now. Half the population of Holland is
still without a central water supply. The habit of
copious personal ablutions has not been achieved. Few
Dutch households possess a bathroom yet, and where
there is a bathroom it does not always contain a bath.
To install one is by many regarded as faddy. The
lodgings of some student friends of mine who did so
had considerable, and I believe a profitable, notoriety
as " the rooms with the bath." On the other hand, I
know of a modern house with bathroom and bath un-
used, because the occupier, a medical doctor, jibs at the
expense of bath-fittings. Decidedly there is as yet no
Dutch verb tubben.

Arriving some months ago at a late hour at a hotel
starred " first-class " in one of the largest cities, I found
it full ; all the inns in town were in the same case
strangers had arrived in crowds for a special occasion
and I was glad to sleep in a bed made up in the sample-
room. Over night I ordered a bath, and the morning
saw me punctually escorted through the labyrinth of the
building to the distant corridor where, I was assured,
" it " awaited. There was evidently only one " it," to
be spoken of with the temporising respect due to a dis-
considered institution which looks as if it may assert its
usefulness after all.

Our progress, which on the part of my attendant
maid seemed remarkably like one of discovery, was
followed by the surprised glances of the charwomen



DUTCH INTERIORS 23

brushing and swabbing in the halls and passages. The
chamber I was ultimately ushered into could only be
described as a bathroom, though as such it left much to
be desired. I discovered, before I left it, more bath than
room. The door did not shut ; the bolt was broken, the
key had been lost. A chair, over the back of which
hung a magnificent bath-towel (with the initials of the
hostess daintily sewn in red cotton), had been imported
from a neighbouring bedroom. The only other furniture
was a German-made, unenamelled bath, which leaked ;
a douche that never ceased to drip, yet could not be
persuaded to come on in greater force ; and a most
daintily turned apparatus for suspending clothes, which
was of the dimensions and strength of a pipe-rack.
Accommodation for disrobing and robing again there
was none. The bath, as I say, leaked. The floor of
the room had been metal-lined, evidently with a pre-
vision of inundation ; and on this floor, thus converted
into a kind of ante-bath, was laid an open gangway,
which failed to keep one's feet out of the water that
lipped up over it with a noisome scum of metal.

I shut the door by propping the chair against it, and
had my bath ; but dressed adventurously, all the points
of my garments persisting in dipping in the rising flood.
The adventure, I may say, was not charged in the bill :
I do not doubt it was an unheard of item.

So much for the significance of the fair fonteintje
fixed on the white wall. For the rest, the hall calls for
no remark. It is simply furnished. A strip of carpet,
the looper, runs its full length. There are a few mats,
seldom many rugs ; the doors off it have wooden thres-
holds to keep out of the rooms the draught that sweeps
across the polished marble. Here and there perhaps a
picture or print relieves its gleaming bareness, and some-
where a wag-at-the-wall ticks out the time.



CHAPTER III
DUTCH INTERIORS (continued']

r^HE run of the house being our privilege, we will go
J. down the short staircase to the kitchen. Our intru-
sion will not be resented. A maid in my house of memories
seems to make herself one of the family and the family
to make her one of themselves, without either, as the
strange saying is, " forgetting their place." The mistress's
housewifely pride communicates itself to her domestic
helps, and if Mevrouw has an evident pleasure in show-
ing the stranger a Dutch kitchen, Dientje and Truitje
and Myntje share and show the pleasure as well.

It is a vision of whitewash and white tile and well-
scrubbed woodwork, and innumerable sparkling surfaces
of copper, tin, and brass. The male eye is caught by
the bright brass balls in which terminate the handles of
the great double-pump, that discharges spring- and rain-
water at choice through its large brass nozzles, and by
the deep fireplace and a high projecting mantelpiece
with a violet-coloured valance that recall some Jan
Steen.

Mevrouw at my elbow touches in the details of the
picture: on the walls the poffertjespan and glazenspuit
(whose uses will appear later), and bed-warmer and the
soup-skimmer (how large the family pot must have been
in olden days, and how excellently would this great
skimmer roast chestnuts !) ; the brass pails on the cup-



DUTCH INTERIORS 25

board ; on the mantelpiece, amid an orderly medley of
tins, a pestle and mortar of brass, and the wooden coffee-
mill with its brass top. I remember being shown in the
same way in a Groningen farmhouse the ancient dogs
and firearms belonging to past generations of boers, and
the dairying utensils of yesterday, just gone out of use
with the coming in of the creameries ; all laid away, and
brought out again on occasion to be handled with a half-
amused pride and reverence. This care and curiosity for
things simply old accounts partly for these furnishings of
the Dutch kitchen, but still more, I fancy, they hang
there to trap brightness for existence under a sky that
in the winter months, except during the ice festival, is
sombre and leaden.

Here is the great peat bin. And here is a small box,
with compartments, for cleansing-sands, red and white,
of varying grit. There is no dresser rack, the aanrecht,
which partly fills its place, being a low fixed cupboard
near the pump, with a top for culinary services. The
dinner and other ware is found in a closed cupboard in
the wall, or displayed behind the glass door of an
armoire. The kitchener is broad, with a central opening
(fitted with loose rings) and other smaller ones to take
the round-bottomed pots, all with double-ear handles.
The mantelshelf projects a little over the bustling cook.
Above it (this in the country) show the beams of the
ceiling with suspended hams. There is a pervasive
flavour of Drente peat.

The mention of peat recalls one of its uses which I
have witnessed in this kitchen. A layer of it is spread
upon the flags, and on this is set the hazenpan, a tin
vessel shaped somewhat like the body of the hare which
has been placed in it for cooking. After that, glowing
peat is piled up over the pan, and under this slow fire,
with constant basting, the hare is done to a turn. That



26 HOME LIFE IN HOLLAND

operation vanishes, and by a trick of association another
takes its place in memory in the same scene. It is the
end of summer, when the white-runners are in season,
and a thousand or more have arrived to order from the
greengrocer. The hand-mill is placed on the kitchen
table, and from it is spread a white tablecloth falling
into the blue basket or mand. One maid feeds the mill,
the other turning the handle. Thus merrily are sliced the
snyboontjes for the winter's pickling.

Bright and neat and of course clean their kitchen is,
but it scarcely provides comforts (in our sense) for its
occupants. Perhaps I ought to say elegancies, for com-
forts to their own taste it undoubtedly does afford. It
has sometimes seemed to me that I could hear the Dutch
maids purr as they sat in these kitchens, their feet on the
foot-stove with glowing peat, turning the coffee-mill in
their lap, or peeling potatoes from the shallow, green
wooden dish.

There is no carpet ; only a loose wooden platform,
on which stands the table, and another in front of the
aanrecht keep the feet off the flags. No vase of flowers
decorates the table. The chairs are straight-backed.
There is the same absence of little elegancies in the
servants' sleeping-rooms, boarded off under the roof of
the attic. Mevrouw (who knows how English domestics
are housed) assures me that the easy-chair is not desired
by her servants, and is not appreciated by those of her
neighbours who are indulged with it. " Indulged " is
her own word : she is of the old school, never herself
lounges in an arm-chair, and has no patience with modern
ideas about equality of conditions. Yet in some respects
she treats her aids in the kitchen with a friendliness, and
a familiarity even, on which no mistress among us could
venture without it being presumed upon. They have
the dignity and self-respect of their class. She and they



DUTCH INTERIORS 27

are so sure of their respective places ! Dutch society is
constructed so.

And this reminds me of " the juffrouw," a newcomer
much in evidence to-day, who occupies a position some-
where between the kitchen and the family quarters to
which we are now returning. The name is given to
those who fill the posts of our " lady housekeeper " and



Online LibraryDavid Storrar MeldrumHome life in Holland → online text (page 2 of 31)