Saturday, 28 November 2009

Shutting the stable door . . .

Illustration is of the stable doors fronting the dwellings at Stack Square, Blaenavon.

We have a couple of "stable doors" in this house - one down into mum's rooms, and one to the outside from the "back place" - a sort of utility/junk area off the kitchen. I like the idea of having the top half open in the summer, to let the air flow and because it reminds me of a stable (these horsey genes of mine have a lot to answer for . . .)

In "olden days" though, stable doors - known in Cornwall as being "hepse" doors - took on a whole new meaning, as this extract from Cornish Homes and Customs by A K Hamilton Jenkin shows:

"The doors of the cottages at this date (early 1800s or thereabouts) were mostly of the 'hepse' variety, being divided across the middle into two sections. The upper half was generally kept open so as to admit light and air to the living-room, whilst the lower half was shut in order t keep in the children and to keep out the fowls and pigs. Failure to observe this precaution resulted on occasion in ghastly consequences.

"Last week,"
states a newspaper correspondent, 'the mother of an infant child in Gwinear went to fetch water, leaving the baby alone in the cradle. Whilst she was out, a pig entered the house and so dreadfully ate the head and shoulders of the helpless infant that it expired within a few minutes after the mother's return." (Cornwall Gazette, 30 July 1803). Mrs Pascoe, in her Walks About St Hilary, records a similar incident. In this case, however, the pig merely ate the child's hands. Strange to relate, the father, on hearing of the accident, received the news with joy, exxclaiming: 'The boy is a gentleman for life, the parish must look after him!' 'For the greater part of the year,' adds Mrs Pascoe, 'the child was subsequently exhibited at fairs and markets, and at coach windows, the mother neglecting her other children for this new source of revenue.'


  1. Oh my goodness! How gruesome is that?! (Note to self: must make sure to keep kitchen door shut, in case of attack by raptor-like chickens!!). Really interesting stuff BB - I would love to have a stable door to replace our old back door, it would be just perfect in the summer.

    Willow x

  2. Good grief! The horrors of life for the rural poor.....A far cry from the romantic Victorian painting of a farming family having tea around the kitchen table, while a well-loved old grey horse looks in over the half door and is rewarded with tit bits. Do you know the painting I mean BB?

  3. What amazed me was the family who practically blessed the pig for giving their son a future career as a beggar!