So, I thought we could learn about what it might have been like to be a child in the 1590’s.
During the first ten years of Johns life Elizabeth 1 is still the reigning monarch, but I wonder if John ever knew that! In 1599 A number of Shakespears plays are performed for the first time including Much A Do About Nothing, and Oliver Cromwell is born.
It’s very interesting to me that some children’s games that we know and grew up with were being played by our ancestors hundreds of years ago. Until the age of 5 or 6 years John would have played hide and seek, tag, and ring around a rosy with his friends and siblings, just as we did as children, just as our own children have done. I fancy that if I had been John’s mother, and was living in a one or two bedroom home, tending to the garden and cooking over an open fire, that I would have taken a great deal of joy in sending the children outside to play tag or hide and seek in the surrounding country side. And really – how many hiding places could there be in a dwelling so small? I can almost hear the children’s voices and laughter tumbling through the tree’s and fields as they chase madly after one another. Other pastimes would have included swimming and fishing – pastimes well known to all children throughout the ages.
John and his siblings were probably bare footed in warmer weather although in the winter snow they may have had the luxury of a pair of plain leather shoes, rounded at the toes and laced up the front. Our John would have been dressed in a scaled down version of male adult clothing and this would have consisted of breeches, an over shirt with long sleeves and a doublet (fitted jacket/vest).
From an early age John would have had to work to help his family. As the child of a peasant there was most likely no chance of any formal education and so at the age of just 6 years or so John would have worked alongside his father in the fields or tending to the animals. Whether that was for themselves, or for someone else as tenant farmers is unknown. It is well documented though that during this period unemployment was high and roughly 50% of the population lived with barely enough food, clothing or shelter.
During the late 1590’s crops failed and food was in short supply so John’s diet would have been very plain. Breakfast would have consisted of bread made from rye or barley, some cheese and some onions. There was most likely only one cooked meal which would have consisted of water mixed with some type of grain, vegetables that were grown in their garden, and perhaps some strips of meat if the family could afford them. Just maybe the children caught a fish now and again. No chance of a croissant here!
John was actually lucky to reach the age of 6 years, as there was an extremely high mortality rate for infants and children. There were no vaccinations so of course childhood diseases such as measles and mumps were killers, as were dysentery, scarlet fever and whooping cough, small pox and pneumonia. One tenth of all children born died before their 1st birthday and a further 30% of children died before reaching the age of 15 years. Accidents were also a cause of death during this period and drowning was the most reported cause of death in children under 5 years, while accidents such as being trampled by horses and receiving cracked skulls from being dropped by older siblings were also recorded. No matter what the accident or illness the children were treated by their mothers with herbal remedies and often in highly unsanitary conditions.
The Church and worship played a huge roll in the lives of our ancestor’s living in Heathfield in England. The church where John, his sibling and parents, attended services was most likely the All Saints Church which was originally built in the 13th century and has a large churchyard. Because of the family’s peasant background they probably stood toward the back of the church during services looking toward the front of the church, which now displays a beautiful stained glass window. Only the wealthy were actually able to sit to listen to services. Our family would have faithfully worshipped and would have had a real fear, as did most people of this period, of going to hell should they not live a god fearing life.
There is no headstone in the adjoining graveyard for anyone with the name of Fuller, although that does not mean that ancestors have not been burried there.
It was our good fortune that John Fuller not only survived his childhood but went on to marry and have five children of his own, and we will learn more about that next time.