10 Facts About the Conditions and Customs of the Middle Ages

1. Pigs had the run of the city

Pigs had the freedom of the city in London.

Pigs had the freedom of the city in London.

In London, pigs owned by the Hospitaliers of London were allowed to roam the streets freely.

2. The barber’s pole used to literally be blood and bandages

Blood and bandages - the origin of the barber's pole.

Blood and bandages – the origin of the barber’s pole.

Many barbers were also part-time surgeons. They would hang bloodied bandages on poles which would twist in the wind to create the spiral pattern. Think on that next time you go for a hair cut.

3. England used to be bear country

If you go down to the woods today...

If you go down to the woods today…

Taking a walk could bring you into contact with a angry brown bear. However, these died out some time in the 11th Century.

4. The lords ate well

Roast Swan was often on the menu for Lords and Ladies.

Roast Swan was often on the menu for Lords and Ladies.

If a lord really wanted to impress his guests he’d come up with something like wild boar or even roast swan

5. People had a strange way of telling the time

The day was divided up into seven hours which varied in length according to the season. A summer hour, for example, was much longer than a winter hour.

6. Shops were pretty basic

A shop tended to be a shack which was open to a street. Signs didn’t help much as most people couldn’t read, so instead there were models showing the craftsman’s trade.

7. Getting into the right school was important

If people are worried about getting into the right school now, so too were peasants. Secure a church education for your child and the sky was the limit. Peasants could easily become influential noblemen themselves with the right kind of schooling.

8. Marriage was simple

Marriage was simple until the church got involved.

Marriage was simple until the church got involved.

Getting married used to be very simple. All you needed was to recite a few lines in front of a witness and that was that. It could happen in the street, in a field, tavern or even in a hedge. Things only changed once the Church decided that it should be the gatekeeper of all things to do with love and happiness.

9. The Middle Ages gave us universities

Oxford University which dates its time back to the middle ages.

Oxford University which dates its time back to the middle ages.

Our finest establishments such as Oxford date back to the Middle Ages. Back then they were violent places and there were rules forbidding students from carrying bows.

10. Old bread could get you high

Most people had to eat what they could grow, and when the wheat ran out they had to make do with old rye. This could go off and sometimes had qualities similar to LSD. However, in extreme cases it could lead to death.

Tom is a freelance journalist who studied history at Essex University. His work can be found in many different publications focusing on business and politics.