Life in Brabant

Life in Tremelo in Brabant in the 1800s

Revised on October 23rd, 1999. Your comments would be appreciated!

    The lifestyle in rural Belgium as reflected in the working and living conditions at the turn of the 19th century in Flemish Brabant were all vastly different than are today. For example, the house in which Jozef De Veuster, who became the most famous citizen of Tremelo, Father Damiaan1, most likely grew up was one of the very few brick dwellings in this poor Campine ('Kempen') community. Such brick houses are near the center of the village, close by the church. The household in which Jozef De Veuster grew up also probably was more prosperous than the average in the region; his father was a farmer and grain dealer. A sign of the De Veuster family's affluence was that young Josef was sent to a residential monastery school in the village of  O.L.V. Waver, which lies about 15 km northwest of Tremelo, so he could lear 'proper' French. (O.L.V. = "Onze Lieve Vrouw" = Our Dear Lady = Mary, the mother of Jesus.)

   Meanwhile, Jozef's contemporaries from poorer families went to the local school but often had to stay home to help with the chores. Many often did not get to school at all, and generally did so only when work allowed. As a result, most went to school only in the winter. But many also attended a "Sunday school" organized by the local priest for teaching of the catechism, and some managed to learn to read while there. So no doubt the education received by such children from moderately poor families was not up the high standard offered in monastic and private schools. But how did the more severe generalized poverty affect the children's education

Clay houses!1a,2

   At the end of the 19th century ordinary people in the various hamlets away from central Tremelo lived almost exclusively in small clay-walled houses.
   A typical house was built in 1905 for Fiekes Jan (an itinerant mussel vendor living in Tremelo) in the following way:- Five to six wheelbarrow loads of clay ('leem') were dug from a local hill, the Baleberg. This was mixed with short lengths of straw and enough soil at the building site to yield twenty-five to thirty wheelbarrow loads of the basic clay-soil construction material. The mixture, reinforced with alder- and willow- branches, was used as the building material for the walls. This method of wall construction, wattle-and-daub3 (see picture below), had been in use since prehistoric days.

   The woods around Tremelo provided the alder- and willow -branches that reinforced the clay-soil-straw 'mortar' of the walls but larger pieces of wood for carpentry was obtained from Westmeerbeek, 15 kilometers away. A full cart load of top ends of oak, usually lopsided and crooked, was brought to the site where the house was to be built and straightened out there. Generally no flooring was to be installed and stone was needed only for the chimney. Thatching was the common roofing material.
  The prospective 'householder', with the help of friends and neighbours, would start work on a given Sunday on his new house. At the end of the day work was stopped for a week and resumed the next Sunday. By the end of that Sunday the little house was done and ready for occupancy. Only a few more elaborate
stone houses took longer to complete.
  André Deblaere, after viewing this page wrote that "his great-grand father Karel Deblaere and his wife had lived in a similar
little wattle-and-daub hut in the woods of Wingene. Such cottages were built in one night on the property of a local knight there who lived comfortably in his castle. They had to be built overnight so that, according to ancient rights, they could not be expropriated, i.e. the dwellers could not be driven off. But there's more to their story..."   

1A devoted priest who, almost all alone, changed the life and the faith of the lepers of Molokaï, Hawaii.
1a The description of the house construction in and around Tremelo at the turn of the 19th century were contributed by Roger Verhaegen <>. They were drawn from the book "Tremelore 1900" written by Rik Wouters, Kruisstraat 101, 3120 Tremelo, Belgium. Jan Van Looy, a native of Tremelo provided translations of the local dialect.
2 This house is in the open air museum at Bokrijk, province of Limburg, Belgium.
3 The photos of the house and of the wattle-and-daub construction is from  <> courtesy <>.

  The many other people who are contributing or have contributed, directly or indirectly, through their knowledge of Belgian history, genealogy and cultural matters to the development of this Web site include: Regine Brindle,Paul Callens,Etienne Elskens, Pierre & Leen Inghels, Bernard Lauwyck, Jean-Paul Leburton, Luc Matthijs, Georges Picavet, Jozef Smits, Sandra Vancauwenberghe, André Van de Sompel, Jos and Marie-Louise Van den berge, Edward Van Rengen, Jules Vanhaelemeesch, Frans Vandenbosch and Marc Verschooris. Their potential for making a contribution often first became apparent on <>. Frits C. Stevens kindly translated mamy passages from the original Nederlands and offered constructive criticism based on his knowledge of Belgium and the Belgians. Apologies are extended to those inadvertently omitted from the above group.

      Although those mentioned above, and others accidentally omitted, provided most of the content of this site, the overall objectives of this Website and all failings and errors are the sole responsility of Marcel Blanchaer and he invites you to send him your comments, corrections and suggestions.


See some of the stories Tremeloners told.