York Castle Museum

Moorland Cottage- The Period Rooms

The Moorland Cottage represents life on the North Yorkshire moors in the middle of the nineteenth century.


The family all lived in one room. They slept, cooked and ate here, and in colder weather or when it was raining they worked here too. The objects in the room tell us about the family’s everyday lives.


The women of the family used the spinning wheel to turn fleece from local sheep into yarn for knitting and weaving. They also sewed, recycling scraps of fabric and old clothes to make the quilt on the bed and the patchwork cushion on the chair.


The family kept bees. Near the front of the room, on the floor, is a domed basketlike structure called a bee skep, a type of beehive used in Yorkshire for over a thousand years. The wooden and metal box next to the skep is a honey press, and the white fabric bags on the table are honey strainers. Honey gave the family a tasty addition to their diet, and if they had any left over they could sell it.


Behind the bed is a folding screen. This could be put anywhere in the room to give some privacy, very useful when washing or getting dressed. The screen is decorated with decoupage, with pictures carefully cut out and glued onto the surface. Another decoupage item is the witch ball hanging in the window. Traditionally, witch balls are meant to repel evil forces, but by the middle of the nineteenth century many were used as ornaments. Decorating this witch ball would have taken a lot of skill – the hole is far too small to fit a hand inside, so the pieces of paper had to be positioned using tweezers or sticks.


The room has some everyday objects that most people don’t use any more. On the windowsill, the pottery vessel with the large round opening is a salt pig. Salt was essential for preserving and flavouring food, and coarse salt was great for scrubbing a table clean. The salt pig keeps the salt dry.


The family kept their clothes in the drawers to the left, beside the bed. On top of the chest of drawers is a linen press, which was used to store cloth nice and flat. Linen is a hardwearing textile that a family like this would use for things like underwear and bedsheets. The glass object on the press is a linen smoother; it could be used on its own to get the creases out of clothes, or alongside a flat-iron.


Like most families, they have hand-me-downs as well as things they’ve made or bought new. The bed dates from the seventeenth century, and the clock to the left of the fireplace is from the eighteenth century – so is the doll which sits on the child’s chair on the floor in front of the bed.


Although they aren’t rich, this family isn’t poor either. They can afford a few ornaments, like the ceramic dogs that sit on the fireplace, and they have a nice rabbit to cook hanging from a rafter.


If you’ve enjoyed this description or found it useful, please let us know. If you’d like to know more about our Period Rooms, our Visitor Experience Team Members would be glad to talk with you.