The Cotters, who were they?
A permanent estate worker, whose salary was paid partly in kind, was called a cotter. The cotter
system started in the 18th century and existed for approximately two hundred years. When the large
farms made the transition from cereal-growing to animal production, there was a greater demand for
herdsmen and milkers. During the cotter period the number of married wage-earners increased. It was
often a requirement for the man's job, that the wife should work too. The cotter system reached its
peak at the end of the 19th century. At the turn of the century, it was estimated that there were
100.000 cotters in our country. If you count those with families, there were approximately 500.000
receiving a cotters salary.
The cotter system developed in the area around Mälaren. Soon it spread to the flat countryside of
southern Sweden, mainly in Västergötland, Östergötland, Skåne and Kalmar län. The cotters in
Småland worked only on the large farms and estates.
The cotters allowance was laid down in "cotters lists", which varied from district to
district. As a comparison, with other workers salaries, it was found that the cotters were the worst
paid working group in our country.
There was always accomodation provided with the cotters salary. This usually consisted of a room and
a kitchen. It was only in exceptional cases that flats had two rooms and a kitchen. In the cotter
districts there were specially built cotter houses. During the 19th century these houses contained
from four up to a dozen flats.
The Hungry Week
One thing in particular which characterized the cotter life was that they were often moving.
Removals took place yearly during the so called "Hungry Week" between the 24th October
and the 1st November. According to a survey carried out in Uppland at the end of the 1920's, moved 25% of
the cotters to new places of work. There have been many speculations about the reasons for the
cotters frequent remavals. Difference in wage levels was one reason for changing work. The main
priority, was for sufficient living quarters. Many families looked for farms where only a few other
cotters lived. Another reason for the removals, was that because the cotter families lived so
closely beside each other, it was easy for irritations to arise so part of the reason was due to
personal circumstances. Trouble could arise between a cotter in one side and the landlord on the
other side. The only thing the cotter could do, was to "hold his head up high and show his
pride". That meant leaving his job and moving to employment elsewhere.
The cotters at Huseby
Huseby is one of the Småland estates, which employed cotters. The cotter system ended in 1945. At
that time, there were fifteen cotters working there. The cotter families at Huseby lived in mixed
accomodation with the other workers at the mill. The frequency of the cotter removals at Huseby, was
low. With this knowledge, one can conclude that those who lived and worked here had good living and
Huseby Cotter Museum
The top floor of the so called "saw-building", from the beginning consisted of two
two-roomed flats with a shared kitchen. When this big kitchen was divided into two, each half became
quite small. The kitchen could no longer be used for something else, other than for cooking food or a dining
area. It has a cooker with the inscription "Huseby nr 3" on it. On the drier above the
cooker, gloves, stockings and children's garments are hanging to dry. On the walls there are plain
shelves, containing weighing scales, a coffee grinder, pestle and mortar, and some storage jars
stand upright. Above the dining table there is the obligatory fly-catcher. The washing-up and small
washing was carried out at the green table. The large pantry was used as a general storage place as
well as for food storage for the whole household. The chamber was the family's bedroom. Four
children slept in the bed. The mother and father slept on the sofa. The chamber was heated by a
stove made at Huseby Bruk. The furniture in the drawing room was often bought at auctions, and marked by the
repeated removals. The sofa was used both as a sitting. and a sleeping place. It was also possible
to sleep in the pullout armchair. A writing desk was not usually one of the cotters possessions.
However, it was a treasurer for a Friendly society who lived in this flat and he ran his office at a
similar writing place. In one corner there is an old Singer sewing machine, which played an
important part in the family's life. In the drawing room there is also a preserved hob. Hobs have
been made at Huseby Bruk for more than two hundred years.
[to the Cotter Museum in swedish]