A storage house
Like all buildings found on the traditional Norwegian farm, the stabbur had a clear purpose: it was a building designed for the storage of food. Sometimes, people also used it for the storage of precious clothing.
Like most Norwegian buildings it was made of wood – using the old log cabin technique.
The storehouse comes in many shapes and sizes. For the most part, it is instantly recognisable. Some of the existing buildings are very old – and some are beautifully crafted.
The stabbur would typically consist of one or two floors – and was elevated from the ground – standing on stilts or pillars – made of wood or stone. They would be shaped in a certain way – often with a wide stone slate on top – preventing mice and other rodents from finding their way in. For the same reason, there would be a gap between the outside stairs – and the building itself.
Filled for a long, dark and cold winter
Every autumn, the storehouse was filled to the brim, with food for a long – dark – and cold winter.
The stabbur had no fireplace, so the food stored there had to tolerate low temperatures. More often than not there would be no windows in the stabbur walls. This was to make sure that it was as cool as possible during the summer – and not too cold during the winter.
If the building had two floors, then flour and flatbread – butter and cheese – and dried, smoked or salted meat and fish – were often stored on the ground floor. The unground grain often on the top floor.
Through his novels, the author Jacob Breda Bull paints images of nature and daily life in the old farming communities. In his book Eline Vangen – set in Rendalen in Østerdalen – he writes about the farmer, Trond, walking through his stabbur one autumn day. The storehouse was filled to the brim with all the food that the farm could provide. They were ready for the long winter ahead.
Lock and key
The storehouse door was often the only one with a lock. The mistress of the farm was the keeper of the key – a sign of her undisputed status.
The old Viking laws
The stabbur is mentioned as early as in the 900s, in the Gulating law. The stabbur was one of three buildings a tenant farmer had to make sure was in top shape, whenever ending his tenancy. The other two were the residential farmhouse and the cook and wash house (eldhuset or bryggerhuset).
The lawmakers were very clear on one specific point: should you come across a man – in your storehouse – someone who had stolen from you – then you could strike him dead on the spot. A brutal entry, emphasising people’s need and right to protect their vital food supply.
The bell tower
Finding a bell tower at the top of the stabbur roof was not typical for all parts of Norway – but you would see them in many places. More so on the larger farms of the community. The bell had a practical purpose – but also an element of prestige. The bell was used to call the land-workers for food and rest.
The following daily pattern comes from the farm Holstad in Ås, Akershus, Norway. It says a lot about the work rhythm on the farms in earlier times.
The working day would begin at 06:00. The first bell of the day would be at 08.00 when it called the workers back in for breakfast after they had been tending to the domestic animals. It also tolled at 11.30 for dinner – and then again between 13.00 to 13.30, arousing the workers from their midday rest. Later it called them home for some food at 16:00 – and then lastly to mark the end of the working day at 19.00.
The bell was usually only used during spring, summer and autumn. For many, the first sound of the bell was a cherished sign of spring.
Maybe one day
The old storehouse can be found on a large number of farms, even today – now often empty reminders of the past.
The use of the buildings dramatically changed after the Second World War. Then electricity and modern appliances found their way into the old world.
Who knows, maybe one day the storehouse will reclaim its age-old status, and once again play a vital role, in the life of the Norwegians.
Read more about Norwegian history in Norwegian folk tales | The Black Death
See historical photos in Norwegian history photos | the stave churches
Main sources: “Vår gamle bondekultur 1” by Kristoffer Visted and Hilmar Stigum – J.W.Cappelens Forlag 1971, | “Matklokka” by Andreas Ropeid – Norsk etnologisk gransking, 1985. | “Eline Vangen” by Jacob Breda Bull – Gyldendal Norsk Forlag 1937. | wikipedia.org.
Main photo: The stabbur at Søre Mykstu (Veslemykstu) farm, Rollag, Buskerud. | Photo: Mahlum – wikimedia.org – Public domain.