Under the peat

By Vesterålsmuseet

Melbu • Vesterålen

When Melbo Manor was built during the mid 19th century, the house was considered the largest wood house north of Trondheim. During most of the year the house had to be heated, and an ingenious system of pipes and tubes made it possible for all rooms to have its own heating stove. In the sparsely wooded area of Hadsel island, there wasn’t a lot of firewood available, so the household relied on peat as fuel for the stoves. In written sources, there is mention of either 100 000 or 250 000 slabs of peat of being produced in the area. The peat was cut using a shovel, and thrown out of the peat bank to dry. Each slab was then cut in 4-5 pieces. A quick calculation shows that somewhere between 500.000 and 1.000.000 pieces of peat were made each year.

Peat production was heavy and time consuming work that had to be done by hand. The men hoisted the peat out of the banks, while the women did the cutting and laid the peat out to dry across the moors. Most of the people involved in the production were smallholders, who were obligated to work 24 days per year on the farm that belonged to Melbo Manor. Traditionally, eight of these days were spent making peat. In return each smallholder were given a piece of land where they could live, grow potatoes and keep a few farm animals. Around the turn of the 19th century, Melbu Manor had 13 smallholders.

The expansive production of peat meant a large number of storage houses had to be built so the fuel could be kept dry. The peat was then brought to the Manor during winter, when it could be transported using horse and sleigh. Gradually, burning of peat was replaced by other energy sources, and after 1970 peat cutting is a very rare sight.

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