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.

The stabbur would typically consist of one or two floors – and was elevated from the ground – standing on what could be described as stilts or pillars – made of wood or stone. Often, these pillars would be shaped in a certain way – or have 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.

The stabbur comes in many shapes and sizes. For the most part, it is instantly recognisable.

What kind of food was stored in the stabbur?

As the stabbur would not be entirely protected against frost in the winter, the food stored here 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 salt, barrels of pork in brine, and smoked or salted meat often were stored on the ground floor. The unground grain was usually kept 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. A house filled to the brim with all the food that the farm could provide. They were ready for the long winter ahead. Among other things, there was plenty of butter and cheese, brought down from the summer dairy farm in the mountains.

Lock and key

As one of the few on the old farm, the stabbur door was usually equipped with a sturdy lock. The key was carried by the mistress of the farm – as a symbol of her position.

The Gulating law

The stabbur is mentioned as early as in the 900s, in the Gulating law. The stabbur was one of three buildings that a tenant farmer would have to make sure was in top shape, whenever ending his tenancy. The other two houses were the residential farmhouse and the wash house (eldhuset or bryggerhuset).

The Gulating law also said that if you came across a man in your stabbur – someone who had stolen from you – then you could strike him dead if you so wished. 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 was mainly there for practical purposes – but for some, it also had an element of prestige.

The bell was used to call the land-workers back home for food and rest – and sometimes to mark that the midday rest was over.

The following interesting pattern – showing how the bell was used – comes from the farm Holstad in Ås, Akershus, Norway. It says a lot about the daily rhythm on the farms in earlier times.

The working day would generally begin at 06:00. The first bell of the day would be at 08.00 when it called the workers back in for breakfast. The bell 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.

Recommended read: The old Norwegian farm – the tradition of summer pasture

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.