Title   Hael turf (Search for the image)
Translated title Hauling Peat
Intro Text by dr D. Barnes, accompanying Bramer’s drawing of a peat porter (`turfdrager’) and a peat seller (`turfverkoopster’)

Code of occupational group 97125
Description At the edge of a canal, a woman is selling peat from a large wooden barrel. In the background, a boy in a boat pulled up to the canal's edge passes pieces of peat/turf to the woman. Behind the boy, gabled roofs of city buildings can be seen. In the foreground, a man walks away from the woman. He carries a large, heavy basket of peat on his sturdy back and shoulders.

Peat was a major fuel source for both industries and domestic use in the Netherlands during the 17th century. Peat was removed from riverbanks when canals were dug linking one town with another. As watery swamps and bogs were drained to create polders of land used for dwellings, pastures, and farmlands, peat on top of the clay soil was cut either by turfcutters wearing special footgear who walked across the turf cutting it into rectangular pieces, which were then dug out with a shovel, or by men leaning out of small flat-bottomed boats working with cutting tools in the water.

Cut peat was spread on reed mats; then mixed with water and mashed to a uniform consistency; the mixture's water was allowed to drain through the mats and then the residue was cut into uniformly sized rectangular blocks or turves. The turves were dried by the air and sun; stacked; and then shipped along inland waterways to be sold as fuel for domestic and industrial use. *

Brewers in Delft and other towns used large quantities of peat in the production of beer. Peat was also used in Delft to fire kilns in the pottery industry. The haulers of peat had their own gild, and the shield of their gild depicted men with baskets much like Bramer's.

Peat entered Delft from the southern part of the Netherlands, on barges entering through the "Rotterdamse poort", and was sold in the "Brabantse" turf-market by "tonsters", women li- censed to sell this commodity. Much peat used in other Dutch cities came from peat bogs in Groningen and Drenthe in the northeastern part of the country. In a country with little wood available for fuel, peat was indispensable. As a fuel, peat gave off a distinctive aroma when burned, and had a recognizable scent in the market place, too.

Artistic representations of various facets of the turf/peat industry can be seen in the following: a print of turf-cutters (Atlas -van Stolk #1027); Claes Jansz. Visseher's drawing "Het Winnen van Turf" in the University of Leiden Prentenkabinet; Reiner Noom's etchings of "turf-pots" or "turf- schips", the vessels used for shipping peat from one port city to another, (Bartsch, Weigel, Dutuit
85); and in Adriaen van de Venne's 1626 album of drawings prepared for the Stadholder Frederick Henry with three folios illustrating the turf industry (folios 56-58).** Van de Venne included drawings of a flat-bottomed boat bearing a man digging peat; peat cutting and drying by a canal; and a woman selling peat.

The burning of peat in domestic fireplaces can be seen in many interiors. In William Duyster's
1632 "Interior Night Scene", men with large ruffed collars are warming themselves by a peat fire and a peat basket is prominently displayed (Philadelphia Museum of Art). In Cornelis de Man's "Gold Weigher", a young man with his back to the viewer places chunks of peat into the fireplace after removing them from a storage basket much like the one Bramer's peat-hauler carries. (The painting is in a private collection in Montreal.) Pieter de Hooch's "The Fireside" also known as "Woman and Serving Woman at a Hearth" (North Carolina Museum of Art) depicts a neatly laid turf fire blazing on the hearth with a supply of turves stored in a nearby wicker basket.

Source Donna R. Barnes, Ed D, Street scenes, Leonard Bramer's drawings of seventeenth-century daily life (Hofstra Museum exhibition 1991). Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York.

Click here for the introductory essay on Bramer's drawings.

  • 1 See Audrey M. Lambert, The Making of the Dutch Landscape: A Historical Geography of the Netherlands, 1971.
  • See Martin Royalton-Kisch's discussion in the facsimile publication of Van de Venne's album now in the collection of the British Museum, Adriaen van de Venne's Album, 1988.

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