Gulden Buggenhout

This page revised Oct 31st, 1999. Your comments and suggestions would be appreciated.

Buggenhout, like Kalken, is another village in East Flanders for
which details of its 19th century history are available.

The town of Buggenhout is in East Flanders, about 30 km east of Gent and situated near the borders of the provinces of East Flanders, Flemish Brabant and Antwerp. The name 'Buggenhout' comes from 'Bucken' and 'holt'. 'Bucken' means 'beech' ('beuk' in Flemish) and 'hout' means 'wood' ('hout' in Flemish). The greatest part of the region was a heavily wooded at the beginning of the 19th century. Now little remain but it is still the largest "staatsbos" (state forest) of East Flanders.
  In 1830 it was a village with 214 dwellings and 1110 residents who were mostly involved in farming or its support services (blacksmith,etc.). Because Belgium was still part of the Kingdom of the United Netherlands, the currency was the golden Gulden (=100 cents).
Food prices (in cents/pound) were: wheat bread 15, rye bread 6, beef 39, pork 50 and butter 73. Working 10 to 14 hours/day an average field worker earned 25 cents/day, while a valued expert/craftsman could earn up to 50 cents/day. Even the best paid worker would have had difficulty feeding a family unless his spouse and probably the children also worked and they grew much of their own food, kept a cow or goat for milk and raised a pig and perhaps rabbits for meat.
  The poor became poorer because of persistent unemployment and price increases in the necessities of life. During the winter that followed the potato 'plague' of 1845 women with their children would be caught in the fields with baskets of stolen potatoes. To save their crops farmers and hired watchmen had to be vigilant over the potato fields, poor though the yield had been.

  With the prevailing primitive notions of cleanliness, both public and private, diseases like cholera appeared, often in local epidemics. Fecal contamination of water in wells and streams rapidly spread the disease. The cholera bacterium caused massive diarrhea, sometimes a quart per hour, that resulted in rapid dehydration, leading to kidney and circulatory failure, often ending in death. Another condition, typhus, also was prevalent throughout impoverished rural Flanders because poor bodily hygiene and infestation with lice and fleas. It produced a characteristic rash and severe weakness that resolves in 1- 2 weeks. However, it often prove fatal in the malnourished, the elderly and those already sick with an impaired immune system. Those were the conditions that mattered most residents of Buggenhout.

  Although Belgium separated from the Kingdom of the Netherlands in August 1830, the population were little concerned with the politics of the coming changes. They already lived in freedom (as they understood it) and had little interest in the election to be held at the end of the year since only the rich among them paid enough taxes (75 gulden/year) to qualify as voters. This qualification requirement was defended by Baudrillart in the Collège de France as late as 1853 as reinforcing the 'natural (!) inequality of men' which he considered as one of the 'Three Pillars of Society'. The other two 'pillars' were property ownership and inheritance.

 In the early 1830s the education system still reflected features of both the earlier clergy-based schooling and of the departed French administration's emphasis on the responsibility of the municipality to provide an elementary education. At that time and for years later is was expected that parents who could afford it would pay for education of their children (45 - 55 centimes per month per child). Only poor children were to be taught 'free' at the expense of the village's coffers. Buggenhout at that time had 4 teachers. In addition, Frans Heyvaert, a local unsung hero, ran the village's 'welfare service' and not only providing food for the poor but also operated a flourishing free school for poor children. Although he was never given recognition by the village council for his efforts as a teacher, he attracted up to 120 pupils in the winter months and an average of 30 even in the summers when children commonly were diverted from school by the need to have them add to their family's income by working in the fields.

 There were some signs of social and economic improvement by 1834 in the minutes of the village council. The earlier records of troubles rising from lack of payment for billeting and working for the troops involved in the separation from the Kingdom of the Netherlands now ceased. But other trivial items appeared more frequently, such as a bylaw controlling free-running dogs whose owners were threatened with imprisonment for 3 days, a fine of 7 gulden, and death of their dog. More serious was the increase in alcoholism that necessitated policemen needing to close drinking places at the prescribed hour.

 On the positive side, in 1835 a celebration of the 5th anniversary of the Belgium's independence from the Netherlands Kingdom was held. It allowed the people to forget their troubles for a few days.
 The village council offered prizes for a Belgian form o
f archery, 'wipschieten'. The 'wip' is a 50 ft.- high iron rack with pins along its multiple 'branches' (see picture on the right). A 'bird' is put on each pin. Each bird is a small piece of wood with a plume of brightly colored feathers on it. The (modern) archer in the picture to the right is holding a 'bird'. When a competitor is ready the 'wip' is raised vertically and the (modern) archer shoots upward, as shown on the left. The object of the game is to knock off a bird, which have different 'values'.
 To give the women a chance to compete too, prizes were awarded to winners of potato bag races. Later there was a parade of the civil guard, repeated cheers for "Long live Leopold, King of the Belgians!" and ending with pealing of the church bell and parading of the National Flag.

  About this time the start of a cobblestone road to the town of Dendermonde was announced. But the national economic crisis grew worse by the year. Although the trade and manufacturing sectors seemed to be improving slowly, the ongoing flood of food imports from 'Amerika' and Australia continued to depress agriculture.

  But in the long run the plan for the railway line to pass through Buggenhout when it connected Brussels and Mechelen to Dendermonde (and ultimately Antwerp) ultimately was much more important. But train service did not begin until June 1849, the same year the first postage stamps were introduced and a start was made on building the train station. At first the potential beneficial effects of the railway were not foreseen in most smaller localities like Buggenhout. Although built primarily to improve the movement of goods, right from the beginning it was used heavily for travel. Towns, villages and cities now seemed much closer and distance no longer counted. Workers, wherever they lived, now had a greater mobility and potentially many more places to seek work. The thoughtful members of the village council might have foreseen that such mobility would provide the ideal solution for their unemployed who now had a permanent opportunity to find work. But it raised the problem as to whether the local people with ideas for new enterprises might not look for opportunities elsewhere. To pursue the opportunities from a weekly village market was started to give local sellers and outside buyers a place to meet. So, on the whole the village benefited from the coming of the railway and the laying of cobblestone roads to neighboring villages and towns.

   However, rooted in the general poverty, public disorder persisted. For example, Theresia De Bruyn, the widow of a farmer laid a complaint of robbery: her house had been broken into. The mayor ('burgomeester') himself went to investigate and noted:
" . . . the complainant said the previous night a hole had been knocked in the wall of her wattle-and-daub hut and the some things stolen: a few potatoes but she could not say how many; a tub of wheat meal; two sacks with blue stripes, one of which had been repaired, a red and blue dress that had been torn at the back but had been sewn together; half a kilogram ('kylle'?) of butter and some coins: two of 50 centimes, two of 10 centimes and three of 1 centime each.
She had no idea who might have done it. After a thorough search of the houses of some suspects, I found none of the loot . . ."
 The depth of the victim's poverty is reflected in the detail with which she could describe her pitiful losses. Acceptance of the seriousness of those losses is mirrored in the details recorded by the mayor.

  But not everything was gloomy and depressing: The village council gave public recognition to certain people who tried to relieve the misery:
Baron De BehaultProsper, a property owner in Buggenhout but resident of Gent provided the needy with food, clothing, sleeping accommodation and even money. Because he was ready, day and night, to help such people he imperiled his own health.
 The person sacrifices of
Pastor Bovijn and his assistant Van Achter earned wide admiration. Although both were sick they encouraged the needy by visiting them in their homes.
  Dr. Van Bevegem took care of about 1800 people in Buggenhout and two other village and lost on 97 of them to disease. He took care of poor people without fee and even fed some. He neglected his own needs and health to come to the aid of his patients.
  J.J. Van den Camp, the officer of health of the village rendered outstanding service, both by his own services and by helping the others above.

  However, minor crimes and accidents continued to happen: For example Doctor Van Bevegem reported:

". . . Joseph Eeckhout was found dead on the top floor of his windmill. According to his son Victor, he had gone up there to run some buckwheat through the dehusking mill ('polmolen'). But he stayed up there longer than Victor expected and also the 'polmolen' started to run too freely as if it was empty. Receiving no answer when he called up to his father, Victor went up and found him lying there dead. . .
. . . Since Joseph had huge, severe bruises on his right shoulder, neck and chest, it appears that he had been hit by a wheel of the mill. A grain sack had been drawn around his neck, so he appears he had died of strangulation. . ."

  Towards mid-century things started to improve. Real progress was made in connecting Buggenhout to other towns by extending the cobblestone roads ('steenwegen') and in June 1849 trains began stopping regularly in the village. In 1850 a railway siding was installed permitting the easier transport of heavy goods to and from the village. Unemployment decreased little by little. New hygienic regulations were passed and prizes were offered for tidiness of workers' dwellings. The foul ditch that ran through the village was covered over and steps were taken to beautify the place and ensure rubbish did not accumulate in the churchyard.

  Initiatives! In 1855 the Bosteels family brought (via rail) a 10 horsepower steam engine to grind barley for malt and so stimulate production in their brewery. Not to be outdone, the nuns of the convent school for girls requested permission to contract for about 10 of their residents students (perhaps indigent girls) to make gloves for an out-of-town distributor.

  Recreation time and opportunities gradually became available. Two choirs were founded that made available an art in which people could participate and offered recreation in a simple way that was not expensive. For working people there was in a ball game ('kaats') with prizes offered by the 3 village innkeepers. The first prize was a silver pocket watch. This was very special because most families at that time had no clock. Residents also started to visit the local woods and increasing numbers of people came by train came from larger towns like Dendermonde to visit the woods and catch a breath of fresh air. A club devoted to pigeon racing was active in the summers.

  Postbox troubles! When the village offices move from near the church to a new location in the market square a councilman, Gustaaf Claessens want to move the postbox too and attach it to the front of the new offices. But this was strongly opposed by his mother who operated an inn on the church square. Since the postbox was attached to the inn's front, anyone who came to post a letter they would likely drop in for a drink. Nevertheless, on Gustaaf's insistence the postbox was move to the market square. It is not recorded if his mother lost business because of this move but it seems unlikely since her inn would also be convenient for people who wanted a drink or some 'pub' recreation when they came out of Mass (and in those years many went to church daily, not just on Sundays).

  An outstanding mayor from the outstanding Bosteels family. In 1861 Burgemeester Lems died and Councilor Jan Frans Bosteels was appointed to replaced him temporarily (so it was thought!). And perhaps it was a coincidence that about this time a new doctor arrived in the village who happened to be a brother of Jan Frans Bosteels and that their father Joseph Bosteels, a brewer, had been mayor earlier. The new doctor, Louis Bosteels, had graduated from the university at Leuven in 1858 as a 'doctor of medicine, surgery and obstetrics'. Like the rest of his family he was dedicated to his birthplace and proved to be a person to whom one could go for advice on almost anything. Jan Fran Bosteels who owned a vinegar-making factory was installed as mayor in 1862 and remained at that post till his early death in 1875 at age 55.
  During his tenure as burgemeester he had been the driving force behind establishing a municipal school, street improvements, and a municipal hall. Three days before his death he changed his will so that it bequeathed a parcel of land and 80,000 Francs for the establishment of a municipal hospital. Both he and his brother Louis remained unmarried and dedicated their lives to supporting and improving Buggenhout and the lives of its citizens. Louis' when he died bequeathed 15,000 Francs to the local Welfare Office and 10,000 Francs to the municipal hospital.

3But there is also a sad educational story about Frans Van de Zande who came to Buggenhout at age 46 years in 1857 as a teacher at the municipal school. He was an enterprising fellow and soon thought of a way to increase his pay of 200 Francs per year as the municipal school teacher to a level he felt he deserved. Soon he opened a boarding school 'on the side' and to get the work done he hired a teacher's assistant, Pot Modest. To take on the responsibility of a boarding school, even if had been given the authority to open such a school, was to say the least, a doubtful moral decision. He must have known that he would be responsible for the education of the community's poor children as well as teaching all the regular pupils: religious studies, morals and manners,reading, writing, the metric system, elementary arithmetic, Flemish and French in the municipal school.
  He was permitted to enroll a maximum of 30 students in his boarding school and to help him the municipal council allowed him to use the attic of the municipal school as lodging for the pupils who lived at the boarding school. It was understood there was to be no interruption in the teaching and care of the town's indigent pupils. However, Van de Zande soon exceeded the permitted limit of 'boarders' and by 1862 there were least 106 pupils in that school. There was not enough room to lodge this number in the attic of the municipal school. So he rented in the name of his 13 year-old nephew Frans Cassieres the upper floor of the "Boschgalm" inn.
  While this was going on the municipal school was being neglected. Concerned parents would no longer send their children to it and easily, for the same fees, found a better school in the town. During all of this confusion the indigent pupils were the innocent victims and received inadequate teaching and attention. Finally in October 1862 the situation came to a head and municipal council held a hearing in the presence of Van de Zande. He did not wait to be discharged but resigned and left town and a new municipal teacher was hired.

1"Life in our village during the period 1830 - 1870" by P. Servaes, published in 1980 by the Buggenhout historical society ("Heemkring "Ter Palen") provided by Ludo Cosijns, Heemkring Ter Palen, Buggenhout, East Flanders <> provided by Ludo Cosijns on behalf of the "Heemkring Ter Palen".
2"20 years of the life of our village 1870 - 1890" by P. Servaes, published in 1984 by the Buggenhout historical society ("Heemkring "Ter Palen") provided by Ludo Cosijns on behalf of the "Heemkring Ter Palen"
3 Story from the "The history of education in the municipality of Buggenhout" provided by Ludo Cosijns on behalf of the "Heemkring Ter Palen".
The photos of Wipschieten were provided by Jos Vandenberge <>.

Making a living for farmers and their families in Buggenhout, Kalken and most other villages in both East and West Flanders well into the 19th century depended in large part on the growing of flax and processing it into linen cloth.

Learn about the
techniques of the flax industry

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