Tenant Farm, Seljord, Telemark.

The Tenant Farming System

Husmann is the name for the Norwegian tenant farmer. There were many varieties of tenancy in rural Norway.

Commonly the tenant rented land from a farmer and lived and grew crops on this land. The terms were agreed to orally or in writing, and the rent was paid in cash or in work. The tenant farmer and his family were usually obliged to work on the main farm in return for daily wages. This system was common in Trøndelag and southeastern Norway. The conditions for tenant farmers were most oppressive in the southeast, where they were required to work hardest and their social status was lowest.

Other tenant farmers leased their land and were not required to work on the main farm. However, these tenants were usually not farmers and rented relatively little land. Instead, they had a craft or trade as their main source of income. This type of tenant was common along the west coast where they were freer and had a higher social status than tenants of this type in the southeast.

Some tenants rented their house but no land. Those who lived along the coast often made a living fishing and transporting goods and were not subservient to the farmer. It was a different situation for the tenant in the eastern part of the country who could not afford to rent land; the work was harder and the pay was less.

The tenant farming system eased the pressures of a growing population. Farmers needed help during the busy seasons, and tenant farmers provided cheap labor. Tenant farmers were often younger sons of farmers, and life for them and their families was difficult. The soil they tilled for their own use was poor and could hardly yield what was needed for survival, and the status of a tenant farmer was low.

The number of husmenn peaked in the mid-1800s. In 1865 there were 65,000 tenant farmers who rented land in Norway. For many years they were the largest segment of the population.

The buildings on a tenant holding were often the same as on large farms; house, cow barn, hay barn and perhaps a stabbur for food storage. The tenant farmer had neither time nor money for upkeep and improvements, so the buildings on the holding were usually small and in poor condition. The placement of the buildings followed the local custom. In some places, however, all the buildings were built together into one long structure. This saved space for cultivation and used fewer building materials.

House from Bakkarplassen,  Mjøen in Oppdal, ca. 1800

The Tenant's Farm from Bakarplassen, Mjøen in Oppdal, was reerected at Norsk Folkemuseum in 1914.This type of house is called uppstugu, and was formerly widespread in Oppdal. Uppstugu refers to the room on the upper floor with the gable facing front. It is reached by stairs in the antechamber and was used for storing clothes. Food was kept in the uppstugu together with chests of clothes on small tenant holdings without a food storehouse. The house is made of flat hewn logs, except for the exterior walls of the antechamber which are of stave construction. The floor in the antechamber and part of the main room is stone, and the walls are decorated with paint.


Mjøen in Oppdal

Halvor Iversen Mjøen was the last tenant to work this holding; until about 1900. He had two cows, 3.7 acres, and rights to gather firewood in the forest. He was required to work 14 days on the main farm during the busy seasons and his household was made up of nine people. His wife was reputed to be an excellent weaver and she sold her textiles for extra income. On the beam in front of the fireplace is a leather loop where she used to fasten the warp beam of her loom.

Tenants, Ullensaker in Akershus, ca. 1880.