The woman who once lived in this cottage was called “Kristina on the Hill”. It is difficult to imagine it today, as it lies on the level ground of the open-air museum. At that time, over 100 years ago, the croft lay on a hillock in Bosmåla, southern Småland. The house itself was called the Chain Whip cottage, named after the man who built the croft around 1850 and who, it is said, was known for using a chain whip in fights.
Kristina Niklasson lived in this cottage for over 30 years, from 1890 to 1923. Kristina’s husband, Karl Magnus Persson, had left for America two years earlier where he hoped to earn enough money for Kristina and their seven children. Sadly, he never returned. They received two letters but after that they never heard from Karl Magnus again.
Life in the Bosmåla Croft is a story that hails from a poverty-stricken Sweden. Kristina worked hard to provide for her family. She owned a few egg-producing hens and a small plot of land where she could grow potatoes, cabbage and rye. She earned a little bit of money by spinning wool, doing laundry and helping nearby farmers with their harvests. Kristina bought the cottage for 100 Swedish riksdaler (the currency at the time), with the council contributing half of the cost. The agreement entered into was a type of leasehold, requiring Kristina to work 20–24 days a year, at the landowner’s behest, in exchange for letting her use the land for her own crops. She was also expected to deliver 8.5 kgs of spun flax each year. Sometimes she simply could not make ends meet. The threat of starvation forced her to send the children out to beg in the surroundings.
When Georg Karlin acquired the Bosmåla Croft for Kulturen in 1924, it was with the intention of showing the house as a soldier’s croft, so that military history was also represented at the museum. The fact that the Bosmåla Croft wasn’t a real soldier’s croft – that is, a croft with the dimensions 8×4 metres, seven logs high and used by a solider – didn’t seem to matter to Karlin at all; the fact that it looked like one was enough!
Kristina’s son Klas visited Kulturen soon after the cottage had been moved there. He was reportedly very disappointed when he saw how its story had been distorted. Many years later Kulturen established contact with Klas’s son, Edvard. He recounted the story of his grandmother’s life and about his father and his father’s siblings. The museum has now told visitors Kristina’s story since 1998.
The Bosmåla Croft has three rooms. The room with the lowered ceiling was used as a multi-purpose room. This is where the open fire was, and this is also where one ate and slept. The interior is very simple, with few items of furniture and purely functional homeware. The decorative cornflower blue wallpaper was modern in the early 1900s and not particularly expensive. It was also considerably better at keeping the cold out in contrast to if the walls had been left bare. Paraffin lamps provided lighting. The space comes across as homely and Kristina is said to have been immensely house-proud.
When Karl Magnus travelled to America he left Kristina to shoulder large debts. The children – Edvard, Emilia, Maria, Anna, Elna, Klas and Knut – had to help earn their keep as best they could. Kristina’s eldest son, Edvard, was a farmhand but had to move back home when he contracted tuberculosis and eventually passed away at 16. Emilia was a coachbuilder’s maid. She died at 20. Elna caught tuberculosis while working in a doctor’s surgery in Tingsryd and died when she was around 20 years old. Maria was more fortunate, opening a village shop and living to see 40. The youngest daughter, Anna, started working as a maid while still a minor. She also contracted tuberculosis but survived. She went on to get married, had three children and lived until 1957.
The youngest sons – Klas and Knut – remained healthy and worked as farmhands and forestry workers. Both travelled to America to work and look for their father. Klas left in 1911 and Knut followed two years later. They managed to track down their father but found that he had passed away some time before. Klas returned to Sweden after a few years, married and bought a farm near Bosmåla. Knut stayed in America, but returned home to visit his mother one last time in 1931.
It is easy to get caught up in the sorrow and misery when one describes the life of a poor crofter’s family at this time. But it is important to remember that they also had recourse to moments of joy and we know the children had their lively, mischievous moments. It is clear that this was a loving family when one reads the letters written between the children and Kristina, looking out for each other as well as they could.
Kristina on the hill lived to 82 years of age. She died in 1931. These days the ground in Bosmåla where her cottage originally stood is covered in pine forest, but our hope is that the story of Kristina and her children continues to live on at the museum.
This text is taken from our booklet Kulturen Open-air Museum, that you can buy in our museum shop.