Every time I start to research some buildings or history for a blog post, I end up with more and more questions and what seems like a million tabs open in my browser. Not wanting to give incomplete or incorrect information — and usually finding more and more that I want to research and write about — I often end up sitting on a blog post for weeks or even months until I decide to just jump in and start writing and hope for the best. This is one of those posts. I haven’t found all of my answers, but I’ve found enough to create multiple posts. Maybe along the way I can find some more information.
One of the fascinating things about Utrecht is the number of godskameren (lit. god rooms) that can be found throughout the city. Godskameren were homes built for the poor. They could live there rent-free and also received additional items such as food, fuel, or money. One of the reasons there are so many of these homes in Utrecht is that between 1375 and the 19th century, wealthy Utrecht Catholics and Protestants believed that it was God’s will (om God’s wil) that they should build these structures for the city’s poor.
The building of such accommodations didn’t end in the 19th century, though. They continued into the 20th century, and are often known as hofjes. A hofje is typically a courtyard, and these later structures were often built around a central courtyard. They were built by individual church groups, businesses, social groups, etc., and these hofjes weren’t just for the poor. They were also used for the elderly, particularly women, and were also used to house workers and their families.
Whether godskameren or hofjes, many of them still exist in Utrecht, particularly around the Museum Quarter section of the city center. The first ones I’ll cover are the Beyerskameren, located on Lange Nieuwstraat. They were built in 1597, by Adriaen Beyer and his wife Alet Jansdogter. The homes are still in use, although like almost all structures of this sort, they have been turned into individual apartment homes over the years. One of the questions I had was what one of these kinds of homes costs now, but I didn’t have any luck finding out. They’re classed as rijksmonumenten (national monuments), so I assume they’re not cheap, despite their small size.
As I said, they’re quite small and were originally designed to be just one room with a loft space overhead. There were 12 of these individual rooms built into one long building. You can see the floorplan in this image (Beyerskameren are the one running horizontally. The vertical ones are another post.)
At the center of the row is a decorated gate entrance that accessed the regent’s rooms. I’m assuming, at this point, that the regent essentially oversaw the property and the people living there, making sure they had food, fuel, etc., and, most likely, also made sure they behaved.
Above this entrance is a plaque that says that Beyer and his wife founded these homes for the faithful poor in 1597. If anyone can explain the D.O.M., that’s another piece I’m drawing a blank on at the moment.
In my next post, the godskameren around the corner from the Beyerskameren. And if you’re keeping count, I started this blog post with one tab open for research and have finished with four open for upcoming research purposes. Like the Hydra of mythology, you close one and many more open in its place.