The houses beneath Helleren have fascinated people through generations. In 1745, Amtmann de Fine told the king in Copenhagen:
In Soggendal there is a rock overhang to see called Helleren, where there lives a smallholder who uses the overhang as a roof for his houses.
Amtmann de Fine, 1745 [translated]
Over a hundred years later, in 1868, the newspaper Egersundsposten writes:
At the innermost end of Jøssingfjorden, ¼ mile east of the staple port Soggendal, is an unusual cliff arch, “Haahelleren”. […] Beneath this arch stands 3 farmhouses and its farm buildings. […] Only western winds carry rain to the houses, that otherwise stand dry, so that a roof may be unnecessary.
Egersundsposten, 1868 [translated]
Stone Age settlement
The dark layer of occupation earth beneath Helleren is made from food waste and other kinds of waste over a long period of time, and is 60 cm thick. People lived beneath Helleren in shorter and longer periods in the Stone Age. There has been found fish bones, animal bones, oyster shells and fragments of flint tools. The settlement has likely been seasonal – and people made use both of the sea and the surrounding woodlands.
The smallholding at Helleren
Helleren was a smallholding (husmannsplass) subordinate to the farm Haneberg. The tenant farmers at Haneberg owned the land, and those living beneath Helleren (plassfolket) paid a yearly rent for right of use. They had contracts securing their right of use for life – as long as they paid their rent – and they owned their own houses. Farming was an important part of their basis of existence, but it was impossible to make a living of this alone. The smallholders, called “strandsittere”, were dependent on revenue from the outside world. Fishing has always been important – both for sustenance and as a source of income. Through farming and fishing, the smallholders beneath Helleren were able to pay their yearly rent to Haneberg. This combination of farming with other sources of income was typical for what is called a “strandsitter” or “bygselhusmann” in Norwegian. What we call a “strandsitter” was typical for Western Norway, and is different from what is usually called a “husmann” (smallholder) in Eastern Norway, as the latter were under obligation to work at the main farm and had much less freedom.
Life beneath Helleren
The houses beneath Helleren are small, and the area surrounding them is quite barren. Yet life beneath Helleren has been relatively good. Living conditions were similar to many other farms in Western Norway at the time.
Each household had a few cows and 5 – 6 sheep. On modest patches of field, they grew oats, barley and potatoes. In the heathland, animals grazed and the land was made use of as outlying hayfields. Hay was lowered down the mountainside, to the houses. It was only possible to harvest from the outlying hayfields every second year.
Who lived beneath Helleren?
Today, everything is quiet beneath Helleren. It has not always been this way. A great many people have lived here. Helleren has echoed voices high and low, children laughing and crying, animals bleating and mooing, and the rattling of many buckets. Many lives have begun, run their course and ended beneath Helleren. We believe people have been living here permanently since the 1500s. Meet some of them:
1752: One household
1801: Two households
- Ingeborg Salvesdatter with children Bernt, Salve, Berthe and Ingeborg
- Lars Olsen and his sister Rachel.
1865: Three households
- Jacob Jacobsen with wife Ingeborg S. Ellefsdatter, and children Bernt, Jakob, Elias, Torn, Janikken and Ingeborg. One married son, Karl, lives there as well. Karl's wife left him.
- Ole Andreas Aslaksen with wife Ingeborg, their son Adolf and maidservant Ane G. Jakobsdatter.
- Johannes Larsen with wife Birte.
1875: Two households
- Ole Andreas Aslaksen with wife Ingeborg, sons Johan Julius and Jens Bernard. 2 cows.
- Jacob Jacobsen with wife Ingeborg S. Ellefsdatter. With children Jakob, Elias, Torn and Ingeborg. 3 cows, 5 sheep, oats, potato, barley.
1900: One household
- Ingeborg Elisebeth Jakobsdatter with two sons, Oskar and Ideus.
Photo of three houses beneath Helleren in the middle of the 1800s. Photo: Unknown. Sokndal Bygdetun.
In the middle of the 1800s, the Norwegian population peaked. This is reflected in how many people lived beneath Helleren in this period – three families. In 1865, there were 15 people, 5 cows, 12 sheep and 1 pig living beneath Helleren.
Around 1900 (35 years later), the situation had changed. Only three people lived beneath Helleren, all adults.
How old are the houses?
As they stand today, the houses stem from the 1800s. The blue house is the oldest. Parts of the houses, such as the core cog joints, may be considerably older. The blue house’s timber has moving marks (look at the back). The house may therefore have stood somewhere else before being rebuilt at Helleren. It was once very common to move houses this way.
There have also been several other farm buildings.
The Modern Age comes to Jøssingfjord
Photo of Helleren 1916. The barracks to the left was used by workers at the smelting plant. Photo: A.B. Wilse. Titania A/S.
Industry came early to Jøssingfjord. In the years 1901 – 1902, “Den norske Chamottefabrikk” (The Norwegian Grog Factory) manufactured roofing tiles, bricks and pipes at a factory located at Holmen, further out in the fjord. Some years later, “The Jøssingfjord Manufacturing Company” start their business at the innermost end of the fjord. The power station and smelting plant were built in the years 1970 – 1908. The power station is still there.
In 1909, the last tenant beneath Helleren, farmer and smallholder’s widow Ingeborg Elisebeth Jakobsdatter, sells her right of use to The Jøssingfjord Manufacturing Company, and so is the last “strandsitter” leaving Helleren.
«Dråben» (The Droplet) at Helleren is legendary. Water drips continuously from the mountainside behind the red house. The people living beneath Helleren have always collected this water in buckets and pails.
“Dråben” is said to taste especially delicious!