Wooden shoes and poplars

Wooden shoes (or clogs) and the Netherlands are often associated with each other. The rows of poplars are characteristic of the landscape in the Meierij of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. What do these two characteristic elements have to do with each other?

Poplars in Brabant

Poplars have not always been part of the landscape in Brabant.Since the mid-15th century, these characteristic rows and groves of trees have been planted.


At that time the “voorpootrecht” (the right for landowners to plant trees on the common ground that borders their own land) came in effect. A welcome additional source of income for many farmers. However, due to a shortage of wood in the 17th century, this right became a duty in many places.

At first, especially oak trees were planted. Later, people started planting poplars. These trees did not only grow relatively fast, they were also important for water management in the wet province of Brabant. Poplars extract a lot of water from the soil, making adjacent plots drier – and easier to cultivate.

From poplars to clogs

Poplars were not only useful for water management; they are great for clog-making. The wood is soft enough for processing and had no little knots. Next to this, The wood is strong enough for the daily abuse that clogs face.

Klompen makenAfter the poplars were cut, the wood was brought to a clog maker. The wet wood was used as soon as possible (dry wood splits and tears easily). After the wood was divided into slices or spheres, the outside of the wooden shoe was shaped. The hollowing out of the shoe followed next. Whoever had the money, of if there was a special occasion, let his or her clogs get painted with motifs and patterns.

De history of the clog

Wooden shoes have been worn in the Netherlands for about 800 years, mainly by workers and farmers. Before clogs were ‘invented’, people walked barefood or animal skins were wrapped around feet to protect them. Not only in the Netherlands, but all throughout Europe clogs were worn in different shapes and sizes.

Kaart-zwart-van Europa met de klompenGJ

The first wooden shoe consisted of no more than a wooden sole with leather straps over the instep: a kind of sandal. In the Netherlands, this sandal got a higher edge on the heel-side over the years, and the front of the model was closed. The Dutch clog that is now known worldwide was formed.

veel-klompenAny clogmaker in a city was highly regarded. The clogmakers’ guild was a club that you liked to belong to. Nevertheless, the production of clogs in the course of time became something that often took place outside the city. Each clog maker also had his or her own signature or way of editing. On the clogs you could see from which region someone came.


Less and less clogs

The number of clog makers in the Netherlands decreased drastically in the early twentieth century due to the rise of the mass production of leather shoes. In 1917 there were still 3800 clog factories in the Netherlands. Sixty years later, there were only 133. The Netherlands now has about fifteen real clog makers.

In the First World War, but especially in the Second World War, clog production had aPopulierenlaan small revival. Clogs were a welcome replacement for leather shoes, which were expensive and scarce at the time. Old clogs were even provided with new soles.

In the Second World War clogs were also made as footwear for the prisoners in concentration camps. You can find examples of this in National Monument Camp Vught. These clogs were provided with a sharp point at the instep, to make walking more annoying and difficult for the prisoners.

The benefits of clogs

There are very few Dutch people who walk on clogs every day, and the number of Dutch people who ever walked on clogs decreases with time. Even though this footwear has many advantages.

The main benefit that should attract any Dutchman to wear clogs: they are cheap!

In addition, clogs are ideal for the weather conditions in the Netherlands. They are very klompen-strowater-resistant, remain fresh and cool during the warm clammy summer days, but also warm during the cold winter days. For the really cold days, some straw was put into the clog as extra insulation material.

Clogs are mainly worn in the Netherlands by farmers, gardeners, road workers and metal workers. Due to their firmness, clogs protect the foot very well against, for example, painfully placed horse and cow hooves.

Those who are not used to walking on clogs will have to get used to it. A clog does not fit like a shoe. In addition, the wooden top can cause some irritation of the instep. However, those who walk longer on clogs are so accustomed to the way they fit that they no longer see this as a disadvantage.


  • The word ‘sabotage’ is derived from the French word for clog (‘sabot’). During the industrial revolution factory workers threw their clogs in the machines to slow down the production process.
  • Those who want to sail across the water under a bridge, often get a wooden clump on a fishing rod or string thrown to them by the bridge keeper. In this way, bridge money can be collected.
  • In the old days, when a child was born a poplar was planted. When the child was old enough to get married the tree had grown so much that the wedding could be paid by the logging.

Dutch proverbs and sayings with the word ‘klomp’ (clog)

That the clog played an important role in the daily life of the Dutch is also reflected in the proverbs and sayings used in the Netherlands with the word ‘klomp’ (clog).

We give you the Dutch sentence first, then the literal translation into English and then the meaning of the proverb.

Dat kon ik op mijn klompen aanvoelen”
I could feel that on my clogs
I could’ve known that. If you could feel anything through the thick sole of a clog, it was very obvious.

Een boer op klompen”
A farmer on clogs
Said about someone clumsy or rude. It is very difficult (if not impossible) to be careful on clogs.

Nou breekt mijn klomp!”
Now my clog breaks
Being very surprised. Clogs do not break easily.

Dat zal mijn klomp niet roesten”
That will not rust my clog
Being very relaxed about something. Clogs don’t rust.

Het vriest zo hard dat mijn klompen kraken”
It freezes so much, my clogs crack
Said when it is really freezing outside.

Zijn klompen wegzetten”
Putting his clogs away
Said when someone died.

Zijn klompen naar huis brengen”
Taking his clogs home
When you are going home.

“Daar staan klompen”
There are clogs standing
Meaning waiting in vain

Wie zijn klomp breekt schiet gemakkelijk uit zijn slof”
He who breaks his clog easily shoots out of his slipper.
Meaning that if you are disappointed you can easily get angry

Met klompen op het ijs komen / Met klompen in het gelag komen”
Being with clogs on the ice / Going to a diner party with clogs.
Carelessly acting / going somewhere where you do not belong

Memory of Holland

We will end this clog… eh blog, with a poem that was written by Hendrik Marsman (1936).

Denkend aan Holland
zie ik breede rivieren
traag door oneindig
laagland gaan.

(Thinking of Holland 
I see broad rivers 
languidly winding 
through endless fens)
Rijen ondenkbaar
ijle populieren
als hoge pluimen
aan den einder staan.
(Lines of incredibly
tenuous poplars 
like giant plumes 
on the polder’s rim)
En in de geweldige
ruimte verzonken
de boerderijen
verspreid door het land
(and sunk in tremendous 
open expanses, 
the farmsteads scattered
 across the land)
Boomgroepen, dorpen,
geknotte torens,
kerken en olmen
in een groots verband.
(coppices, hamlets, 
squat towers and churches 
and elms composing 
a rich domain.)
de lucht hangt er laag
en de zon wordt er langzaam
in grijze veelkleurige
dampen gesmoord,
(where the sky is low,

and the sun gets
smothered in gray
multi coloured vapors)
en in alle gewesten
wordt de stem van het water
met zijn eeuwige rampen
gevreesd en gehoord.
(and far and wide 
the voice of the water, 
of endeless disaster, 
is heard and feared.)

For the information in this blog, we have consulted various sources, such as:




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