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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

The Book of the Home

This is the latest in my series of "Book Reviews". Please note the inverted commas, as it is possible you will disagree with that description.

Over a hundred years ago one needed to be instructed on how to run a home, so complicated had life become. Life for certain people that is. The sort of people who had a library that sat eight people, not dissimilar to the sort of library you might have encountered in a school or a small town. I also note with interest the six fresh flower displays in this particular library, below.

We are talking, hordes of people "below stairs". "Below stairs" is a term that was famously depicted in the 1970's TV classic "Upstairs Downstairs" about an ordinary London townhouse, not unlike this one that we are being taught to run right here in "The Book of the Home". A home top heavy in rich furnishings and bottom heavy in staff maintaining the top heavy part. The staff in "Upstairs Downstairs" knew their place and that was in the cellar, where the outside world was an occasional pair of ankles swiftly walking past the window up by the ceiling where wisps of daylight occasionally intruded into their twenty hour work day.

Latterly "Downton Abbey" fulfilled the escapist role of "Upstairs Downstairs" in a softer, sensitive, trigger warning, 2010's rendition of the past, where the staff were actually in charge of the lives of their Lords and Masters, as latter day Socialism has taken over the creative arts. The audience of the 2010's would have swooned like Edwardian ladies had they been made to suffer witnessing the trauma of life in "Upstairs Downstairs". In "Upstairs Downstairs" the staff grovelled and were grateful, in "Downton Abbey" the family grovelled instead and were even more grateful. I leave you to decide which was the more accurate portrait.

To help in this quest, let us look in more detail at life in around 1909 as demonstrated in this little piece of history.

This is the frontispiece with it's telltale Art Nouveau styling, very much giving it a place and time. This book was one of a set of six volumes, so no stone was left unturned. I chose volume 4, so as we proceed, just keep in mind that there were three more hard bound tomes before we got here, and two more after we finish. There is no date inside but I believe it was first published in 1909 and re-issued right up to 1914. If it was published after 1914 I would be surprised for a reason that will be obvious to those of you who know what the year 1914 signifies to western civilisation.

What is immediately noteworthy is it's editorship by Mrs. C E Humphry which will be a surprise to younger feminists who mostly believe that all women were in fact incarcerated by their husbands prior to 1967. Most women in history who were held back from reaching their full potential were more accurately victims of poverty than victims of sexism. The proof of this is the vast number of men who were also held back from reaching their potential, as they were identically shackled by poverty, and suffered in addition, mass slaughter in both war, and the dangerous workplaces they inhabited. In fact, many women in the later 19th century who, circumstances allowing, wanted careers, did in fact have them, and they may well have been working in a rich man's world, but there were many niches of activity in that rich man's world where women were highly successful and one of those was publishing. Something that "Downton Abbey" actually got right.

C.E. Humphry (1843–1925), who often worked under the pseudonym "Madge", was a well-known journalist in Victorian-era England who wrote for and about issues relevant to women of the time. She wrote, edited and published many works throughout her career and is perhaps best known for originating what was known as the "Lady's Letter"-style column she wrote for the publication Truth, read throughout the British Empire. She was one of the first woman journalists in England.

We do, however have to remind ourselves that she was writing to a certain group of women, most obviously, those who could read and afford to buy a book. This book for example is definitely aimed at upstairs women not downstairs women.

Volume four jumps straight in at the deep end explaining why a man needs to make a will, after all, "marriage introduces into one's family a quasi-relation", and back in 1909 if hubbie died without making a will, his wife could be worse off for it. Of course "an affectionate husband" wouldn't want to take that risk as without children she would only inherit half his estate. It should be noted that if the wife dies intestate, hubbie cops the lot.

Intestate- a person who has died without having made a will. Intestate was borrowed into English in the 14th century from Latin intestatus, which was itself formed by combining the prefix in- ("not") and the adjective testatus, meaning "having left a valid will." Testatus, in turn, derives from the past participle of the verb testari, meaning "to make a will."

So interestingly the Romans had an actual verb for making a will, so presumably they gave it great importance. In case you were wondering, the original route of both testari and testicle are one in the same. Both a will and the testicles bear "witness", one to a legal instruction and one to a man's virility.

Talking about who owns what, we quickly move on to burglary, strictly speaking Precautions Against Burglary. Apparently, "burglaries generally take place when there is company at dinner". This involves much, in the way of locking and shuttering the hundreds of windows upstairs and in the basement, in fact there should be iron bars in the basement. Don't forget this is where the servants are. We need to make sure in the event of a burglary that no servant can quickly escape. Particularly as the book goes on to suggest that most crimes are an inside job unless you only employ "respectable servants". Disreputable servants are almost certainly plotting against you while coveting all your worldly goods, so if the burglars are already in the house all the better that the windows are barred.

We also need to arm ourselves, and this dumbbell like device, below, is called a Life Preserver. I had always thought a Life Preserver was something used in the act of saving a life and when I typed that in to Google it seemed I was right, because they usually fit over your head and are bright orange, but adding the word weapon to the mix brings up a fascinating article on Victorian Gentlemen's Self Defence.

“The “life-preserver” consists of a stout piece of cane about a foot long, with a ball of five or six ounces of lead attached firmly to one end by catgut netting, whilst the other end is furnished with a strong leather or catgut loop to go round the wrist and prevent the weapon flying from or being snatched from the hand."

I always say there is no better life preserver than six ounces of lead, especially when you have a servant trying to escape the freshly installed iron bars and shutters.

Probably my favourite chapter in the book now follows, where it is described how necessary it is to inform the police immediately should the servants escape with all the silverware not being used at dinner. This is why a bicycle should always be at hand, unless of course the villainous servants have stolen that too. It is probably the case that had a bicycle been used to call the police they would still have attended the scene a lot quicker than they do now with a mobile phone call and a police car with blue lights and a siren.

The PC PCs these days are no doubt too busy on their PCs checking what I am writing, in case it could later be described as hate speech. "Not disarranging the scene or walking in the grounds until the police examination" these days would necessitate moving out for a week to a Premier Inn, preferably one doing a great full English breakfast, until the CSI team from Scotland Yard showed up with their torches. Why are their torches so small, and who cut the power?

There is a whole page on carving, well I did say there were six volumes. This is not whittling pieces of wood though, that comes later under hobbies. This is the very manly art of meat.

"The present fashion of serving dinners is copied from the Russian." Don't forget this is 1909 so all of the Russians who were in the habit of serving dinners and engaging in public displays of carving meat had not been executed yet. They were all still amicably discussing the pros and cons of Marxism, inclusivity, and how good a concept "Equity" was. "Equity" has made a comeback recently, most obviously in every government institution in the land, where the ignorant still confuse it with "Equality". "Equity" is in fact the opposite of "Equality". "Equality" is where we were headed in the western world before "Equity" raised it's ugly head again, as it seems wont to do every hundred years, just long enough for people to have forgotten the last failed attempt, that led to innumerable deaths. "Equity" is murder. It never starts with murder it just ends up with murder. Every time, regular as clockwork.

Wont to do - If someone is wont to do something, they often or regularly do it. From Old English gewunod, past participle of wunian, ‘dwell, be accustomed’, of Germanic origin.

as opposed to.....

Want to do - To wish to take part in a situation, plan, or activity. from Old Norse vanta "to lack, want," which meaning later moved to "desire, wish for, feel the need of" is recorded by 1706.

Homophones - These two words are Homophones (Absolutely nothing to do with gay people ringing each other). Homophones are words pronounced alike but different in meaning or derivation or spelling. These words may be spelled differently from each other (such as to, too, and two), or they may be spelled the same way (as in quail meaning 'to cower' and quail meaning a type of bird).

But I digress.

This of course means that if the Russians were responsible for dinner, then they were also responsible for the burglary during dinner. In Russia of course all the burglars were bicycling off with Faberge Eggs under their arms, and the local police were deciding which revolutionary faction looked more promising for a future promotion, while in England it was far more likely to have been an assortment of purloined silver cutlery, not being used on this particular occasion. English homes had crates of silver cutlery in the Victorian era, and yes I know we are now in the Edwardian era but change was slow back then and you don't throw out all the silverware everytime the monarch dies.

On the night of the burglary for example if we were not having white fish for dinner, that's an entire set of fish knives and forks for starters, and that is before we get to all the other items having the night off, like the tea spoons, caddy spoon, sugar nips, sugar sifter, sauce ladles, oyster forks, toddy ladles, fruit knives, pastry forks, and the cloisonne enamel Hors D'oeuvres set. The burglar did miss the Sterling Silver Cucumber Saw though because that was on the dining table, as was the silver Mote Spoon, the mustard spoon, and the cheese knives and forks. The toasting fork was in for repairs at the toasting fork repair shop so was spared.

It was very like the TV show Repair Shop of today but more niche, the number of people with faulty toasting forks and an interesting backstory and the ability to weep on demand being a bit thin on the ground in 1909. They called it the stiff upper lip, great for taking over the world but not as good for ratings on daytime TV. Now come back about eight years later and we're talking, all the backstories and weeping you ever needed. In fact the thought of what was on the horizon, below the horizon actually, puts a lot of the advice in this book in perspective.

I include this small section for only one reason, "The favourite parts (of a partridge, woodcock etc.) are the wing, breast, thigh and merry-thought"

Who knew a partridge had a merry-thought and what, or more precisely, where is it? If a partridge had in fact had an actual merry thought, a round of lead shot soon put paid to that. It definitely sounds like a euphemism and the euphemism on a chicken is usually called the Parson's Nose, for obvious reasons, if you have seen a parson and the rear end of a chicken.

My grandmother kept a cigarette packet which contained one cigarette in it, permanently on the little whatchamacallit that stood between her chair and the one the parson/vicar sat in when he showed up unannounced. Once he was settled and had a brandy, she would open her cigarette packet and offer the vicar her last one, upon which, without fail, every time, he would utter the immortal line, while we all tried desperately not to laugh, "Oh no Mrs. Tomos, I couldn't take your last one, here, have one of mine." He must have known, but it was a game of cat and mouse and he did after all always get a brandy.

But I digress. As it turns out the merry-thought is actually the wishbone, which is strange, as there is rarely any meat on a wishbone.

The daily duties of the Mistress start with getting out of bed. What is funny is that a mistress is today the very opposite of a wife so there has been quite a seismic shift in meaning there.

The aim of the mistress of the house appears to be getting up early to ensure all of the staff are doing all of the work. If the mistress of the house is short of staff or does not "keep a cook", presumably in the barred windowed cellar, "she will usually find it necessary to do a certain amount of the cooking herself..... or at any rate to prepare the more elaborate dishes, pastry, jellies and other sweets....if possible.....early in the morning, previous to shopping."

After the culinary duties or the inspection of them are done it's break time before luncheon. This time "may be spent in shopping, letter writing, sewing and other miscellaneous occupations", like welding, metal bashing and making the occasional horse shoe.

Once a week the mistress must inspect all garments and household linen before despatching them to the laundry, any repairs must be done before being sent to the laundry. "On their return.... items must again be passed in review and mended as required." I think mistress needs a new laundry if she is repairing things before they go and after they come back. How are they cleaning these garments on a rock?

What is interesting to us today is the annual expenditure being £200 to £600, not forgetting that this covers all household expenditure including the servant's wages.

This amounts to anywhere from £15,600 to £47,000 today which while being no mean sum in today's terms, also reveals how little servants were paid. The households could have had anywhere from two staff to ten in a london townhouse, depending on it's size. The book advises fewer multi tasking servants "In cases of moderate income".

Even in cases of moderate income one mustn't forget one's complexion. In the Edwardian era, society reached it's greatest extremes of the wealth gap with the wealthy living in extreme luxury while the number of people in service ballooned to new levels.

The Edwardian beauty was a brunette with a pale complexion and rosy cheeks. To whiten their faces, Edwardian women used enamel, a white face paint made with white lead (which we now know is toxic). Rice powder or pearl powder could be applied on top of the skin as well.

No less than five pages are devoted to the complexion, with remedies such as the application of almond oil and the bathing of skin in "virginal milk". Now I was reasonably proficient at biology at school, so I had always lived under the assumption that virginity and milk were not regular bedfellows, as a consequence I had no idea what "virginal milk" was. It seems it is "nothing more than 4 drs of simple tincture of benzoin and half a pint of rose water."

Benzoin is a balsamic resin obtained from the bark of several species of trees in the genus Styrax. It is still used today in the making of incense and perfume. Half a pint of rose water would cost about £15 today and this is just to wash your face in the morning.

Mrs Humphrey has to be praised though for having this advice, way ahead of her time, "Abjure the use of Carmine, rouges, white-lead and above all arsenic. The finest cosmetic is rainwater". She probably saved lives with that one sentence.

She segues from applying fruit and veg to your face to actually eating it. Almonds , cucumbers and radishes are all to be used externally but "Take fruit, vegetables and milk in abundance, but condiments, such as pepper, mustard, and French sauces, have nothing to recommend them..." Lord knows what the complexions in France were like, with all those sauces.

"In cases of excessive perspiration Dr. Anna Kingsford (another one of the oppressed fairer sex) recommends the use of tannin powder."

Having said that I discover to my horror that, "They are used chiefly in tanning leather, dyeing fabric, and making ink and in various medical applications. Tannin solutions are acidic and have an astringent taste."

It is true that I have never had a sofa or a pair of shoes that suffered from excess perspiration so maybe she was on to something.

There have been few lives as incredible as the life of Dr Anna Kingsford, both in the sense of being remarkable and also of being slightly inconceivable. A theosophist, self-proclaimed prophet, feminist, vegetarian, mother and woman of much personal charm, Kingsford is impossible to classify. Her first book was published at the age of 13, she married her cousin and claimed to have visitations from Mary Magdalene, she was mostly as mad as a box of frogs. So maybe think twice about the tannin powder.

This next diagram reminds me of the tray of implements that the evil Nazi dentist has in the film Marathon Man, when he proceeds with the torture that put me off Nazi dentists for years. I was foolish enough to go to one in about 1986 not that long after the film came out. She had injected everything she had into my gums and was drilling merrily away while I screamed louder than Dustin Hoffman. Eventually she stopped, but only because my screams were making her ears bleed. At this point I would have gladly handed over all the diamonds but I didn't know where they were hidden. She verbally abused me and and said it wasn't possible to give me any more anaesthetic, whereupon she put her knee on my chest to prevent my escape and to hold me down while she drilled ever deeper.

It was eight years before I was forced to go to a dentist again. We had gone for a pleasant weekend to London, which ended up as a horror story. It all started rather well when we arrived at the borrowed apartment to find it full of scantily clad catwalk models in their underwear, who hadn't left yet. Our friend worked for an international fashion house and this was the company flat in Covent Garden. We had already parked up by some miracle right outside in the street. Admittedly we had been forced to pay a king's ransom for the privilege but all those years ago, charges stopped at 1.00pm on a Saturday and were then free until Monday. We had arrived at about 11.30 so it only cost us about £200 for the hour and a half but at least the apartment was free. I know, I do tend to exaggerate, but not much in London.

We toured London and were taken to a renowned restaurant of the fashion world elite, whereupon I sampled a dainty wood pigeon salad. The salad was seasoned with lead shot and my first bite exploded a molar on the upper right. The restaurant staff were terribly apologetic and promised to pay the dentist bill and didn't even charge for the offending salad. I ate nothing as I was now in shock. This put a dampener on the whole evening so we wandered back to discover that the car belonging to our friends had gone into the charging period by twenty minutes and it was clamped. A massive row, and a massive fine later and we were making an early start the next day with no sign of our friends. In fact we haven't seen them to this day. I did see a dentist briefly though, briefly, because I insisted on the full knockout. I did send the bill to the restaurant, but they never paid it. On the plus side this dentist was not a Nazi and I eventually overcame my fear.

But I digress. There are three whole pages on looking after your hands, and these tools are how you do it. I suppose you can look upon it as another time consuming hobby, like whittling, which will come later.

"Many hands are rendered uncomfortable by excessive perspiration" Here we go again. "In these cases... eau de Cologne and a powder puff". What happened to the leather conditioner.

The bundle at the bottom of the diagram is "orange-wood sticks". Amazingly these are for dipping in cleansing fluid to remove stains from finger nails. While even more amazingly... "To produce soft white hands there is no need to sleep in gloves smeared with grease. The custom is an offensive one" you don't say. You will however need rose water, glycerine, sand, pumice stone, lemon juice, hot milk, plain water, cold cream, pomade, palm oil, oatmeal water which must be made fresh daily, powdered starch, liquid ammonia, bags of bran, lemon rind and cucumber. It would probably just be quicker to sleep in gloves smeared in grease.

At this point I leap forward to household repairs only so I can insert the man's nails in next to the lady's nails. There is a treat still to come when I describe the master's tool chest but for now in this little taster let's just deal with nails. There is a whole page on nails. But don't panic..."Of the many sorts of nails only one or two will be required." French not hold so well as cut or wrought nails".

So not only are dangerous French sauces out, so are their weak nails.

There are two sections in the "Book of the Home" on "The Figure" and under dressmaking you can see what the problem was, below. Most dresses do not seem to be made for humans.

"Obesity is due to various causes...sometimes constitutional.... often it is due to inactivity, rich living, or an overabundance of food, even though plain."

In fact it is the lifestyle of constant dinner parties, held during burglaries, employing other people to do all the work ,and tiring oneself out with manicures and arm whitening that seem to be the main issues. We have yet to cover the arduous task of letter writing.

Mrs Humphrey is well ahead of the times again with the following advice...."Violent measures suddenly resorted to with a view to reducing flesh will injure the health"

She does insist though that you "strike out" from your Russian dinners...."potatoes, sugar, milk, and butter, new bread, stout (they don't call it stout for nothing), rice, cocoa, suet, and farinaceous foods".

In striking out farinaceous foods she means anything containing starch. What you should be eating are..."lean meat, toast, or thin slices of bread, dry biscuits, lemon juice, water, weak tea, stewed fruit, vegetables in small quantities and light wine."

It isn't really surprising that following that diet would soon get you into one of these waistlines below. It is fascinating that bread untoasted is bad but bread toasted is good, but I suppose toasting it to remove the water is the reason we are adding water to the list. It does look like the main way you cure obesity is refraining from eating anything nice. Some things definitely never change.

We now move to Leanness which is also a problem, unsurprisingly looking at those waistlines. Once you are lean we have remedies for that too. Massage is the answer, apparently, and the virginal milk is back. Scrawny arms can be massaged with warm linseed oil and virginal milk. You'll have to take off your grease filled gloves to do this. Having earlier told us to avoid fatty foods we are now advised to consume cod liver oil. "Friction" is the main remedy for all the bony areas of skin which gives "firmness, elasticity, and contour".

Vocal exercises also cure leanness it seems, along with gymnastics and the use of dumbbells three times a day. You can see the effects of the dumbbells in diagrams b. and c. Look at those biceps. Diagram a. shows what happens with excessive massage of the arms.

This wonder of modern science, below, is a geyser, named after the Icelandic wonder. You can now buy coffee makers that look a bit like that, as society has regressed from the spoonful of instant. When we moved house in 1970 there was a modern version of this device in the kitchen, it was gas operated and the gas ignited and heated the water as it was used. Sounds brilliant, no heating water unnecessarily.

The problem was that it didn't really work properly so every time you turned on the hot tap there was a long pause before the gas that had poured out actually ignited in a small explosion that rattled all the windows in the street. This was solved by buying protective gear for my mother who looked like a worker in a steel factory. Things hadn't moved on from 1909 very much. At least back then an army of servants with buckets and a coal cellar full of fossil fuels which were thrown into a massive fire, provided a backup system.

"Whether strong or delicate, never get into a gas heated bath... until the jet is turned off, and while the water is being heated let the windows and doors to be partially open for the free escape of the poisonous fumes"

This is probably Mrs Humphry's best bit of advice, after, don't put lead or arsenic on your face.

Mrs Humphry even goes one step further advising mistress that ..."the bell rope be within easy reach of any hot bath of whatever kind". Bathing was a seriously dangerous business, which was probably why Elizabeth I only risked it once a year, mind you she actually did plaster her face with lead and arsenic.

These angry looking beasts, below, are what mistress called accessories. If you went to a ball you were considered positively naked without one of these former animals draped around your heavily massaged and greasy, scrawny neck. This flattened menagerie are from the top, purely for comparison, a sealskin in three stages, unplucked, plucked, and plucked and dyed. I'm not sure what exactly was plucked as the point was supposed to be the fur surely.

Next, we have on top of that clubbed seal, a roadkilled, rat like object, which turns out to be a chinchilla. It's quite small and very furry so I'm not sure where mistress was supposed to put that. Then we have an ermine on the left and a mink on the right. You will notice that the ermine has a black tip to it's tail. British Lords in the House of Lords, our unelected Upper Chamber of parliament all wear large red cloaks trimmed with ermine for the occasional coronation. You may have seen pictures of these. They are white fur with black spots. Each black spot is an ermine tail. With a coronation in the offing I would not be an ermine at the moment. Palace guards are currently ransacking the Scottish Highlands for the little creatures.

For male peers, the Coronation robe is a cloak of crimson velvet extending to the feet, open in the front (with white silk satin ribbon ties) and trailing behind. Attached to the robe is a cape and collar of miniver pure; the rank of the peer is indicated by rows of ermine tails on the miniver cape: 4 for a duke, 3½ for a marquess, 3 for an earl, 2½ for a viscount and 2 for a baron. (Royal dukes have six rows of ermine, and additional rows on the collar and on the front edges of the garment.) Peers are entitled to wear the Coronation robe whether or not they are members of the House of Lords.

We currently have 808 hereditary peers, 29 dukes (including five royal dukes), 34 marquesses, 191 earls, 111 viscounts, and 443 barons, only 91 of whom sit in the upper chamber, the rest are so called life peers of which there are 654. These are mostly failed politicians and cronies who wouldn't in the majority of cases ever stand a chance of winning a seat in parliament at an election. Hereditary peers pass their title on in the family, while life peers titles disappear when they die. If you watch next year's coronation, they will all be there with their thousands of ermine tails, you will be able to press pause and count the black spots.

But I digress. The large savage animal in the middle which probably put up a bit of a fight is a wolverine. The wolverine is found primarily in remote reaches of the Northern boreal forests and subarctic and alpine tundra of the Northern Hemisphere, with the greatest numbers in Northern Canada, the U.S. state of Alaska, the mainland Nordic countries of Europe, and throughout western Russia and Siberia. wikipedia

On the left we have an Astrakhan and below that a Marten, while on the right a Silver Fox and a Sable.

Astrakhan - Newborn karakul sheep pelts are called astrakhan (Russian and French). The newborn lambs have a tight, curly pattern of hair. The lambs must be under three days old when they are killed, or they will lose their black color and soft, tightly wound coils of fur. Dark colors are dominant and lambs often darken in color as they age.

What woman wouldn't want to go to the ball with a three day old lamb draped across her heavily dumbbelled biceps.

Something that is interesting is the vast range of materials used in the making of clothes, many no longer in use, having been replaced with synthetic materials.

Wool and silk alone came in many different forms, nine woolen materials and seven made from silk are mentioned and that is before we start on cotton and linen. Some names are exotic and some still familiar. A few are...flannel, serge, cashmere, viyella, nun's veiling, merino, velveteen, gingham, glace, plush, tussore, sarcenet, grosgrain and alpaca. All of those were manufactured from either silk, wool or cotton.

"Flannel is the most healthy material for underwear," while " now little used for garments, though underskirts are sometimes made of it."

If you are not sure what your fabric is made of, just set fire to it, as advised below. The only tests within the reach of the buyer are those by burning or by touch. It is just as well we have reliable labelling these days as it would be a major health and safety hazard were people taking their clothing into changing cubicles, not to try it on for size, but to set fire to it. "It burned beautifully, I'll take it".

Having by now had a large luncheon of lemon juice, water, and dry toast and prior to that having spent most of the morning applying foodstuffs to her hands, and dying, bleaching, cutting and buffing her nails, it is now time for a leisurely afternoon of repoussé work. Or as we call it metal embossing.

There are pages and pages of advice on banging pieces of copper and brass into useful decorative plates, bent ironwork, leather embossing, basket making, poker work, and marquetry painting, in short, all sorts of manual labour that replaces the other manual labour she doesn't do because she pays servants to do it.

This was the age of The Arts and Crafts Movement. The Arts and Crafts movement was an international trend in the decorative and fine arts that developed earliest and most fully in the British Isles and subsequently spread across the British Empire and to the rest of Europe and America.

Initiated in reaction against the perceived impoverishment of the decorative arts and the conditions in which they were produced, the movement flourished in Europe and North America between about 1880 and 1920. It is the root of the Modern Style, the British expression of what later came to be called the Art Nouveau movement, which it strongly influenced. It was inspired by the ideas of historian Thomas Carlyle, art critic John Ruskin, and designer William Morris.

Morris further developed this idea, insisting that no work should be carried out in his workshops before he had personally mastered the appropriate techniques and materials, arguing that "without dignified, creative human occupation people became disconnected from life".

....and so it was that Edwardian ladies who were quite disconnected from life already, occupied their lives with newly acquired dignified occupation. Of course all of these Socialist theories were for the Middle Classes not the Working Classes. You couldn't allow the Working Classes to waste their lives on dignified creative human occupation, not when there were dinners to serve and baths to run and toilets to clean.

In the early 1880s, Morris was spending more of his time on promoting Socialism than on designing and making. Ashbee established a community of craftsmen called the Guild of Handicraft in east London, later moving to Chipping Campden.

East London was dirty, dangerous, and smelled bad, while Chipping Campden was a story book, thatched cottaged, village ponded, permanent blue skies and small white fluffy clouds sort of place. The last place you would want to spread Socialism is in a dark dirty inner city slum where conditions can only be improved, far better to try the rural idyll. Morris won important interior design commissions at St James's Palace and the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum). Later his work became popular with the middle and upper classes, despite his wish to create a democratic art. We all know democracy simply doesn't pay the bills.

The Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society held eleven exhibitions between 1888 and 1916. By the outbreak of war in 1914 it was in decline and faced a crisis. Its rejection of a commercial role has been seen as a turning point in its fortunes.

Even today there are ideologically led businesses still going down the failed route of rejecting commercialisation, or promoting politicisation of their products. It's the old purity test we commonly see today or as it is now called, "Get Woke, Go Broke". Some even boast of being "non-profit" a bizarre, virtuous, modern luxury that needs constant donations of money from the taxpayer either directly or in the form of public grants, to keep the virtuous in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed, while they lecture us on the evils of capitalism.

As Morris said, "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” That is why eventually after years of repoussé work and banging around in their garrets, Edwardian ladies invented the Jumble Sale.

Everything in Edwardian England needed a room's worth of equipment, even writing an occasional letter. There was such a boom in the postal service or The Royal Mail that in Edwardian London it was possible to mail a dinner invitation for that same evening and to also get a reply to your invitation all on the same day.

Murray's Handbook to London As It Is, 1879

London is divided into 8 postal districts, in which the number of deliveries varies from 12 to 6 daily, between 7.30 a.m. and 7.45 p.m. Letters posted at the Receiving-houses in London before 6 at night are delivered the same evening at all places within a circle of three miles from the General Post Office; or if posted before 5, they are delivered in the environs the same evening. The NIGHT MAILS FROM LONDON leave the G. P. 0. at 8 p.m., and (with one or two exceptions) arrive at all important towns in England and Wales in time for a morning delivery, beginning before 9 o’clock. The arrival at Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Dublin is also in time for a similar delivery.

"The golden rule in correspondence is to answer letters promptly, and then sort and lock up or destroy."

What sort of letters were they writing? ....and that equipment?

"Among optional articles may be mentioned pigeon-hole cabinets, type writers (plural), manifold-writers, copying apparatus (a literate mute servant will suffice), box files with expanding indexes, calendar desk-pads, letter-clips, paper-cutters, measured rulers, and pen trays."

Manifold-Writer - The first version of carbon paper was patented by Ralph Wedgwood—an estranged member of the famous Wedgwood pottery family—in 1806. The paper was the central component of Wedgwood’s “Manifold Stylographic Writer

A small extension at the back of the house is also recommended.

"In the country it is the duty of rural postmen to accept any kind of correspondence, whether registered or not, handed to them on their rounds."

One of life's greatest problems was how to write a letter to the King. Something none of us has had to consider for 70 years until a month ago. Luckily I found this book just in time.

I am obliged to open the letter with "Sir, May it please Your Majesty", and write on the envelope "His Most Gracious Majesty blank blank." But I now have a dilemma, what if I am sending a complaint, how can you open with "May it please Your Majesty" " I want to complain about all the noise from the Changing of the Guard, can you keep it down a bit please and stop all those 100 gun salutes after 9.00pm at night, Sir, Your Majesty, May it Please You, doesn't sound right.

Years ago when Britain had a car industry a friend of ours worked at the biggest and their computer systems were in their infancy. They had many problems with mass mailouts about product launches etc., which led to one infamous incident when a letter was sent to the King of Saudi Arabia, addressed, Dear Mr King. I have no doubt there were plenty of other howlers just as good.

Like Mistress, the word Madam has moved on a bit hasn't it? Maybe that is why in recent times Her Majesty the Queen went by Ma'am, pronounced as in ham, apparently, not as in harm. But that was only after the initial Your Majesty, as it was considered a bit irritating constantly repeating Your Majesty all of the way through the conversation.

If visiting a brothel however, Madam is now the word a la mode..........apparently. Etiquette is a serious business. This isn't even an exhaustive list of titled individuals, just the most important ones, quoted from Etiquette for Every Day. Who writes to the King every day? Me, if he doesn't stop all that noise soon, why all the marching and shouting on the parade ground, it's all a bit me me me isn't it?

Have you ever had the misfortune of having to lift an anvil? No, not many people have. But back in 1909 this was a must have, presumably for all the metal bashing in the afternoon, when luncheon was over. Incidentally I am not sure who was to blame for luncheon, probably the French. Have you ever been in France at lunch time? My advice is don't.

We used to trek all over France and would drive hundreds of miles, but do not arrive anywhere at one minute past midday, unless you want some cheese on toast. Five minutes to 12, fine, buzzing, thriving town, and the shops have been open a good two hours, but a minute after 12, tumbleweed. That is then your lot, sometimes until 4 o'clock in the afternoon. It takes a good four hours to eat a massive lunch and knock back a bottle of vino and then digest some of it before starting the real hard work of the day, opening your shop for another two hours.

It reminds me of a great joke based on racial stereotypes, so now that Elon Musk has bought Twitter let's go for it.

Spaniard (and don't start me on Spaniards eating at night) trying to explain the meaning of the word mañana to an Irish man. It means in the indefinite future or indicates procrastination. Literal meaning is tomorrow. Used to describe the Spanish attitude to work.

Irish man. Looks horrified and says "We don't even have a word to describe that sort of urgency"

Talking about Spaniards eating at night, you didn't think I was going to miss the chance did you? We drove across Spain failing to dine at night and going later and later and later to find a restaurant that was even open. Eventually we were going out at about 10pm and wandering around looking for somewhere open. If we found somewhere it was normally just us until about 11.30 pm when some daring local might appear. This of course was why Tapas was invented. About a hundred years ago people were collapsing in bars late at night, not intoxicated but dead from starvation. Bar owners worried they were losing trade to the mortuary started making little snacks to keep their patrons alive until the restaurant opened. The death rate started to fall off and the number of patrons gradually increased and the snacks were served earlier and earlier until people realised that they didn't need to go home at all. They could leave work and start with some garlicky fried potatoes, olives, air dried ham, you know the sort that hung from the ceiling with a hoof still on it and all it's piggy fur, covered in flies, anything that could be coated either in breadcrumbs or batter and fried, in sizes that could be fitted into the mouth whole, that sort of thing.

In Britain we had the pickled egg, pork scratchings, which were the bits of pig hoof with piggy fur on and without the ham or the flies, and any number of varieties of crisps in thousands of unusual flavours, ranging from Worcester Sauce, Wagyu Beef, SmokyBacon, Roast Chicken and Thyme, Chorizo Paella, Prawn Cocktail, Salt and Vinegar, Marmite, Hedgehog and many more. I only made up one of those and it wasn't hedgehog.

"Hedgehog Flavour Crisps were a brand of potato crisps developed by Phillip Lewis, a British pub landlord, in 1981. They were originally sold under the brand name Hedgehog Flavoured Crisps and were produced by Hedgehog Foods. They were withdrawn from sale in 1982 when the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) (Which has never been known for its sense of humour) alleged a breach of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 as the product was flavoured with pork fat and herbs and contained no actual hedgehog." Yes, you read that right.

Of course if you are in North America I am talking about Chips. Just to confuse matters further.....

"Fish 'n' Chips are the mini baked biscuits that pack some serious punch. Originally from the 80s, the tasty fish and chip-shaped snacks have become a national favourite well-known for their eye-watering flavour hit. They come in individual packs or larger bags for sharing and Salt n Vinegar is the signature flavour."

Of course if you are in North America these would be called Fish 'n' Fries and they would be described as mini baked cookies, see where this is going?

But I just broke the "But I Digress" record.

Have you got a home anvil? Maybe we need another extension with a reinforced floor?

The Family Tool Chest

"The kind of box in which tools are kept is immaterial, but it must be so large that any tool can be taken out without damage to the others. Can you damage an anvil? Isn't the whole point of an anvil that you bang nine merry bells of hell out of it. It is designed to be repeatedly hit hard with a lump hammer for all it's useful life. For this reason a spare room or even a cupboard is far more convenient than any box."

There you go another room for the anvil, and I was joking. "Even when no smith's work is done a small anvil is often very useful." Useful for what? There are thirteen pages of tools to display in your new tool room. I did woodwork and metalwork at school and we barely had this number of tools for twenty of us. We forged things from steel and none of us ever used an anvil. I made a very useful and very ugly coat hook which my mother duly hid at the back of a cupboard, it took me two years to make, mostly because it was filed by hand from a half ton block of steel. This was while David, the class psychopath hid at the back of the class sawing his way through the legs of the workbench with a tiny hacksaw which also took him two years. It was a true labour of love. In many ways far more practical than my coat hook. Had we ever been imprisoned in Colditz, David is the one who would have enabled the mass escape, like the one in the Shawshank Redemption, digging a thousand yard tunnel with a teaspoon.

How to kill yourself in 1909.

Electric Bells.

First make your battery. "The electric current, by which the bell is caused to ring, is generated in a battery consisting of one or more cells or jars containing the elements zinc and carbon, the former usually in the form of a rod with a copper wire at its upper end, to which one of the conducting wires is fastened; the latter either loose, in a porous earthenware cylinder or as a block surrounded by two rubber bands to keep it apart from the zinc."

On the other hand, my grandmother had about eight bells all of them non electric. They were attached to spiral springs and fixed to a board in various sizes, the different sounds of which denoted which room required service. Separate tensioned wires from each bell ran the length of the house, through the walls and attached to small hinged devices when they had to turn a corner at a right angle.

The bell board was positioned in what was the original servants kitchen which was where my grandmother lived, keeping the rest of the massive farmhouse "for best". "For Best" was a way of life for the working classes and the lower middle class, who if they owned or rented their own home, kept a room at the front "for best". My grandmother having accidentally moved upwards in circumstances to the point that she found herself owning a large historic farmhouse, couldn't change, and faced with the prospect of more rooms than she knew what to do with, decided to switch into reverse and keep the entire house "for best". In all the years she lived there I only saw the "Front Room" or the living room used once, at my great-grandmothers funeral. If a family of late Victorians had hitched a ride in HG Wells Time Machine and walked in to the living room that day in 1975 they would not have felt out of place at all.

The bells only ever rang once to my knowledge and my grandmother being asleep in her chair at the time, and me being upstairs in my bedroom, and bored, found myself contemplating life "Upstairs", and decided to find out if a butler would appear if I pulled the bell wire. No butler appeared but I did hear a terrified scream from the far distant depths of the house and I never pulled any of those bell wires again.

When not beating out copper plates, hammering the anvil, making batteries or writing to His Majesty, any spare moments could be filled by knitting Bootikins. This is a Bootikin.

"Use two small skeins of white Andalusian wool and an ivory crochet hook."

Not that I am being picky or anything, but there is a right way and a wrong way to do these things, and if an elephant has to be killed for this crochet hook then needs must. Looking up the word bootikin I find it is obsolete, much like a large part of ordinary life in this guide. Elephants just about survived.

I leave you to consider which parts of life over a hundred years ago would be preferable to today and which are best put to bed. Having had a very hard day filling my spare time, I must get ready for dinner which will mean my sixth change of clothes today. As E F Benson's Lucia would say "Au Reservoir!"

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4 commentaires

Membre inconnu
27 nov. 2022

The book or Mrs. Humphry and her worldly knowledge reminded me of Emily Post's books of "manners" also several volumes each directed to a specific group of people. Naturally, old age and dimentia, I could not remember Emily's name so asked my friend "Googs"to find me her name. Was I surprised to see that not only did Emily write books about manners but so did Peter Post ( her great-grandchild). The two that caught my eye were "Essential Manners for Men."and "Essential Manners for Couples...."

Of course me being me...I noticed that Emily's first publication was 1922....wondering if she learned her "ettiquette" from Mr.s Humphry?

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
27 nov. 2022
En réponse à

Just looked that up. I wonder what Mrs Humphry would have made of "remote control" etiquette.🤣


John Durham
John Durham
23 nov. 2022

Dang! I needs me one of those books!

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
24 nov. 2022
En réponse à

You strike me as a man that might well own an anvil.🤣

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