Friday, 7 June 2019
In the 18th and 19th centuries, everybody had servants. But we know better, don’t we? We don’t have servants, we have cleaners and au pairs and nannies. The rich have concierges and personal assistants.
In the early days, servants were necessary to provide light and heat. You rang for a servant to “snuff” the candles because self-consuming wicks hadn’t been invented. An unsnuffed candle would melt, and a waterfall of wax would drip on the carpet. They also cleaned and replenished the candlesticks. When oil lamps came in, they filled and cleaned them. They carried coals and logs, and built fires in every grate. A gentleman or lady could not put a lump of coal on the fire if it burned low, even with tongs – you rang for the servant.
Apart from cooking and cleaning, serving food and clearing it away, servants were necessary for sanitation. Your bedroom was your toilet as well as your bathroom, thanks to the chamber pot that lived either under the bed or in a “nightstand” next to your bed. You threw the results into a covered “slop bucket” under your washstand. Servants carried up cans of hot water for washing, and then poured the waste water into the slop bucket and carried the whole thing downstairs to the kitchen. The products of the outside privy were thrown into the ashbin where all the household waste went. This was collected after dark by “night-soil men” and was sold as fertiliser. (Flush toilets and drains arrived in the mid-19th century.)
If ladies ran out of conversation, they could always complain about their servants. The comic magazine Punch published a series of “Servant-gal-isms”, hilarious cartoons in which servants were ridiculed for calling a maisonette a mayonnaise, and having interests above their station. “Can I have the evening off, madam? Cook next door is having a Language of Flowers bee.” (A “bee” was a quiz.)
Middle-class home-owners suffered from something called “the servant problem” as new laws forced them to pay their staff a decent wage, and give them time off. Many women found better jobs in shops, cafés and factories. After World War II, servants seemed to be a thing of the past. But the 50s housewife was now expected to do the entire work of the house, cook all the meals, wash the clothes and bring up the children – singlehanded. It took a few years before people realised that this was, in fact, impossible – and labour-saving devices were born.
This long preamble is to explain why our family had servants in the 50s. My mother produced four children in ten years. My parents bought a big house in the country which was a bargain for several reasons. It was remote, and it was the servants’ quarters of an even bigger house that had been partitioned off. Nothing else had been done to it, and we lived with the old wallpaper for years. There was no central heating – warmth came from an Aga in the kitchen (powered by coal-dust nuggets), open fires, and paraffin stoves. In winter, we had chilblains. The Good Old Days!
We were looked after by a live-in nanny, who had been my father’s, and had been rather wished on us by my grandmother. Edie also lived in and did some of the cooking. She started boiling the cabbage at ten in the morning, so by lunchtime it resembled seaweed. A joint of meat was cooked every Sunday, and we lived on it throughout the week. It got progressively more edible as it reappeared as rissoles and cottage pie. Jam, sugar and butter were no longer on the official ration, but they were doled out parsimoniously. (“You don’t need to add sugar! It’s got sugar in it! It’s sweet enough!”) There was no chutney, and no salad cream or tomato ketchup until the 60s.
Dolly came in to clean, and Mr Young worked in the huge garden in which we grew a lot of our food. Dolly, Edie and Mr Young were all related, and eventually another family member, Mrs Thayer, became our cleaner. Edie moved on to housekeep for the single man who lived at the bottom of our garden. Nanny was pensioned off and replaced by 16-year-old Patty, who wore pointed shoes and full skirts and was involved in the Youth Club. (Why couldn’t we join when we were old enough? Or perform in the panto? They were Church of England only. Those were the days.)
Yes, it makes us sound rich and privileged, doesn’t it? Didn’t we know that it was just wrong to employ servants? "How can I ask another woman to clean my oven?" moaned a middle-class columnist recently.
Let’s take food first. Post-war, we thought we should eat a lot of meat now that it was available again, and it required a lot of preparation. There were no convenience foods, no ready meals. You couldn’t buy a tray of cooked chicken pieces, or even chicken legs or fillets. If you wanted chicken, you bought a bird. At least they came featherless, with the giblets wrapped in paper inside. Fish sometimes came whole, requiring “cleaning”, and rabbits came with fur. There were no takeaways apart from the odd chip shop and off course we couldn’t go to one of those. Vegetables were sold caked in dirt. Desserts, scones, cakes, jam, marmalade were home-made. Without freezers, veg was preserved in Kilner jars (or you opened a tin). We'd have been happy with macaroni cheese, sausages, bacon or beans on toast, all of which can be cooked in half an hour. But they were an occasional treat.
The laundry: Our first washing machine had a boiler compartment, and a mangle. This monster was replaced by a “twin-tub” with a terrifying spin-dryer. We kept these devices until they wore out – they must have been expensive. It was much harder to get credit, and “hire-purchase” or “the HP” was looked down on by people like us, partly because you ended up paying much more for the thing. There were no disposable nappies.
Cleaning: Our house was too big, and inconvenient, with dark unused spaces left over as the Victorians extended further and further out.
Clothes: My mother made quite a lot of ours, and her own. Jerseys and vests were knitted by our grandmother and great-aunts.
Outings and entertainments were few, and we had no TV for years. (My father was given one as part-payment for a job.) On holiday, we took huge picnics instead of going to cafés.
So, we heated our bedrooms inefficiently with paraffin, wore hand-me-downs, grew our own food – and employed servants? I hope I’ve made the case that running a home was far harder work in those days, and it was cheaper to hire someone to do some of it than to buy the washer-drier that wasn’t on the market yet.
Despite all this, 50s husbands expected to come home to a fancy dinner every evening, served by candlelight and to be eaten with silver cutlery. The pre-war life enabled by servants was supposed to continue.
In the 60s, we delightedly tried out TV dinners (once), and bought Lyons cakes (delicious). We experimented with spaghetti, Instant Whip, Nesquik, yoghurt, peanut butter and Dairylea cheese triangles. Food became “fun”. The house was remodelled and redecorated. “Nightstor” heaters were installed to “take the chill off” – we weren’t allowed to turn them up. We acquired a huge freezer and my mother cooked a lot of pies to be defrosted later. And of course freezing transformed shopping – though I can’t recommend the French beans. The legs of mutton disappeared and were not missed.
We were better-off now and we all relaxed a bit. The youngest went to school, Patty got married and only Mrs Thayer remained. (When my mother met her again years later she hugged her and addressed her as “Joyce”, later commenting how times had changed.)
These days, we wouldn't dream of cooking anything that took three hours to prepare. And standards have slipped a bit - who cares about a bit of dust? Anyway, we've got rid of all those dust-gathering knick-knacks. Why make work for yourself?
Were we terrible people to employ servants? Does it mean that we were so privileged that we should spend the rest of our lives apologising? Or was it just the way we lived then?
Dirty Old London by Lee Jackson, and Mrs Woolf and the Servants by Alison Light.
Monday, 5 November 2018
50s Scoop for creating perfect melon/ice cream/mashed potato balls.
Vast heavy Kenwood mixer which takes up huge amounts of space.
Icing bag. Ditto for creating decorative mashed potato effects.
Bread board with BREAD carved into the rim.
Enamel bread bin in which the bread goes rapidly stale and mouldy.
Heavy metal mincer you screw to the pine kitchen table.
Canteen of cutlery (wedding present).
Apron home-made from remnants.
Role model: perfect housewife.
Sink waste disposal unit.
Electric carving knife.
Vast earthenware mixing bowl suitable for a country house kitchen.
Filter coffee maker (easy to tip over).
Knives with a serrated bit, a cutting edge and a spike for picking up and serving chunks of cheese.
Wooden salad bowl which you're not allowed to wash, heavy iron omelette pan ditto.
Victorian style set of flour, sugar, cocoa etc tins.
Rubber pan scrapers.
Salad servers with decorated ceramic handles.
Toasted sandwich maker.
Freezer, and a freezer compartment in the fridges (food came marked with stars showing how long you could freeze it for).
Wooden steak tenderiser.
Fish knives, but designed in Sweden and made of stainless steel.
Runcible spoon with a serrated edge.
Skewers for skewering a vast joint of meat.
Gadget for piercing the top of a boiled egg.
Mandolin for slicing boiled eggs.
Striped unisex butcher apron.
Role model: perfect housewife, sophisticated lady.
Enamel saucepans, coffee pots and colanders from France (classic design, if it ain’t broke).
Tinny coffee makers you set on the gas and then turn over – again from France or Italy. (Only common people had percolators, perhaps because they were American.)
Skewers for baking potatoes faster.
Orange and blue Le Creuset casseroles.
Thick pottery soup bowls with a handle.
Mezzaluna from Italy for chopping fresh herbs.
Large glass jars with wooden lids for displaying different types of pasta.
Wire vegetable racks (we used a set of office in and out trays).
Wooden knife block.
Marble pestle and mortar sets that we gave each other for Christmas and nobody ever used (they were for crushing your own cardamom seeds instead of buying curry powder).
Bouqet garni bags we gave each other for Christmas. Single people in particular got given these to encourage them to give dinner parties – it was the speed dating of its time.
Bunches of dried herbs and dried flowers.
Stripped pine standalone furniture.
Bamboo egg whisks from Chinatown.
A shelf of paperbacks.
Butcher apron as before, or a plastic one in the same style with a jokey message.
Role model: earth mother or academic.
Catering knives and equipment from Jaeggi in Soho.
Fish slices and tureen spoons hanging from hooks.
Set of bamboo steamers from Chinatown, never used.
Philippe Starck lemon squeezer (because everything has to be "designer").
Alessi knives (ditto).
Don’t phone for the fish knives, we don’t use them any more.
Brushed steel counter tops like a French café, everything built in.
It was about efficiently whipping up gourmet food despite working long hours and earning pots of money. All these gadgets were mainly for show, the gleaming steel being a sign of practicality, modernity and ruthlessness.
No apron – you just got soup on your dirndl skirt. Role model: banker.
What's an apron?
Electric lemon squeezer.
At some point we worked out that we could keep sliced bread in the freezer compartment instead of a bread bin. Enamel bread bins turn up on Bargain Hunt.
Plastic tomatoes and onions for saving half apples, onions etc. Also come in “banana”.
What’s a corkscrew? And how am I going to attach the mincer to the island?
Saturday, 3 November 2018
1980: M&S starts selling packaged sandwiches, and everybody follows.
Boeuf en croute (Beef Wellington), salmon en croute
Belgian creperies were everywhere. (The crepes were wholewheat, and stuffed with stuff. They were small, thin, limp, tepid and not much use if you were actually hungry.)
Vegetarians ate “something something bake”. Layered aubergine, tomato and mozarella. Or stir-fried veg with satay sauce.
fried potato skins with dips
raspberry coulis (very thin, non-fattening sauce)
steak sandwiches washed down with Rolling Rock, Sol and Peroni
sun-dried tomatoes (as a dish on their own in too much olive oil)
French onion soup
American burgers and burger sauces
blueberry muffins (fairy cakes)
nouvelle cuisine (Tiny portions on a black octagonal plate. Again, no use if you're hungry.)
raw baby spinach salad
herby sausages with far too much sage
shiitake mushrooms (You were supposed to grow your own on a log.)
pears in chocolate sauce
fried black pudding with potato/swede mash (Black Lightning)
wild rice, red rice from the Camargue
black Puy lentils
steamed vegetables (Meant you had to buy a steamer - it was a decade of kitchen equipment.)
mustard dressing with whole dark mustard seeds
mozarella in carozza
deep-fried breaded Camembert
But the bread in sandwiches was always stale, unless you went to a café where they made a bespoke sandwich before your very eyes, taking the sliced bread out of the plastic. Thank heavens for Pret!
More food here.
Tuesday, 8 August 2017
While updating my mini ebook Whatever Happened To...? I began to yearn for Oat Crunchies and prawn-flavoured Niknaks. So I put together this menu for the perfect retro dinner party.
This is the food I want to eat again. I’ll do a menu of chops and boiled cabbage followed by junket, all washed down with sweet white wine, another time.
Cold consommé with sour cream and chives
Caramelised onion tart
Crudités and dips
Rye bread with caraway seeds
Poppy seed rolls
Orange and watercress salad
Green salad (butterhead lettuce) with French dressing
Russian salad (cooked diced vegetables in mayonnaise)
Pommes Duchesse (creamed potato swirls)
Individual fruit pies
Seed cake and sand cake
Ambrosia creamed rice
Black cherry yoghourt
Lemon meringue pie
WASHED DOWN WITH
Clarnico mint creams
Buy the book! It could prove useful if you are writing a novel set in the last 50 years.
More food here.
Thursday, 26 January 2017
Strip cartoons stay in the year they were first published. Modesty Blaise: 1962. Fred Basset: 1957 (suburbs, man in granddad clothes. In 2014 he’s got a laptop, but they’ve still got an open fire in a 30s grate, with an armchair either side. Clive and Augusta: 1967. Bristow: 1960 (ancient adding machines and everything done on paper).
In radio documentaries, quotations from 18th and 19th century writers are read by an actor putting on a silly voice. They’ve used the same silly voice for 30 years: deep, fruity and with a faint mummerset inflection.
The mantua began as bedroom wear, but developed into a stylised and strangely fossilised uniform for formal occasions. In the slow-moving world of the court it was still worn in the 1760s, but looked like an extreme parody of the off-duty outfits of nearly a century earlier. (If Walls Could Talk: An intimate history of the home, Lucy Worsley) Court dress was still being advertised in the 30s. Debutantes wore a modified version to be presented at Court in the 1950s, before the Queen abolished the practice. The debs weren’t daunted: they now wear long white dresses and curtsey to a cake at Queen Charlotte’s ball. In 2017.
150 years after the invention of the typewriter, some are still insisting that children should be taught “joined up writing” or cursive (the reasons given change). Back then, if you could write good cursive, you could get a job as a clerk. These days, why not teach all children proper touch-typing?
D’Oyley Carte productions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operas became fossilised versions, weighted down by accreted “business”. The company closed in 1982 and others were free to interpret G&S in their own way. But there’s a moment when everybody believes that is the thing. English folk songs just are dirges about mine disasters sung by old men putting on a rural accent. Or else they just are twee choral arrangements sung affectedly by the BBC singers.
Imbrication (a pattern like hanging tiles) derives from Roman Dacian scale armour via the 15th century, says historian Jonathan Foyle.
Horn of plenty or cornucopia: in prehistory, people used animals’ horns like handbags or baskets.
Doric capitals (the curly ones) on columns follow the horns of rams' head capitals. (You can see some in Whiteley's in Queensway.)
Were deckled edges on writing paper derived from the uneven edges of torn parchment?
Scroll decoration: look at a real scroll.
Stone garden planters sometimes have a ring carved on the side – originally a real ring for carrying the object with two poles.
Instructions on party invites for “carriages at 12, black tie”.
We still talk about “horsepower”, and the Deux Chevaux was a popular car.
Fictive damask: it’s painted on the wall.
Some new office blocks are modelled on converted warehouses.
Cabriole legs on furniture descend from Egyptian tables and chairs which had legs modelled on animals’ limbs.
You can get a tattoo imitating cross stitch.
Battery tea lights and votive lights in churches imitate wax candles.
Plastic nit-combs: originally made of bone, the design is unchanged for 1000s of years.
CGI imitates hand-drawn animation, Thunderbirds puppets, stop-motion (Mr Fox).
The underscore key (and character) on a computer keyboard: it used to be for underlining.
Nobody has worn a waist-cinching corset since the 50s, but Disney princesses have 1880 waists.
Modernist houses were modelled on TB sanatoria (flat roofs, sun loungers, covered corridors, balconies, big windows).
Brooms and whisks were originally branches and twigs.
Dummy chimneys on new houses.
Earthenware dishes were based on wooden originals.
Curb chains worn as jewellery are modelled on part of a horse’s bridle.
Buildings are given watchtowers when there’s no need to look out for an enemy, a returning fleet, or misbehaving prisoners.
Lead bullets were fired by slings before guns.
Architects are building tower blocks inspired by Excel spreadsheets, points out Adam Nathaniel Furman.
Banqueting suites and venues for hire still provide gilt “rout chairs” from the early 1800s. Light and moveable, they were the plastic stacking chairs of their day. They go with white tablecloths, and give the whole place an air of formality, social awkwardness and deep gloom. You place them round the edge of the ballroom for wallflowers to sit on and wish they’d never been born.
Do Olympians pretend to bite silver and bronze medals as well as gold? (You bit sovereigns to make sure they weren’t counterfeit – gold is softer.)
The fashionable stopped wearing patches (artificial beauty spots) in the late 18th century, but that was no reason to close down the thriving patch box industry, and the makers carried on designing new models and selling to collectors.
Saw a plastic jamjar with a handle for sale in Sainsburys. (PM)
In the early 20th century, makers of classical marble, slate and onyx clock garnitures took a long hard look at their unsold stock and designed some Art Deco Cubist versions to use up their warehouse full of marble etc.
forelock-tugging: It’s constantly invoked as a sign of overdone deference, though nobody has actually tugged a forelock since about 1920. You clutched the brim of your hat (tipped your hat) as a vestigial version of raising your hat out of respect. If you weren’t wearing a hat, you tugged your forelock. Why did you raise your hat? Because you were supposed to remove your hat in the presence of a lady, or someone further up the social hierarchy. And raising the hat was a vestigial version of taking the hat right off and bowing low.
Notorious Bank junction '... too many people milling around in a space designed for horses and carts. ' (@susieclapham)
TV screens (squares with rounded corners) turned up all over 60s art. Sunglasses were much the same shape. Windows were modelled on aeroplane windows – with round corners to stop them cracking.
Piracy had ceased to pay, but a vocational tradition will last long after it has ceased to be economic, in a decadent form. (Richard Hughes)
Women go on making rather dull, simple pillow lace long after the fashion for trimming all clothes and underwear with lace has passed (and lace has been made by machine for 100 years). Yet lace never entirely disappears. it lingered in various forms into the 80s with a revival of lace collars and petticoats. There was a revival in the 90s and somebody wrote a brilliant article on the semiology of different coloured lace. White – you look like a doily. Black and red – tarty. Navy blue or brown – mother of the bride. Pale green? Turquoise? Lilac?
Medieval great halls were modelled on Bronze Age round houses which were modelled on yurts with seats round the edge and a brazier or hearth in the centre.
Maes Howe, Kevin’s Kitchen (ancient underground spaces with huge corbelled “spires”) copy caves. Cathedrals are the same thing above ground (apart from the crypt).
Seaside piers were originally for steamers picking up passengers – they could only sail in deep water. When the steamers went, towns went on building piers.
After the War, wire-grid stretchers were converted into fences for council estates in Deptford an East Dulwich. Subsequent council estate fences were modelled on the stretchers.
Early newspaper computer systems used the language of “desks” and “baskets” (what we called “metaphors” in those early computer days). We still talk about a computer’s “desktop”.
Writer and priest Ronald Knox noticed that in the 20s, women who had had their hair “shingled” (cut very short), still patted the backs of their heads as if to check their updo.
Ranch-style houses of the 50s copied genuine ranches – wooden cabins built around a chimney put together from whatever rocks you could find lying around.
Deeply buttoned leather sofas were copied from car interiors (It was as if a motor car had spawned. EM Forster), which in turn were copied from carriage interiors – padded to protect you from the lurching of the vehicle, and probably for warmth as well. And leather would be hardwearing and waterproof.
Gas lights were modelled on the lanterns hung at the doors/gateways of grand houses. Electric “carriage lamps” outside your 30s villa are a further evolution.
New houses are modelled on converted Victorian houses (a long thin “living area” with windows front and back, copying two small rooms “knocked through”).
In the Ice Age there was no distinction between dolls and idols (articulated figures have been found). There are wooden Egyptian figures in the British Museum with articulated arms. Egyptian (and early Greek) statues of gods follow articulated figures, with a slot in the hand to hold a rod or spear.
Digging at Silbury Hill revealed successive layers of chalk and turf. It was a model of the moon: you could clad it in chalk so that it would shine (especially by moonlight), and then make it go “dark” again by covering it in turf. And when the moat fills with water the hill is reflected, and the moon is full. It is this that it is, my theory.
Reverse skeuomorph: Zoroastrians use real flaming urns in their ceremonies.
This blog is really about how the way we live now grew out of the way we lived then. The future doesn't arrive all at once: there are odd pockets that fail to keep up with the march of progress and are always lagging behind.
Pub opening and closing times (introduced in World War One) fitted contemporary work start and end times (sometimes 8am to 4pm), as did last tube and last bus times. When we started work later and left later, these were slow to catch up.
Some letter-writers don’t seal post because they think it’s cheaper to send unsealed envelopes. Not true since 1969 and the introduction of 1st and 2nd class post.
Treasury tags resembled tiny green shoelaces and were used in old-fashioned filing systems. They lived on in office drawers long after becoming pointless.
People are still using (and buying, and supplying in cafes and restaurants) teaspoons and jam spoons that are too short for the tall glass coffee cup, or the jampot. What they need are long “parfait” spoons, designed for eating ice cream from one of those tall glasses.
Most Essex/Cardiff girls get breast implants, but clothes manufacturers haven't caught up. They’re still using measurements taken immediately after the war, in the 50s, when food had been rationed for 10 years. And the average unaltered English woman has hips that are two inches wider than her bust. Another side effect of better nutrition is that people are now taller – again, manufacturers pay no attention. So the girls at Aintree Ladies' Day wear dresses strained over the bust, with a waist that’s too high and a skirt that’s too short.
New, groovy craft books recycle the same old patterns for – tumbler cosies? Wine bottle cosies? Did anyone ever a) make them or b) use them? (They might have gone with the raffia placemat aesthetic of the early 60s.) Also unwearable slippers (slippery), knitted summer tops and dresses (hot).
Why did anyone object to “illegitimate” children if they didn’t think unmarried sex was a mortal sin, and the laws had been changed so that you could legitimize a child?
It makes sense to ban contraception when you need cannon and factory fodder. But the idea that contraception was somehow sinful continued after these were no longer needed, and we worried about overpopulation. Some doctors would only prescribe the pill for married women. And in the 70s some women having abortions were pressured to be sterilised at the same time, or have an IUD.
Prom dresses are copied from ball gowns designed for ballroom dancing, but girls wear them to “bop”. They have looked silly for 40 years.
When will social etiquette catch up with idiots who blare songs/videos on their phones in restaurants already playing music? (@andybud_o New technology always takes some time to develop its own code of manners.)
Toner was intended to clean off greasy cleansers, like cold cream, in the days when women were convinced by beauty pundits that soap was too "drying", and at the same time their faces were being destroyed by ingrained dirt (more likely before the Clean Air Act). So toner went out of style. But toners are back, says the Times March 2015: “The toners that we used to know were harsh, aggressive and dried out your skin. Now they are designed to soothe, hydrate and calm.” Old versions of revived products were always “harsh”. (Women's products are always sold as “gentle and kind”.)
There’s a lingering feeling that doctors need something to give patients to “keep them happy”. If they can’t refer to homeopaths, what can they do? Before regulation, they handed out useless “tonics”, or prescribed rest cures – perhaps we should bring these back.
Historian Quentin Bell pointed out that because of the lag between design and construction, buildings “with bobbed hair, cloche hats and short skirts” were being finished when women’s fashions had moved on to curls, frills and drapery.
We went on making steamed puddings long after we’d ceased to cook over open fires in a cauldron (when boiling a pudding in a cloth made sense). And they were recommended in WWII, when we were also urged to save fuel.
Men’s shirt pockets still fit cigarette packets, not mobile phones (and why do women’s tops have a tiny useless pocket?)
Elastic was in short supply during WWII, hence all those instructions to cut up old rubber gloves and hot water bottles to make elastic bands, which persisted long after the need for them had gone. We were still being told to wash rice and lentils in the 70s, when they came in packets. My mother used to save the wrappers from butter and margarine to grease pans for baking long after vegetable oil became available, and butter and marge were no longer rationed. We were also told to grease pie dishes because that was how you stopped the pudding sticking to the sides of a pudding basin – but pointless when you're making a casserole.
Continuing to lay a table cloth on a deal kitchen table, or one with a plasticised surface. Converse: marking your polished wood table because you don’t realise that you need a woollen cloth, covered with a linen cloth, and place mats.
Insisting on shallow, tepid baths even though you now have constant hot and cold running water. (And only three times a week.)
An older person pointed out c. 1970 that girls were wearing long, floaty, old-fashioned, feminine dresses – with the big clumpy platform shoes that went with mini-dresses. And it looked all wrong. She was right.
We still talk about “bed linen” even though it’s made of cotton, and used to refer to “under-linen”. We still “tape” when we record, and refer to recordings as “tapes”. Well, you can’t get “sex recording” into a headline. We still “film” things (“videoing” is awkward).
Newspapers called the Something Herald or Bugle. When was news last announced by a herald with a bugle?
Sitting with your back to the engine (or facing) on trains was relevant when carriages were open, and if you faced the engine you might get a face full of ashes, sparks and cinders. It continued as a superstition that some people felt sick unless they “faced the engine” or vice versa.
Gas lighting used up oxygen and people began to stifle, so keeping one window open even in winter was a good idea.
Tomato pincushions still have an emery-filled strawberry attached for de-rusting your needles. Modern stainless steel pins and needles don’t go rusty or oxidised.
Enamel hot water jugs and galvanised iron baths lived on in houses after we all acquired indoor plumbing. They were just repurposed: the baths ended up in the garden, full of earth and plants (as now with Belfast sinks). Or else they were used as drinking troughs for animals. The enamel jugs became flower vases. Some tin hot water jugs became watering cans (enamelled and painted). (And cattle drinking troughs in cities are now full of plants.)
Brushing your hair 100 times a day keeps it glossy, we're told. It's a relic of the days when Victorian women had waist-length hair. The (soft) brush distributed the oil from the top to the end and probably did make your hair smooth and glossy. Detangling was done with a comb. But there's no need to brush short hair 100 times.
Early Man threw precious objects into bogs from 10,000BC. We still throw coins into water, and tie rags and more onto sacred trees.
Hats and gloves for formal wear lasted into the 50s. Originally the gloves kept your hands clean – and the veil on your hat kept your face clean and protected it from the sun.
Why do some people STILL refer to utility companies as 'boards' 30 years after the shackles of nationalisation were cut away? (@davidkingmozart)
The menservants who worked in large and lavish households were still made to wear powder, and grand footmen looked like extras from Cinderella right up to the Second World War. (If Walls Could Talk: An intimate history of the home, Lucy Worsley)
And isn't it time for lawyers to junk those stupid wigs?
Picture by John Leech.