Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Victorian Life

I did try to sort this out in PhotoImpression, but that never related back to the original scan . . . Ah well.

The illustration shows bathtime in a genteel Victorian nursery, with the nursery governess and her charges. It was an illustration from a serial, "Forlorn, Yet Not Forsaken" - the true story of a nursery governess (1885). It sounds full of the high melodrama which the Victorians loved.

A few more excerpts to continue from yesterday's Girl's Own Paper will have to suffice. I have my Gardening Head on and am full of plans (hopefully energy too!)

If you are ever left in charge of a range, once reading the tips below, I am sure you will be able to cope . . .

A good cook is very particular about her fire. She first pokes it well underneath, to clear it thoroughly from the dust and small cinders which will have settled at the bottom, pushing the live coals to the front of the range. She then puts fresh coal on the fire, choosing for her purpose not large blocks of coal, but what are called "nubbly" pieces. She does not throw these on from a scuttle, but arranges them with her fingers, protected by an old glove, so that they shall be packed closely, yet leaving room for a draught of air to pass between the lumps. She then sweeps up the hearth, collects the cinders, and places them with some coke or damped coal-dust at the back of the fire. A fire made like this will last a long time. As soon as the front part is clear and bright it is ready for the meal.

Some girls might be given a practical education, as in this extract from "Graduates in Housekeeping and How They Qualified" (1883):

All the girls learn how to dust a room and make a bed; to cut out, make, and mend their clothes; and those above fourteen years old learn how to arrange, cook, and serve a dinner; to keep accounts, to black a grate and light a fire.

The many courses of the typical Victorian meal in those days is summarised thus in "The Bride's First Dinner Party" (1887), when the heroine, Mabel, wishes to entertain 6 guests with a budget of £1 total expenditure (!). The menu was thus:

Potato Soup
Tomatoes Farcies
Rolled Loin of Mutton and Sour Plums
Mashed potatoes, with Brown Potatoes round Stewed Celery
Ready-made Pudding: Orange Jelly
Macaroni Cheese

Blimey - no wonder women picked at their food - imagine trying to eat this with a CORSET on!

Laundry was another issue:

Washing at home is, of course, the cheapest plan; and, in addition, you have the comfort of not being stinted. For a small family of two or three persons, you should wash every fortnight or three weeks, having a washerwoman in. She would probably take two days only if your servants did the folding and hanging out and helped in the ironing. 2s and 2s. 6d. is paid by the day, the latter for ironing. A washing-machine and a wringer simplify matters, and save in soap and time. About a bar of good old soap, four pennyworth of soda, and a quarter pound of starch would be enough. The clothes should be put in soak overnight.

Indeed, work WAS hard and in those times I may well have had to earn my living as a dressmaker, or worse still, as a seamstress:

"I used to get 1s 4d a dozxen for making and finishing, all complete, full-sized strong shirts. These had back-linings, straight bands, five buttonholes and seven buttons. If there were two gussets or vents put in, I had an extra penny a dozen. Buttons were found, but not needles or thread . . . I knew one woman athat never lay down in bed for three months, but took what rest she had sitting in a chair. Shew thought she should never muster courage to get up if she were once comfortably under the clothes. She had four children to keep somehow . . . For handkerchief hemming a penny-farthing a dozen, or 15d a agross, is paid. A girl I know does handkerchiefs, and gets 10s a week or so without expenses off. One week she'd been at it nearly night and day. She was saving for a new gown. She carried in 15s of work, and the master said she was earning too much, and knocked off 1s. !"

You can see why some people died of exhaustion in those days. Next time I am busy, I shall think to myself you don't know you've been born compared with women like those . . .


Anonymous said...

Wash your clothes ever fortnight or three weeks?? Stinky!!!
Too bad we can't send todays young kids back in time for a couple weeks.. it would quickly change some atitudes.

Morning's Minion said...

My bachelor uncle was the "domestic engineer" in my grandfather's womanless household when I was a child. Once a week he rolled out a huge electic washer with attached wringer, heated gallons of water on the wood stove and went at it with generous amounts of Oxydol soap powder and blueing. In summer the drying laundry made shadows on the little green lawn between the cherry trees, in winter sheets froze and crackled on the front porch lines while lesser items hung limply on a wooden clothes horse in the dining room.

nancy said...

wonderful stuff! I agree with Pat! Either they had an awful lot of clothing, or they wore them until they could stand up in the corner by themselves.

femminismo said...

Well, I can see where if you wanted your bread or cake to rise evenly you would be particular about your fire. My goodness, what luxuries we have nowadays. Thank you for showing this wonderful glimpse of "past life." I don't even want to think about washing, wringing and hanging out linens. That quite tires me out. Jeanne in Oregon

Bovey Belle said...

I think that the outer garments were pretty heavy and difficult to get dry once washed, so they just brushed them in between washings and perhaps used something to de-odorize them a bit. I grew up in a time when it was a once-a-week wash though - my mum had a "copper" in the kitchen which was used, and a mangle which clipped on to the end of the table.

Jeanne and Nancy - it would have been quite a challenge, washing like that, really hard work. (My DH's g.grandmother took in washing and it did for her in the end as she caught smallpox from the Circus laundry . . .)

Minion - that's a fine piece of writing. LOVE it.

Anonymous said...

Have you watched any of Victorian farm on BBC2 Thurs nights? She was doing the laundry and it looked back-breaking...particularly the dollying, "Flippin' hard work", exclaimed Ruth Goodman! I believe her.