Based on childhood recollections
of working class family life in north London in Edwardian times.
Typical decor of an everyday room in a working class household in
the early 1900s. Note the
rug on the floor, the wallpaper, the picture on the wall, the
fender, the long curtains and the high back chairs. This photo is
courtesy of Don Billing and shows his grandmother, Alice Long in
Islington, north London. She was probably living in an older, larger
house than the terraced houses on the
Huxley Estate as I do not
remember their ceilings being as high.
The word 'kitchen' has changed its meaning over the years. In the early 1900s
when I was a child on the working class
Huxley Estate, the kitchen was where
the family really lived, ate, worked and played. The
scullery was where the food preparation, cooking
and washing took place. The first sketch on the
house plans page shows how the two were
The wall on the passage (hall) side of the kitchen was quite attractive tongued
and grooved wood and it made up the side of the coal hole where the
coalman shot the coal when he delivered. The
back wall had a window which looked out onto the back garden.
By the 1940s most residents of the Huxley Estate were
referring to the kitchen as the 'living room'.
The kitchen fire
A main reason why the kitchen was the focal point of the house, was because there was
welcoming fire burning there. A fire somewhere
was essential because coal was our only form of heating - to keep ourselves warm, for
hot water and to cook with.
So far, the best picture I have of the small range that would have been
in working class kitchens. Note the fitted fireguard. Photographed in
Milton Keynes Museum.
I am uncertain where exactly were the steel 'outer rims' that my mother
mentions. If you can help, please let me know. Pat
The kitchen fire was in a small version of the the kitchen range in the scullery and my mother kept it beautifully clean with black lead - a
polish for cleaning and polishing cast iron. The outer rims were steel and were
always kept bright with emery paper. These kitchen ranges, as they were often
called, were a lot of work but there was a great deal of good about them. Many
a tasty meal has come out of their ovens which were well-used.
There was a smell that I associate with the kitchen range: It is is of wet
outdoor clothes being hung in front of the fire to dry. In those days there
were no such things as mackintoshes and, if it rained hard on our way home at
dinnertime (lunch), we really had a soaking. So our coats had to be dried up
quickly so that we could get back to school by 2 o'clock. The smell that
came from this was quite revolting. There were no dry-cleaners, and the
natural wool of the garments had been about for years, having been passed
down from one set of people to another. It's strange how some smells affect
us. They seem to disgust and yet fascinate. African marigolds have the
effect on me, as do moth balls.
On one side of the fireplace was a recess with a built-in cupboard in which
was kept the everyday crockery and all the food except the perishables. (These
were kept in the safe just outside the
In the other recess was a dresser where the best dinner set was kept. Jugs
and cups were hung up on hooks. In the lower part of the dresser were two drawers
and below there was a small recess which was covered by a curtain.
shoes were kept there.
In the drawers numerous odd things were kept. In one drawer were socks and
stockings and in the other drawer were indoor games. Draughts was played
on a draught board. We had two of these boards, one was made by my father from
material like oilcloth and the other was a carpenter's joy and treated as such.
I never knew what became of it. For us children the playing cards were mostly
for playing Snap and Beat your neighbour out of doors, and
of course Patience which has helped to pass away many an hour, both
by children and adults.
This photo of a cribbage board was kindly supplied by
Denis Steele. His board has a compartment underneath to store the pegs which
are used for inserting into the board to show the progress of the scoring.
Denis reports that his recollection of his grandfather's much older crib
board was of a larger and more ornate affair with a brasswork design on
Then there was cribbage, a card game where the scoring is kept
with little coloured pegs on what was known as the 'crib board'. The pegs kept
in a little compartment at the back of the board. My mother and father seemed
to enjoy this game. I used to think it was an odd sort of game when I listened
to them, scoring, "One for the knob, two for a flush", etc.
I did once join in a game of whist, not from choice, I might add. I could
never remember whether my father had any trump cards and the odd remark would
come from my father, "Bless me. (an expression of his) What did you do that
for!?" My mother was a very good player and even won a number of small prizes
at the Church Hall whist drive.
Another game that was kept in the drawer was Dominos. I didn't mind
this as there was no skill, just luck.
The kitchen furniture
Set of six early 20th century Windsor chairs with a wooden table, photographed through the window of an antique shop.
The furniture in the kitchen (living room) consisted of a table and Windsor
chairs (these were usual in most homes).
There was a sofa which was well used in more ways than one. I am pretty sure
that my mother used to have ten minutes rest on it after we had gone to back
to afternoon school. Actually the couch as the sofas were oftimes called was
particularly convenient being in the warm place kitchen because if you had to
go up into a cold bedroom for a rest, you would think twice about it.
To us children the couch was something to play on, and a place to put things
under as a quick tidy up before my mother came into the room.
The other important piece of furniture was my mother's sewing machine. Apparently
she had had it since she was eighteen and it was in constant use, but never
at evening times as it was one of the things that annoyed my father.
The floor covering
Oil-cloth, floor covering, photographed at Tilford
Rural Life Centre
It is almost impossible for a photograph to
show the difference between oil-cloth and the more modern vinyl
flooring, In reality it is not so difficult as oil-cloth, being
thin has no resilience to it, shows cracks from wear and always
seems to look rather grubby. Also the older fashion of the pattern is unmistakeable.
The floor covering as in most of the rooms, was oilcloth - a heavy canvas
treated with oil and other substances to make it waterproof and hard-wearing,
then printed and varnished. When it got worn, the varnish chipped off to
show the canvass threads underneath.
My mother washed it with soapy water.
There was a large rug known as a 'piece rug' or a 'rag rug' in front of the
fire. It was made from off-cuts of hard wearing-fabric such as serge and tweed,
of which there was no shortage as women always seemed to busy mending or making
something in those days. The fabric was cut into lengths and looped through
canvass, then backed with more canvas.
Tool for making rag rug, held by Anne Davey. It was poked through the fabric backing, locked onto a length of
rag and pulled back.
A rug, known as a 'piece rug' or a 'rag rug', common
in working class homes in the early 1900s and made by poking strips of hard-wearing
fabric through canvass and backing with more canvas.
Rag rugs were nice and warm to your feet and cosy, although I dread to think
how dirty they must have been. Like a good many more things, though, they were
put outside onto the clothes line and given a good blow. Also when there was
snow on the ground, they were dragged quickly across it - not enough to get
really wet but just enough for the snow to ease off the dirt. The sun, wind
and snow did much for things in those days.
The pictures on the wall
There were numerous pictures in the room but I only recall the water
colours of lakes and mountains. They were hung from
picture rails as illustrated on
the parlour page.
The window blind
This photograph from the 1940s illustrates ability at
crocheting. My grandmother made a chairback like this for every
chair in our three piece suite, and it saddens me now that no-one was
particularly appreciative. Women just did those sorts of things at that
time. Pat Cryer, webmaster
The window blind, like all the others at the back of the house, was linen
with a deep fringe of lace made by my mother from macrame thread, crocheted.
It was secured by a cord, hanging down from the centre. The knob to hold the
cord was in the shape of an acorn and was called an acorn, although it was made
in box wood.
This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in early to mid 20th century Britain, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times. It is © Pat Cryer.