Based on the webmaster's childhood recollections
As explained on the 1940s house page,
the most up-to-date 1940s English suburban semi-detached houses were built in
the 1930s. All had the same basic plan.
Plan of the kitchen of a fairly typical 1940s suburban house, based on
recollections of 9 Brook Avenue, Edgware. Many similar suburban houses had
smaller kitchens with a cupboard instead of a walk-in pantry/larder and no
space for a table.
See the 1940s house for how this kitchen plan
fits into the plan of the other rooms on the ground floor of the house.
The estate where our family lived, however, was fortunate in that the kitchens
were larger than most.
They were large enough for a walk-in pantry or larder, albeit a small one and for a table.
This meant that we could eat in our kitchen. Most other families I
knew on other estates had to eat in one of the other rooms which either meant heating two rooms
in winter or, more likely, being cold in one of them.
Apart from the table and walk-in pantry, though, our kitchen was much
like the kitchen in any other 1930s-built suburban house, which meant that
it was much like that in any other suburban house in 1940s Britain.
The kitchen was a pleasant place to be because it was light and warm. It was
light because the walls and window sills were tiled with white shiny tiles, like
in the bathroom - the fashion at the time
- and it was warm because of the coal-fired boiler which was on in all but
the most excessive of heat waves to provide hot water. The floor, like the
bathroom was black and white tiles.
Kitchen Easi-cabinet, photographed in Tilford Rural Life Centre. Pastry
boards pulled out as well as dropped down.
Ours had a separate, matching full-height cupboard on the right.
As you entered the kitchen from the hall, on the right was what was
called an 'Easi-cabinet' which was a combination of two cupboards at the
bottom, and two inset cupboards at the top. Between them was a storage space
and a pull-out
enamelled surface for rolling out pastry.
Easi-cabinet was a trade name. There were
several versions from different manufacturers, all going by
different names, and every kitchen seemed to have one. Ours was varnished wood of a medium colour which one would
have been called 'light' in those days of dark wood almost everywhere. I suspect
that it came with the house when it was built as there were identical ones
in other kitchens in the road.
The photograph shows the unit which was closest to ours out of all those
I have seen in museums. Museums, naturally enough, exist to display what
they have, which is why so many doors and drawers are open and so many
objects are propped up. In a real 1940s kitchen, everything would have
been tidied away after use.
Our Easi-cabinet had a separate, matching shelved cupboard, butting onto
it on the right. It was the same height as the Easi-cabinet and including a
tall, narrow slot for an ironing board. All sorts of things were poked
inside it, including the electric iron.
Gas oven, bought in the late 1930s and used in the 1940s kitchen. Detail of
a screen shot from an old film.
Just beyond the Easi-cabinet was the oven. It was powered by gas with a
hob on top - although 'hob' was not a word that I heard until much later. It
was modern in the late 1930s, in white enamel with black fittings (in contrast to the grey in
many other kitchens). It also had what was the then special feature of a
pilot light. Most of the gas hobs in other houses had to be lit with matches
or a flint contraption.
The oven had a lid that could close down, presumably for tidiness.
However, it never was closed down. The
kettle had to stand somewhere
and the open hob was the best place as it would have eventually scratched
the enamel lid of the oven.
Interestingly, because of my mother's childhood with
coal fired kitchen ranges for
cooking, this oven was always called the 'gas oven' until her dying day. It
was never just the 'oven'.
The sink and draining board
Stoneware sink, common in kitchens and sculleries before the 1950s. The
left hand edge of a wooden draining board can just be seen on the right.
For the 1930s and 1940s kitchen, you must imagine the white wall tiles
and the basic taps coming out of them.
Beyond the oven was the sink arrangement. Its design was like the early
1900s sink of my mother's childhood except
that there was a hot as well as a cold tap. Both came out of the tiled wall.
I have never seen an identical arrangement in any of the museums I have
visited, so there is no accurate photograph.
Enamel washing-up bowl, common before the 1950s when plastics came on the
The sink was the standard large white stoneware. (Stoneware is made from
a special clay and fired at a very high temperature so that its hardness
resembles stone.) The sink held a white enamel bowl for washing up
and a dishcloth. Underneath the sink were various other bowls and buckets
and the household soap
with a carton of washing soda, both of which were used for washing up.
The sink had an enamel draining board attached which I never saw
on other housing estates of the same period. Elsewhere, as in the photo, all the draining boards
seemed to be wooden. Our enamel one was attached to the sink with metal brackets, and the sink was
similarly attached to the wall with metal brackets. I always thought how
clean our draining board looked compared with the wooden ones. Bare
unvarnished wood always looks rather grubby when wet. I suspect that enamel
draining boards were more expensive than wooden ones.
Years later sink and draining board arrangements were replaced
by integral sink units. There were no integral sink units in ordinary
1940s houses, although I cannot speak for better-off households.
Before the mid or late 1950s, the space under the draining board was empty,
except for the occasional bucket or bowl. When my mother was persuaded to
part with her old mangle for a spin dryer, that was where it went.
The back door to the garden
On the wall opposite the door to the hall was the back door to the
garden. It had a single glazed top window in it and was made of thin wood
with thicker pieces of wood across it. It was painted magnolia. It locked
with a large heavy lock operated with a large key which always stayed in the
lock. It would have been simplicity itself for a burglar to break the glass,
turn the key and gain entry - but fortunately that never happened.
To the left of the door was an alcove housing the
boiler which was fired with a special type
of coal called Phurnacite. It had its own low ceiling which
took the top part of the boiler chimney.
Two fairly large pipes went between the ceiling and the boiler. One
carried water down from the cold water tank in the loft and the other
carried the hot water, heated in the boiler, upstairs to the hot tank, which
was in the airing cupboard in the bathroom. I suppose these pipes were
rather dominantly ugly by today's standards, but they never struck me that
way. My father would put his hand on the hot pipe to test whether the water
was hot enough for a bath.
The kitchen table
On the next wall - ie on the left as one entered from the hall - was a
small window, underneath which was the table with its
three chairs. It was fortunate that there were only the three of us in the
family as a fourth chair would have been so close to the oven as to close
the walkway through the kitchen. The chairs were dark cane ones, although
they were replaced by light wood years later. The table was unvarnished
wood, known as 'white-wood' which
my mother scrubbed almost daily, just as her mother had done in her own
childhood in the early 1900s. I understood that the table had been made in
therapeutic work by WW1 soldiers recuperating at
Edmonton Military Hospital.
Years later my mother eventually agreed, after much persuasion, to the
whitewood table being covered with plastic laminate,
known as Formica.
Further round against that wall, under some wall-shelves was the
mangle which was essentially like the mangle in any
Victorian or Edwardian home,
It was rolled out for use every week. Eventually, sometime in the 1950s, it
was discarded and our first fridge went in its place. It was replaced by a spin
dryer which went under the draining board.
My mother always regretted getting rid of her mangle. She said,
with some justification that a mangle did half of the ironing because the
rollers flattened and smoothed the wet washing. She never did have a washing
machine, in spite of cajoling. I suppose she was brought up to believe that
a woman's work was in the home and that labour-saving devices were in some
The larder - which we called the pantry - was large enough to walk into - just
- and it had shelves, walls
and window sill tiled in white like the kitchen. It is described in more
details on the pantry page.
Indoor food safe - also known as a meat-safe.
To the left of the pantry was a tall built-in cupboard which housed cleaning
materials. In smaller kitchens where there was no pantry, there would have
been a second cupboard, possibly used for food unless there was
a nook somewhere for an indoor food safe. (The old Victorian and Edwardian terraced
houses always had a space for an outside in the shade for
food safes on stilts or attached
to a high wall.)
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