Events

Back Stairs

Back Stairs

Live-in servants did not always have a bedroom at all. Cooks and housemaids might sleep in the kitchen, while the butler or footman made do with the pantry or scullery. Even when given a bedroom, a servant might be expected to share it with any other servants in the house.

Another typical feature was a separate stairway for the servent to use that kept them off the main stairwell.

Bed 3

Bedroom Three

The 19th Century home was expected to provide a separate room for each purpose. Thus, the kitchen, scullery, pantry, drawing room, parlor, dining room, morning room, and bathroom. The bedrooms (and separate nursery) were designed for sleeping, but also served the purpose of dividing servant from employer, adult from child, and male from female. It was common in the era for husband and wife to keep separate bedrooms, or at least for the husband to keep a separate dressing room. The older fashion of using the bedroom as a quasi-sitting room was (in theory) disappearing, although in practice, the family utilized the rooms as needed.

China

China Cabinet

The kitchen was typically located on the lowest floor of the house. As it supplied the hot water for the entire premises, the kitchen stove "blasted out heat all the year round for up to eighteen hours a day." Conditions inside the room were far from pleasant, with the gas burning all day and (at best) only a small window near the ceiling to remove the fumes. Floors were usually covered in linoleum, for ease of cleaning. This was often laid over a cement base in order to keep vermin away.

Clock

Clock

Mantel clocks—or shelf clocks—are relatively small house clocks traditionally placed on the shelf, or mantel, above the fireplace. The form, first developed in France in the 1750s, can be distinguished from earlier chamber clocks of similar size due to a lack of carrying handles.

One of the most common and valued types of mantel clocks are the French Empire-style timepieces. Simon Willard's shelf clock (half clock, Massachusetts shelf clock) was a relatively economical clock which was produced by the celebrated Simon Willard's Roxbury Street workshop, in Boston, Massachusetts, around the first decades of the 19th century. Right after inventing the banjo clock, Simon Willard brought the design further, designing the similar Massachusetts shelf clock which was related to the traditional bracket clocks. Simon's new creation ran for eight days.

Dresser

Dresser

During the second half of the century, hygiene became the chief concern. This was not only a matter of ridding the house of dirt and dust, but also of vermin. Apart from the kitchen, the bedroom was the most vulnerable room in the house in this respect. Mattresses were made of organic matter: horsehair was the best, followed by cow's hair or wool. A straw mattress could be put underneath the hair mattress to protect it from the bedstead. Chain-spring mattresses were available, but still needed a hair matress over them for comfort. A feather bed could be added on top of the mattress if no springs were available.

Fireplace

Fireplace

Another problem was soot. Most fireplaces and stoves burned coal, and the ash and soot permeated the air -- not only inside the house, but outside in the streets. People returned home truly dirty in a way that we are not familiar with today. It was recommended that the bed furnishings be covered with holland, a hard wearing linen fabric much used in middle- an upper-class households to protect delicate fabrics and furniture. Not only does Mrs. Panton recommend that a large square be tied over the spring mattress (to protect the upper mattress from the springs), but she also suggests that the upper one be covered as well, along with the pillows, to protect from soot and dirt. "Unless this is done, the ticks become soiled and nasty-looking and shabby, because housemaids are but mortal, and will not remember to wash their hands and put on spotlessly clean aprons when they go to make the beds." This suggests all too well that the normal condition of hands and clothing was dark with soot.

Childrens Room

Children's Room

Another problem in the bedrooms, as in all other rooms of the house, was lighting. Gas lighting was not recommended for the bedroom, because it burned too much oxygen and windows were generally kept closed to keep out soot and dust from the streets. A single candle, brought upstairs at bedtime, was the recommended lighting. More prosperous homes had candlesticks upon the mantel and dressing table, "with a box of safety matches in a known position, where they can be found in a moment," Many household books "worry away" at the location of matches -- in the days before electricity, it was essential to be able to find a match in the dark. Mrs. Panton suggested not only nailing the box just over the head of the bed, but also that it should be painted with enamel paint and "embellished with a tiny picture." Our Homes, edited by Shirley Foster Murphy (the London County Council's Chief Medical Officer during the 1890's), recommended a new invention: Blamaine's Luminous Paint, which could be applied to a clock face, "a bracket for matches, or a small contrivance for holding a watch."

Kitchen

Kitchen

In the 19th Century, rooms were ideally single-purpose; thus, the proper Victorian home would have had a kitchen for cooking only, with separate rooms for food storage (the larder) and preparation (the scullery). Of course, as with today's kitchens, the truth was that not many homes could afford an "ideal" kitchen, and the room was used for a wide range of functions. In many homes, the kitchen actually had to serve as a bedroom for one of the servants.

In the ideal kitchen, a scullery (no matter how small) was attached, with one, or even two sinks for cleaning food and washing and pots. A separate pantry for storing china and glass (and silver if there was any) might be as small as a closet. It typically had a small sink for washing dishes, of wood lined with lead to prevent chipping. The larder for fresh food storage might only be a large cupboard, and the storeroom for dried goods and cleaning equipment might be another.

Main Bedroom

Main Bedroom

"A brass and iron bedstead furnished with the spring mattress, nice hair mattress and bolster, an four pillows if a double, two if a single ,bedstead, is the beau-ideal of a sleeping place for health," Mrs. Panton wrote, "and should furthermore be provided with two under-blankets -- one in use, one in store in case of illness -- and two good pairs of nice Witney blankets." She also recommends an eider-down quilt for winter, furnished with an extra covering fashioned with buttons so that it could easily be removed and washed. "Three pairs of sheets are the least that can be allowed to each bed; the top sheet of each pair should be frilled ... four plain pillowcases for each pillow, and two or three frilled and embroidered ones for the top pillows."

With all of these organic materials, it is little wonder that bedbugs were a great problem. By the 1880's, Mrs. Haweis was able to report that fleas were not expected in "decent bedrooms," although "at any minute one may bring a stray parent in from cab, omnibus, or train." Constant vigilance had to be maintained, and the bed itself examined regularly for infestation or any sort. The popularity of iron and brass bedsteads did away with a good deal of the problem -- one typical method of dealing with vermin was to have a carpenter take the bed apart; then take the pieces of the bed, along with all the bedding, into an empty room or outside, wash the bed frame with chloride of lime and water, sprinkle Keating's powder (a pyrethrum-based insecticide) everywhere, then wait and repeat daily for as long as necessary before putting everything back together again. If the infestation was totally out of control, the bed and mattress were left in an empty room that was sealed airtight, and then sulfur was burned to disinfect the bed and surrounding area, to prevent the spread of the problem to the walls and floors.

Desk

Desk

Furnishings were sparse in the earliest American homes; desks in particular were not commonly found. Most people couldn’t read or write, and few had books, save perhaps for a family Bible. In fact, a Bible box—a plain wooden container with a flat or slanted lid, which held the Bible and important papers—was the earliest desk. It doubled as a writing surface or a place to sign documents. By the beginning of the 19th century, most Americans were literate, thanks to Thomas Jefferson and an emphasis on free public education. Desks were becoming a coveted furniture type.

Desks-on-frames (or escritoires, as they were called in France) were much like Bible boxes, but set upon stands embellished with turned legs and such decoration as carved skirts and brass fittings. This type was quite functional; the top compartment of a desk-on-frame could be lifted off and used elsewhere. The lid was often slanted and would be flipped up to store materials underneath—a form seen later in schoolhouse desks.

Bed 2

Bedroom Two

In fact, it was commonly recognized that it was impossible to go to bed clean. Mrs. Haweis, while suggesting that sheets should be washed every fortnight or once a month, noted that pillowcases needed changing "rather oftener, chiefly because people (especially servants) allow their hair to become so dusty, that it spoils the cases very soon." Oddly enough, she thought that blankets only needed washing every other summer. Main cleaning occurred twice a year, during spring and autumn, when it was recommended that mattresses and pillows be taken out and aired -- and every few years, to be taken apart, lumps in the ticking broken up and washed, and feathers sifted.

"Now there is not one single thing that should be left on the bed once one is out of it," Mrs. Panton states. "Do not be content with turning all the bed-clothes over the rail; see that they are all pulled out from under the mattress, separated, and hung up, if possible. Then remove the pillows, and dot them about on chairs and sofas; hang up separately the under sheet and blanket where they will receive a current of air from the open window wet or dry; and then pull off the mattress, placing it as close to the window as it will go, which only takes about five minutes."