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No Mean City: 1914 to 1950s

Everyday Life

The Home

By W Hamish Fraser

Mr and Mrs Smith At the end of the First World War, forty per cent of the city's population still lived in badly overcrowded conditions. Families in the typical room and kitchen were still large. There was limited space for furniture other than the necessities. Built-in beds or the hurley bed with wheels (which could be tucked away under a bigger bed) had to serve as additional seating; father might earn an easy chair, but most sitting was at the kitchen table. The kitchen dresser was likely to be well crammed, presses (cupboards) full. The sense of crowding and bustle and activity must have been all pervasive. For the slightly better off, Victorian taste had encouraged the accumulation and display of ornaments, but these were often confined to the side-board in the little-used parlour or best room, kept for the rare social occasion. Most houses shared lavatories, on the landings or outside.

Corporation Gas Dept For those with steady work and rising incomes these were years when the level of comfort greatly improved. Newer houses had hot and cold water on tap; there were flush indoor lavatories and baths. The gas cooker was replacing the paraffin stove and the range. Even in the new council houses gas lighting was still more common than electricity. The coal fire remained the main source of heat. Linoleum was still much more likely than carpets, with perhaps the occasional home-made rug. Mass production was making more inexpensive furniture available and, as the rich "modernised", the less well-off found bargains in the old Victorian items at auction sales.

Doing the Washing! The affluent had maids to dust and polish the brasses and the silver, to black-lead the grates, to wash the dishes, scour the pots and to keep the fires lit. There were carpet squares, but now a "ewbank" to clean the carpet and perhaps exceptionally a "hoover" vacuum cleaner. For the rest, keeping house, clothes and body clean was never easy and the smell of carbolic soap was pervasive.

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