This is a photograph of me, all serious and stuff as usual – not to mention bearing a passing resemblance to a cyberman for some unknown reason -- standing in front of my chimneybreast.
Steady ladies! We don’t want your pacemakers exploding now, do we?
There is a reason for me standing there. It’s not a particularly good reason, but it’s a reason nonetheless. You see, at the time of writing, it’s the middle of winter, which means that it’s cold and wet and snowing and stuff outside, and I seriously can’t be bothered having to dig out my skis and go trudging around the Wyre in search of historical titbits. Not when I can just as easily stay at home in the warm and cobble together some antiquarian crud about the inside of my own house.
So that’s me. In front of the chimneybreast. In my Victorian fisherman’s cottage. In Fleetwood.
And this is an article about some of the alterations to my house over the last couple of centuries and what it would have been like back in Victorian times, which was when it was built. So you can either like it or lump it, because, at the end of the day, you get what you pay for with this website, which is sweet bugger all.
Now then, as you can see from the photograph, the chimneybreast was/is quite large for such a tiny cottage, and that’s because, back in the day, the whole layout of the house was considerably different. Instead of having a living room, a separate kitchen, a bedroom and a bathroom -- yes…there’s only one bedroom in my house, although we are thinking about building a small extension in the window-box for the cat…that’s what a cottage is, you see…very small…not some million pound multi-roomed mansion as envisaged by those idiots who appear every week on ‘A Place in the Country’ or ‘Location, Location, Location’…just a two-up two-down genuine cottage with a pointed roof and a seagull nest stuck in the chimney…where was I?
Oh yes, instead of having a living room and a separate kitchen, the front room would have been a kitchen/living room combined, and our present kitchen would have been the washhouse. And instead of a bedroom and bathroom upstairs, there would have been two rather boxy bedrooms (one for the fisherman and his missus, the other for the thirty-odd children they tended to have back in those days) and the bog would have been in the back yard and would have been called the Thunder-bucket or something. But we’ll come back to that another time.
So, because of this arrangement, the chances are that our chimneybreast would have originally housed a range, where all the cooking and boiling and steaming and stuff was conducted. We’ve no idea what the particular range in our house would have looked like, because it’s now long since gone, but I’ve taken a stab at its appearance with the typical Victorian range in the illustration below:
“Aye, an’ father would lather ’imsel’ up with pickled unyuns an’ carbolic soap int’ cast iron bathtub in front oft’ reeng w’en ’ee gorrome of an evenin’ wi’ ’is fish.”
Actually that’s not quite as far removed from reality as it sounds, but probably every bit as horrible.
Why do we reckon there was once a range where our gas fire is now? Because we read books, that’s why -- those blocks of skinned trees with words and pictures inside them that are rapidly going out of fashion in favour of magazines about skinny celebrities that nobody’s ever heard of unless you read said magazines.
One book in particular with regard to this article is very absorbing (unlike those magazines, which are just absorbent…and believe me, I know, because we always keep one handy next to the thunder bucket in case we run out of the quilted stuff). It’s called ‘Lancashire Local Studies in honour of Diana Winterbotham’ edited by Alan G. Crosby and it really is a cracking read. If you don’t already own a copy then I suggest you track one down right away, and if your bookcase is full then bin that first edition Shakespeare folio immediately and put this book in its place.
On which sycophantic note, let’s hope that the authors of said work won’t get too upset that we’ve borrowed the illustration below off them whilst unsuccessfully navigating the choppy waters of copyright infringement.
That plan on the right looks remarkably similar to the layout of our own cottage, except that our stairs have been shifted at some point or other. (In most cottages in Fleetwood the stairs still follow this pattern, and that right-angled turn at the bottom can be deadly after four pints.) The plan on the left resembles Margaret’s cottage next door.
Let’s see what the book has to say about ‘Early plan-form; the front living room/kitchen type’ then. (Again this isn’t copyright infringement. It’s research.)
“Writing about early industrial housing in urban areas, R. W. Brunskill has remarked: “The two storey workers’ cottages which preceded the Public Health Act of 1875 usually consisted of a living kitchen and scullery/ wash-house on the ground floor and two bedrooms above. Access was by a door opening directly off the street, with the living kitchen screened only by a timber ‘speer’. At the rear a short yard, sometimes communal, contained earth closet and coal store.”
See! We weren’t lying, were we? Anyhow, we didn’t know what a ‘speer’ was either, so we Googled it and discovered that ‘Speer was a German architect, author and, for part of World War II, Minister of Armaments and War Production for the Third Reich.’ Here’s a photograph of him at the Nuremberg Trials. Exactly what he was doing screening off the kitchen area in our front room I couldn’t honestly say.
So that about wraps it up for our chimneybreast.
We hope you have enjoyed this introduction to the history of our humble home, because, quite frankly, it looks like it’s going to be long, cold winter and there’s probably going to be plenty more of these ‘Victorian Cottage’ articles splattered all over this board before it’s done.
Then again...perhaps not.
p.s. I don't usually add to these postings after they're...er...posted, but on this occasion I'm going to because Shirley's just sent me this photograph of her own chimney breast, complete with photograph of Allen Clarke and his 'Beloved' and two model windmills. I thought it'd make a much pleasanter way to end this article than with a photograph of some nazi war criminal: