Saturday, February 07, 2009

An Introduction to our Victorian Cottage

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 th
irty-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 real
ly 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:


28 comments:

Jayne said...

I go looking for speers and find yet more mentions of Blackpool history
HERE.
Dost one have "some sort of funnel to carry off the smoke" ?

shirley said...

Hello chimney breast poser just had a natter with your chairman who is looking forward to your visit next week to the mill. No suits and ties even though our mayor and mayoress are coming I just told him to dress in stout and warm clothing and good shoes and to look for the lady in pink.
I remember the old black stove and my little vests dryiing in it (why did they have rubber buttons on the hem I always wondered)

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne,

"Dost one have "some sort of funnel to carry off the smoke" ?"

Oddly enough we do. It's called the chimney, and true to form (as according to the instructions in the book you've linked to) we hang our bacon in it. (Cheaper than Christmas decorations.)

Shirley,

Chairman George phoned me earlier. He seemed very excited about meeting the mayor. (Good job it wasn't next month after he'd got his new poll tax bill...he'd have been really excited then.)

As for why vests had buttons on the hems, I couldn't say. Mine were always second hand when I was a kid. At least, I think they were. They were full of holes whatever the case.

Jayne said...

The rubber buttons were to pop through the button holes in the tops of rubber pants for when the incontinent children were in the Land of Nod.

WV = undis.

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne,

Thanks for that piece of info. That explains why Michelle sews rubber buttons along the bottom of my shirts as well.

WV=feccula (sounds like some sort of embarassing anatomical component, doesn't it?)

Anonymous said...

Jayne thank you but whenever mine came out of the oven they were really hot little buttons plus I had sunray treatment with sunclasses walking round in Devonshire Hospital comatozed with some sort of gluey oil on. Thank God Jack Benson from the Gazette Newspaper was one of the queue of intakes so I know I was in the real world. Mother never told me I suspect weak chest but I now wondr was I taken by aliens....

Jayne said...

Found this thread on the Birmingham History Forum, if that helps, Shirley.
Although the alien theory sounds feasible ;)

Poor Michelle, her work is never done :P

Brian Hughes said...

Shirley,

Sunray treatment in Devonshire Road Hospital? When I was there having my tonsils out back in nineteen hundred and hrumpftydumptydumpt, I always wondered who the 'cool chick in the shades' wandering around was.

Jayne,

Don't know if it's just my wheezing old computer or what, but I don't seem to be able to click on your thread. Probably is my computer to be honest...it's needs a thorough overhaul, oil change and upgrade, not unlike myself in that respect.

shirley said...

thanks Jayne but your thread won't open.
And ask for you Brian I am posting pic of me now varnishing said fireplace which has upset my whole routine after finding huge cobwebs in corners any more work you can find for us womenfolk whilst you're at it. Hey Jayne come to the windmill on the 14th I'm even more abnormal in reality.

Jayne said...

No, you're right, there's something wrong with the link, hmph.
I'll try this again.
And post the long winded version here,
http://forum.birminghamhistory.co.uk/showthread.php?t=1318

LOL Shirley, I'd love to come to the windmill on the 14th but my broomstick wouldn't get me all the way from Oz to the land of windmills and (deliciously cold) snow ;)

John said...

Brian,

as a winter project, have you considered restoring the old vic cottage to it's original form?

It would keep you busy, give you plenty of posts here, and at the end of it all you can give tours of the household for a shilling, and in summmertime rent the place out to one of those reality shows where blokes try to live like the old days.

Sounds like a win-win-win situation to me!

JOHN ":0)

Brian Hughes said...

Shirley,

Have received said pic. Thanking you kindly. If you're looking for more work, of course, my front room could do with a spot of redecorating...

Jayne,


"...afterwards we would have to strip off to our waist and sit in a circle with goggles on with other kids with a sunray lamp in the middle."

I'm starting to wonder whether some sci-fi movie alien type experiment was being conducted on your generation. It would explain a great deal...

John,

That's a definite no starter. I prefer my modern conveniences, such as a modern convenience rather than a thunder bucket, microwave oven, electric lighting etc too much. Besides, if I exchanged the gas fire for the old range the cat'd probably throttle me.

John said...

Okay, I have no comment, but when I saw that my word verification was 'repoker' I just had to write something!

JOHN "0)

Brian Hughes said...

John,

Those imps at Blogger are on something I reckon.

Anonymous said...

Excuse me I have vacummed yes vacumed the mill it was horrendous and cleaned the abblutions for you all on the day there was some pretty nasty spiders lurking in corners some 40 yrs old (Bye 'eck they took some beating back). I and our other lady cleaners got the guys to don swords and shields for the occasion. Jayne, for you my son lives in Oz miss him soooooooooooo much left 7 yrs ago for a better life. Shirley (still on hot toddies for medicinal purpurses but who cares)

Anonymous said...

Excuse me I have vacummed yes vacumed the mill it was horrendous and cleaned the abblutions for you all on the day there was some pretty nasty spiders lurking in corners some 40 yrs old (Bye 'eck they took some beating back). I and our other lady cleaners got the guys to don swords and shields for the occasion. Jayne, for you my son lives in Oz miss him soooooooooooo much left 7 yrs ago for a better life. Shirley (still on hot toddies for medicinal purpurses but who cares)

Brian Hughes said...

Shirley,

I've been on hot toddies for medicinal purposes myself for the last forty-odd years. I think they're finally starting to take effect, because I'm seeing double.

Jayne said...

Those spiders of yours have close relatives hiding in my house here, Shirley!
Whereabouts in Oz is your son? I'm in Melb, can't miss me, the mad old cow ;)

shirley said...

Jayne my son lives in Nelson Bay and if you look up the remote control websites for helicopters there is one site where my son has been in competition. I want to visit but money as always is an issue. We chat on MSN and he has been on camcorder catching me on said comp no makeup dressing gown specs looking a bonny johnny and he and all his mates were sat on his verander with tinnies shouting hello mum. I felt a right plonker but at least any other pics can only be an improvement. (he is now an Australian citzen so I might have an ozzie grandchild one day !!! he loves it there I learnt to swim underwater 4 years ago to swim with him whenever I get a chance. He has always taken the rip for me naming him Jody.

shirley said...

Brian I agree with John on "The restoration of Brian & Michelle's Fisherperson's (let's have it politically correct tee hee) ongoing winter restoration project" Then we could all watch you as you post pics of yourself in rigger boots, tool kit belt, stripping away at your chimneybreast and uncovering inglenooks secret passageways etc....

Brian Hughes said...

Shirley,

I think photographs of me dressed like that would put people off their tea. Besides, the only secret passageways in this house are the ones the spiders and mice get in by.

RVB said...

It does remind me of Dr. Who too...the one with the Cybermen chasing the Doctor and Jackson lake up the stairs.

shirley said...

I know who you remind me of now Brian (been niggling me ) in your stark fireplace shot... the character out of Red Dwarf cannot place his name?

Brian Hughes said...

Reuben,

I'm not very photogenic, I'm must admit. Cameras have a tendency to scream when they see me come into a room.

Shirley,

That'd be one of the GELFs (an acronym for Genetically Engineered Life Forms). Most likely the hairy, pot bellied one that tried to marry his daughter off to Lister.

JahTeh said...

Fleetwood in toolbelt and rigger boots, I'm sure I saw that movie in the p0rn section.

Brian Hughes said...

Witchy,

Somehow I was suspect it was actually under Horror.

Jayne said...

EEK!

WV=sesspho

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne,

It's a mental image that'd make even the Hulk scream, I must admit.

WV=hyperlic (I honestly don't know what to think about that one)