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Most houses were small, sometimes with only two rooms, a kitchen and one bedroom. The house in the photograph was bigger than most. The walls were very thick and made of stone and clay. The roof was usually thatched. Windows were small. The houses were warm in winter and cool in summer.

If the family was large, a second bedroom was added on the other side of the kitchen. This was often roofed with corrugated iron which was very noisy when it rained.

The floors were made of flat stones called flags.

There was normally only one fireplace in the house – a large open fire in the kitchen. This was kept lighting day and night, all year round, because all food was cooked here. At night the fire was banked down and in the morning the fan or bellows brought the fire quickly to life. Beside the fire was a stone shelf called the hob. The big black iron kettle was kept on the hob so that the water in it was always hot.

There was not a lot of furniture in the houses. In the kitchen was a dresser where all the plates, cups, bowls and other crockery were kept on open shelves. At the bottom were drawers for storing cutlery, tablecloths, etc. The table had a wooden top, which was cleaned regularly with a scrubbing brush. Sometimes the table-top was on hinges so the table could also be used as a seat. On special occasions it was covered with an oilcloth. There were a few chairs and stools for the family to sit on. Beside the fire was a type of wooden armchair. This was the most comfortable and warm seat in the house and was usually reserved for the head of the household.

The parents’ bedroom had a large iron bed, a wooden chest for holding bedclothes and usually hooks on the wall for hanging up clothes. Very young children often slept with their parents. Later they would move into the other bedroom or sleep in a settle bed in the kitchen. The settle bed could be changed into a seat during the day. Most people got up very early and before electricity went to bed early at night.

Lighting was provided by candles or oil-lamps. The candles gave a very poor light and were also a serious fire-hazard. The oil-lamps gave better light. Parafin oil was the fuel used. A globe covered the wick and protected it from draughts. The globe was made of very thin glass and broke easily.

Later on tilley lamps became popular. They provided good light. They worked like this: parafin oil was stored in a bowl at the bottom. A pump pressurised the parafin which moved up a metal tube called a vapouriser. The tube was heated by a device soaked in methylated spirits. The vapourised parafin hit a mantle (a very fragile covering of mesh at the top of the tube) and glowed brightly when lit.

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In the days before piped water and electricity, Mother had to work very hard to keep the house tidy, meals cooked and clothes cleaned and mended. There were no cookers, washing machines or electric irons. All the water for drinking, cooking and cleaning had to be brought from the well or stream and all cooking was done on the open fire. Click on the links below to find out more.

Cleaning Cooking Washing Ironing

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