|The Victorian Home: Conditions Necessary to Health|
Posted on Sep 19, 2002 – 11:32 PM by Polina Coffey
In 1876, The School Board For London commissioned W B Tegetmeier to produce ” a scholars’ handbook on the general principles on which the processes of Cookery and the sanitary management of a home depend”. It was to be “a book fit for use in schools, where the pupils should be instructed in the first principles” of home management. The book presents in great detail the minutiae of life in the Victorian home. This is how it describes the basic conditions which are required for healthy living in the Victorian home. The advise concludes with an ominous warning about Talleymen.
Good health and the power of working so as to gain a comfortable living are impossible when persons dwell in unhealthy and overcrowded homes. Many circumstances render a house or dwelling unhealthy. The neighbourhood of an overcrowded churchyard, or a place where any unwholesome trade is carried on, is always injurious to health. If a house is in a narrow dark street, and the rooms face the north so as not to be warmed by the sunshine, or if they are closely shaded by trees, they always remain damp and cold, and the health of the persons inhabiting them suffers.
Houses in low situations, where the ground is always damp, are never healthy, and fevers, rheumatism, colds, and other diseases, are much more frequent than in drier situations.In London and other large towns where the houses are drained into the sewers, no house should ever be lived in which is built over or near a cesspool, nor in which the drains allow an unpleasant smell to escape, as fever is certain to attack the inhabitants sooner or later. If cesspools are necessary, as is the case where there are no sewers, they should be placed at as great a distance as possible from the house.Earth closets are much more healthy than cesspools, as, if well managed, they do not give out any offensive smell; the use of any patent apparatus is not necessary; any outdoor closet may be made into an earth closet by placing a stout well-pitched drawer or box beneath the seat, arranged so as to pull out behind when required to be emptied, and a box of dried earth, with a scoop in the inside, is all else that is necessary. Or the seat may be made to lift up, and a large galvanized iron pail placed below, which can be removed and emptied when necessary; very little earth is required if no slops are thrown into the pail. Slops should not be thrown into an earth closet.The homes of working men in London and other large towns are generally greatly overcrowded, and without proper sleeping-rooms. When a family is obliged to dwell in one or two rooms, it is impossible that they can live healthily or decently. Bedrooms should be of good size, and each one should have a fire-place and chimney, which should never be closed by a board, as the current of air passing up the chimney helps to ventilate the room. It is not possible to state any exact size for bedrooms as the air in a small room properly ventilated may be purer than a large one that is closed up. A room 12 feet square by 10 feet in height, would contain 1,440 cubic feet of air. In barracks this would only be regarded as space for two men, and in the best hospitals for one patient.In the country every cottage for a working man with a grown up family should have three bedrooms- one for the husband and wife, one for the elder boys, and a third for the girls. One of these bedrooms at least should have a fire-place, to be used in case of illness; and for the sake of ventilation, it is better that each one should be so provided.Every cottage should have a living-room not less than 12 feet square, and a small scullery or wash-house. A small pantry for food is necessary; this should have a window able to be opened outside of the cottage into the air. A place for tools, and another for fuel, are desirable. Every house should have a back as well as a front door, so that by opening both in summer thorough ventilation may be effected. If the front door opens into the sitting-room, there is in cold weather a great loss of heat each time the door is opened, and the sudden change of temperature often gives rise to colds and coughs, the front door should always be made to open into a porch or lobby.The following designs for a pair of cottages for agricultural labourers, show the smallest accommodation that is necessary for health. (They are from the publications of “The Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes”. Exeter Hall, Strand, London WC).Good well-made articles of furniture are much more lasting than those of inferior quality, and are really the cheapest. Therefore it is much better to purchase furniture of a durable kind, although the first cost is greater.Articles purchased at cheap shops are always made of bad materials and are very much the dearest. It is desirable in a working man’s house not to use furniture which requires much time and trouble in cleaning; glass and earthenware are more readily cleaned than any other substances, and, for many purposes, are preferable to metal.Iron bedsteads are better than wooden ones, as they do not harbour insects, are easily cleaned, and very durable. The laths may be prevented from becoming rusty by laying a piece of coarse canvas or old carpet over them; waterproof materials should not be used under the mattress as they prevent the damp escaping, when the bedding decays quickly and the bed remains cold and damp. On getting up in the morning the bed-clothes should be thrown across the foot of the bed or on the backs of some chairs, and aired for two or three hours before the bed is made; making the bed immediately on rising is a very bad plan, as the sheets are charged with the moisture of the perspiration which has passed out of the skin during the night. Mattresses are cheaper and more healthy to use than soft feather beds; and curtains which keep the foul air that has been breathed round the sleepers should not be used.It is very undesirable to buy furniture or clothing of the hawkers known as Tallymen, who call at working men’s houses, and sell showy and inferior goods, to be paid for by small payments of sixpence or a shilling per week. The articles are generally purchased by the wife, often without the knowledge of the husband, who becomes liable for the debt. Should the payments not be kept up, the husband is summoned to the County Court, and ordered to pay so much a week or month; after a judgment has been obtained, if only one of these instalments be left unpaid, the whole balance becomes instantly due, and everything the debtor has can be seized by the brokers and sold by auction immediately.