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Archaeology of domestic life in early 20th century Britain

The aim of this blog is to publish data on early 20th century buildings, whilst this is still accessible. Much material of interest to the historian is being destroyed through 'home improvements' and DIY, and objects are increasingly being divorced from their context through dispersal after the death of their owners. By creating an easily accessible contextual record of material culture, it is hoped that those interested in this period of history may have a resource through which the details of domestic life might be studied.

If you have any artefacts of interest, or make discoveries during the process of your own investigations that you would like to share, please contact me!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Lymehurst coalhouse & outdoor toilet

The outdoor coalhouse and toilet have since been incorporated within a kitchen extension, to bring them indoors. Modifications transformed this space into a downstairs bathroom, by removing the wall between these 2 rooms, and plaster-boarding the room; therefore, there were no visible remains of the previous building features.

Having removed the later finish, the wall coverings and dimmensions of the 2 earlier spaces is revealed. Both spaces were initially whitewash, then were subsequently painted in gloss paint: the coalhouse in cream (similar to that seen in the bathroom), and the toilet in green. Above the green of the toilet was embossed wall paper (Lincrusta?) :

Lymehurst bathroom

Most of the original bathroom remains in situ, although the toilet has been replaced. Traces of a high level cistern are present on the same wall (although do not show up very well photographically), in a different location to that indicated on the original building plans (which was on the same wall as the window). By the 1930s, low level toilets were more frequently installed indoors.

The wall on the bath and cupboard walls have been tiled, and other walls painted, although the original paint is visible in places. This consists of a gloss cream or pale yellow paint, which corresponds with the colour remembered by one of the first occupants in later life (a child at the time), who informed a previous owner of this, and other information on the house. The bath exterior had been painted cream'; beneath this paint was a bright green gloss, which lay above a cream or pale green paint.

The airing cupboard doors have been stripped, although a stain is present. It was uncertain whether or not this was original, and if so, whether the doors were painted over by the early occupants (as was more common).

After removing the modern (1990s + vinyl), and what may be 1970s-80s (cork tiles) floor covering, a number of features were revealed. From beneath the cork tiles, a tin of dark stain (probably from the stairs) had been placed on the floorboards, suggesting that the bathroom floor was intended to be covered from the first phase of occupation. tThere were also lighter stains overlaying the stain from the stairs, and on the bathroom floorboards, suggesting that the cupboard doors may have been stained after the first phase, but before the cork tiles were laid. Green gloss paint from the bath exterior was splashed on the floorboards, suggesting that this should also date to before the cork tiles.
The sink had also been moved since earlier use, as indicated by the presence of a stain:

There's also an outline indicating the position of an electric switch on the wall - the rather unsafe method for turning on the lighting before the pull switch was installed - although the reflective nature of the modern silk wall paint means that this doesn't easily show up photographically

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Building B: Hall

Hall, pre investigation (above)

Note the final phase of decoration on the walls - papered with textured paper, and painted white; the handrail has been stripped and varnished (note the stratification of varnish from the base of a tin above the paint on the stairs), the stair treads painted a light gloss colour (over a layer of cream paint, which itself lies over a dark gloss stain to the wood) and banisters painted with a white matt paint.

Note traces in paintwork showing the position of stair carpet holders:

Close investigation revealed slight traces of the oiginal dark paint on the woodwork (phase 1):

and phase 2 paint effect corresponding to a greenish glaze, found on woodwork across much of the house (with the exception of the Kitchen), as seen here on the back of the front door:

The paper on one wall has been removed, to reveal 2 earlier phases of decoration (NB: radiator - though a contemporaneous feature - is a modern addition, and would not be expected in this size of house at this time):

Phase 1: buff paint (above). The hall is in the process of renovation, hence the dark paintwork, reflecting the original (Phase 1) colour.
Phase 2: textured paper (above)

A numer of holes at the bottom of the stairs lay beneath the phase 2 paper, and suggest the location of a feature - perhaps a shelf, mirror, or hooks? (Although note the presence of what appear to be original brass coat hooks in Photo 4, above)

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Building A: decorative scheme in the hall

Preparation for decoration by the owners revealed the previous schemes of decoration.

The first scheme may have included a lighter green below the dado level, although removal of the secondary scheme - a buff colour (a staple of the 1930s, possibly suggesting the period in which the decor was updated) - was not possible, and therefore we were unable to determine whether there had been any form of dado rail

There appears to have been wall-mounted coat hooks (above), and a stair handrail (below). Note the dual colour scheme on the stairs (below)

Building A: parlour and hall - changes to house layout?

By looking at the cornice and doorframe (the architrave surrounds only the righthand side and top of the door), it appears that the hall of this property was a later addition, although was probably done quite soon after the construction of the house - it may even reflect rectification of a mistake made by the builder, or changes to the syle of house undertaken during construction. Beacuse...

...The cornice of the adjoining room is of the period. The unusual shape of the hallway: look at the door of the back room as it turns inwards at an angle:

And of the skirting at the outside corner of the room, and architraving around the arch, also give away this modification:

Floorboards also run through the hall and into the frontroom (parlour) - we would expect longitudinal boards or tiles in the hall (note also the floorboard stain in the parlour, and buff-coloured semi-grained stain of the hall):

It might be conjectured that this change perhaps indicates the desire to assert status by having a seperate parlour and hall, rather than entrance straight into this room, as commonly found within terraced houses in this area. However, it may as easily represent changes to layout by the builder during construction.

Building A: Scullery chimney - for 'copper' or a small range?

The house clearly had a chimney in the scullery - probably for a copper, or less likely, a small range :

The top of the chimney can be seen within the modern kitchen, although the chimney alcove has now been covered by modern units (top middle-right of picture):

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Building C ABIR Survey

The survey of this property was undertaken in summer 2009. As this1920s-1930s property with several orginal features in context was about to undergo major renovations and modifications, it was decided that it might be profitable to record whatever features possible within the available time, considering the potential value to archaeological, architectural, and social history.

Any research was at the discretion of the new owner-occupants of this property (who very kindly granted access); therefore survey was brief
(over the course of one hour), to avoid disrupting the building work in progress. The project design outlines the details of why this building is of interest, and has been completed as an ABIR (Archaeological Building Investigation Report).

An online copy of this report is here, for educational and research purposes only:

Copyright material produced by the architect responsible for creating plans for the owners, and historic map data, have been removed from this online version. However, the author retains copyright on any remaining material; if any material
from this report is reproduced in part, or in full, please provide acknowledgements. A full version of the report will soon be available from the Derby Local Studies Library.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Building A Kitchen: fireplace - changing room use

The first detailed investigation was enabled through the removal of a gas fire and back boiler in the origianl kitchen area.

Removal of the modern wallpaper (recording throughout) enabled the sequence of changes to this room to be deduced. The plans indicate the original presence of a large apperture, which comparison with photograph and descriptions of comparable houses suggest might have been filled with a range cooker. This seems most likely, bearing in mind tht this room was labelled as 'kitchen' on the plans, although subsequent change of use is possible. However, as noted in the description of the property, this building was seemingly constructed for the brother of the builder, which may make rapid transformation of room use less likely.

This has so far revealed the following sequence:
1) large fire surround, probably (although at this stage, not certainly) associated with a large apperture, which may have contained a cooking range.
Initial wall cover was dark brown (primer?) paint, followed by mid-dark green paint, and then covered with textured wall paper and painted with mid buff paint (there is possibly an initial lighter buff paint colour over the paper; this may represent primer, or a primary paint phase). Woodwork initially painted with dark brown paint. Subsequently painted with dark green paint, although possibly during the following phase

2) large fireplace filled in and surround removed, with smaller fireplace created, and surround fitted.
(Wall paper may have been mostly removed, adhering to areas where effort had been made to prevent the edges from peeling, e.g around the fire surround and door frames, although this as likely belongs to a later 'modern' phase)
Walls painted with an ivory paint (possibly primer?), and then a high gloss light green-grey. Woodwork may have been painted with dark green at this time, although some areas were subsequently painted with a lighter green, of similar colour to the walls.

3) 'modern' (1990s) - secondary fireplace removed and filled in, with backboiler and gas fire fitted.
Walls papered with textured paper and painted white. Woodwork painted with white gloss, and then cream eggshell

The OS map demonstrates that by 1949, a lean-to had been constructed. Oral testimony (secondary) indicated that a lean-to was constructed for a scullery. It is suggested that this corresponds with a change in function noted in the 'kitchen'. The fireplace was filled in during phase 2, a gas or electric cooker placed in the 'scullery' which now essentially became a kitchen, enabled due to the lean-to, and the old kitchen became a living room. So it might be surmised that phase 2 belongs between 1930/33 - 1949. (The new wall colour corresponds to british paint standards available during this period. But it must be questioned, as the fireplace was no longer used for cooking, why use the high gloss typical of kitchen surfaces?!)

Building B Kitchen: walls & floor - furniture traces

Construction work upon what was the kitchen area has enabled work to begin on exploring the stratigraphy of the wall surface, in conjunction with features identified through a brief study of the floor surface.

('Kitchen' with scullery door just visible on left side of picture)

The floor coverings were taken back to reveal quarry tiling, as might be expected. Close to the wall adjoining the scullery were deep recesses in the floor surface. By considering photographs of interiors from the 1930s, contemporaneous descriptions of kitchen areas, and on oral testimony, the preliminary assumption was that these features might represent depressions made by a large dresser.

(Left: Wall next to scullery door, with position of depressions outlined. Right: close up of features)

However, when the recent wall covering was removed (after recording), a number of features were revealed to suggest that these depressions belong to a second phase of use, relating to conversion to the room as a second living room (see fireplace post), indicating the position of a small settee

(Top circle: abrasion probably caused by shelves. Bottom: by settee / sofa)

Towards the top of this wall section, abrasion was noted, at a position that might correlate with that caused by shelves. This was much narrower than the marks on the floor, suggesting that the two marks were unrelated (i.e. not likely to indicate the presence of a dresser, as originally thought), though this does not exclude the possibility of a lighter dresser once being in this location. A further abrasion, most probably caused by the position of a sofa against the wall was also noted, and may correlate with the depressions noted on the floor, being much wider.

Placing this abrasion within the sequence is problematic. This abrasion, unlike the other, had been partly filled in with buff-coloured filler. Textured wall paper had been compressed into the grove created within the wall surface, suggesting that it belongs after a secondary phase of decoration. No bright green paint has been found within this sequence, and therefore it cannot be correlated with any certainty to the second phase, during which the 'range' was removed and replaced with a domestic fireplace, although this seems most likely, considering that it would have been a significant obstacle to cooking within this room. It more likely support a change of room use (to second living room) that might correlate with the construction of a lean-to scullery, and conversion of the old scullery to a kitchen.