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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!

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.