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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):