Sunday, 11 January 2015

A thought, a recipe, a household hint … (1)

I have a small collection of housewifery and Woman’s Hour books published from around the 20s to the 60s, fun to dip into and useful as a social history reference.

The Housewife’s Book (no date printed but probably 20s/30s) has an excellent suggestion: ‘It is worth while sitting to wash up … ’

 and no wonder the housewife in that era appreciated a sit-down as she apparently spent the rest of her day on such tasks as ‘Washing leather gloves’, ‘Cleaning and pressing men’s suits’ and ‘Preparing the sick room’.

The Household Guide (30s) advises how to ‘Be lovely at 50’. Suggestions include ‘Put a posy in your button-hole and you will lose ten years off your age’; ‘Take trouble with your hats. Veils are kindly to the older woman’; and if you’re worried about your weight try ‘slimming baths, reducing soap, vinegar to pat in and an oxygen cream.’

Some more unlikely slimming advice was given twenty years later in The Book of Woman’s Hour 1953 when a male contributor apparently lost weight by substituting bacon and fried bread for his breakfast porridge.

In the same book we learn that ‘the vast majority of the blouses sold in this country are quite dreadful … wishy-washy, skimpy, meaningless.’ Let’s hope that modern blouses are very meaningful.

The BBC Woman’s Hour Book, published in 1957, has an article on ‘Starting a Tea-Shop’ – still a hugely popular thing to do judging by the number of (we now call them) cafes round where I live. I doubt though if any 21st-century waitress had this problem: ‘I dropped a chocolate bun slap on to an old lady’s hat one afternoon. Her hat was so heavily decorated with bits and pieces that the bun was quite lost in it all … '

Other chapters include: ‘How to be a successful spinster’ by ‘A Psychiatrist’; ‘Emigrating to Canada’; ‘Bringing up Children in Australia;’ while ‘Flying to the Moon’ prophesied that ‘I doubt whether men will land on the Moon much before the year 2,000.’

Hindsight is a wonderful thing in the space travel department – as well as in the departments of slimming and spinsters.

I have five volumes (1930s) by ‘Aunt Kate’ (whoever she was) – The Household Guide pictured above, her Household Annual and Enquire Within which are mostly recipes, while Aunt Kate’s Household Companion and Aunt Kate’s Day-by-Day Book each contain ‘a thought, a recipe, a household hint, for every day of the year’.

So for you, dear reader, on 11 January, here are (in brief):

A thought
When you lose something and you say ‘Of course it was in the last drawer I looked in – things always are!’ aren’t you guilty of remembering the bothersome times and not the occasions when you put your hand on something straightaway?

A recipe
Cream of barley soup – sounds very nice with its ‘1 gill of milk’; let me know if you’d like it.

A household hint
The ideal thing, of course, is always to be neatly and carefully dressed even when quite alone in your own house, and to have always one room where it is possible to receive unexpected visitors …

Time to take off the onesie then.


  1. What fascinating, and often hilarious, snippets, Kate. I love these kind of old books and magazines.

  2. They certainly make you appreciate washing machines and dishwashers, Rosemary!