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Monday, April 8, 2013

The Victorian Kitchen

source: Inside the Victorian Home, Judith Flanders, 2003

            Remember that in the 19th Century, rooms were ideally single-purpose; thus, the proper Victorian home would have had a kitchen for cooking only, with separate rooms for food storage (the larder) and preparation (the scullery). Of course, as with today's kitchens, the truth was that not many homes could afford an "ideal" kitchen, and the room was used for a wide range of functions. In many homes, the kitchen actually had to serve as a bedroom for one of the servants.

            In the ideal kitchen, a scullery (no matter how small) was attached, with one, or even two sinks for cleaning food and washing and pots. A separate pantry for storing china and glass (and silver if there was any) might be as small as a closet. It typically had a small sink for washing dishes, of wood lined with lead to prevent chipping. The larder for fresh food storage might only be a large cupboard, and the storeroom for dried goods and cleaning equipment might be another.

            By the middle of the century, most middle-class homes did have running water, but it was expensive, nearly 10 % of the cost of the rent of the home, according to some estimates. The kitchen was usually the first to be connected to the city water supply, but by the 1870's, many middle-class homes had bathrooms with running water (heated on the kitchen range) and flush toilets as well. Our Homes in 1883 estimated that the average person needed twenty-two gallons of water a day, divided as follows:

                        Domestic usage, excluding laundry                             9 gallons
                        Toilets                                                                         5 gallons
                        Baths - one per week                                                  5 gallons
                        Washing clothes                                                          3 gallons

            The kitchen was typically located below ground, or on the lowest floor of the house. As it supplied the hot water for the entire premises, the kitchen stove "blasted out heat all the year round for up to eighteen hours a day." Conditions inside the room were far from pleasant, with the gas burning all day and (at best) only a small window near the ceiling to remove the fumes.  Floors were usually covered in linoleum, for ease of cleaning. This was often laid over a cement base in order to keep vermin away.

            "The labor, steam and dirt all centered around the kitchen range," fueled by coal fire. These came into common use by the 1840's. Before that time, baked items must be taken to a communal bakehouse for preparation. There were many styles of ranges, but the main features were a boiler to heat water and an oven (or ovens). By the 1860's, "improved" ranges had hot plates to keep soups simmering, keep hot dishes warm, and even to heat irons. They had a roaster with movable shelves, which could be converted from an open to a closed oven by moving valves. One of the main advantages of the range was that soot no longer fell into the food in the oven (although it still might come down the chimney and fall into the saucepans). Soot in food remained a common problem, especially as there was no temperature controls on the range as the modern stove has.

            Another common problem in the kitchen was waste. Thrift was a Victorian virtue, and every good housewife made certain that anything which could be reused would be. Of course, modern packaging had yet to be invented, so there was less to dispose of in that area - goods either arrived unwrapped, or wrapped in simple paper, which could be reused or burned if soiled. One reuse was as lavatory paper.

            One system which has vanished in the modern day was the collection of different waste by street traders who would regularly visit the back door of the home to buy various items: paper, metals, wood, even empty bottles. "Old textiles and bones were bought by the rag-and-bone man, who sold his wares to paper mills and to glue, gelatin, match, toothpick, and fertilizer manufacturers."

            Within the kitchen, the range must be large enough to cook meals for the family, which might contain a dozen people with the servants included. The Modern Householder in 1872 also listed the following necessities for "Cheap Kitchen Furniture:" an open range, fender, fire irons; 1 deal table; bracket of deal to be fastened to the wall and let down when wanted; wooden chair; floor canvas; coarse canvas to lay before the fire when cooking; wooden tub for washing glass and china; large earthenware pan for washing plates; small zinc basin for washing hands; 2 washing-tubs; clothesline; clothes horse; yellow bowl for mixing dough; wooden salt-box to hang up; small coffee mill; plate rack; knife-board; large brown earthenware pan for bread; small wooden flour kit; 3 flat irons; an Italian iron, and iron stand; old blanket for ironing on; 2 tin candlesticks, snuffers, extinguishers; 2 blacking brushes; 1 scrubbing brush; 1 carpet broom; 1 short-handled broom; cinder-sifter, dustpan, sieve, bucket; patent digester; tea kettle; toasting fork; bread grater; bottle jack (a screen can be made with the clothes-horse covered with sheets); set of skewers; meat chopper; block-tin butter saucepan; colander; 3 iron saucepans; 1 iron boiling pot; 1 fish kettle; 1 flour dredger; 1 frying pan; 1 hanging gridiron; salt and pepper boxes; rolling pin and pasteboard; 12 patty pans; 1 larger tin pan; pair of scales; baking dish.

            Mrs. Mary Haweis gave "a useful little kitchen list for a very small household" which gave 109 items, not including cutlery or dishes! Among the brushes she thought indispensable were sets of stove brushes, boot brushes and scrub brushes, a bass (fiber) brush, a hair broom, a carpet broom, a sweep's broom, and a broom for the banisters -- none of which could serve any other purpose. The important thing for the Victorian home was to have the proper tools for cleanliness.

            The kitchen range must also be cleaned thoroughly and carefully, or the heated metal would spread the scent of scorched fat and burning food throughout the house. To clean a range, the fender and fire irons were first removed, then damp tea leaves were scattered over the coal to keep the dust down while cleaning was in progress. The ashes and cinders were raked out and separated, with the unusable ash saved for the dustman and the cinders reused in the fire. The flues were then cleaned and the grease scraped off the stove. The steel part was cleaned with bathbrick (powdered brick used as an abrasive) and paraffin, and the iron parts were blackleaded and polished. In a house with only one or two servants, the oven was swept and the blackleading applied only to the bars and front every day, and the rest was cleaned twice a week. If there were more servants, the entire process was repeated daily, including scraping out the oven and rinsing it with vinegar and water.
            Cleanliness was indeed next to godliness in the eyes of the Victorian citizen, and most of the cleaning was done in the scullery, companion to the kitchen and next up in our look Inside the Victorian Home.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

19th Century Parlor Games

In the days before television and video games, entertainment was both simpler and more complicated. There were a lot of games that today's children might find more "educational" and "cerebral" than what they're used to. Games were easier to play, however, and required little or no specialized equipment.

Blindman's Bluff:

One person is blindfolded. The other guests scatter around the room, and the "blindman" must try to find them and identify who he or she has caught without looking. The person correctly identified is "it" and a new game commences.

Board Games:

There were many varieties of popular board games available in the 19th Century. Checkers and Chess were the most popular, as today. A game similar to Tic-Tac-Toe, called Nine Man's Morris, was also popular, as was Fox and Geese. Each of these games relies on "capturing" an opponent's pieces to win.

"The Mansion of Happiness" was "An Instructive Moral and Entertaining Amusement," where players moved their pieces about a board marked with "vices" and "virtues." Instructions at each landing spot either advanced the player further (virtues) or sent them backwards (vices) until they reached the "Mansion of Happiness" at the center of the board and won the game.


The classic Victorian game, still popular today, of trying to act out a word or phrase so that it can be guessed without a word being spoken. The person who guesses correctly is "it," and acts out a new word or phrase.


One person is chosen to be the "auctioneer" and asked to leave the room. The other guests must "forfeit" a special item of theirs, and all items are placed in the center of the room. The "auctioneer" then returns and pretends to sell off each item, describing it as it would be done at an actual sale. In order to "buy" their items back, the guests must do something embarrassing such as sing a song, dance, do an imitation, etc.


This was a girl's game, thought to teach grace and poise. The girls sat in a circle, and used a pair of wooden rods to toss a be-ribboned hoop to her partner, who tried to catch it on her rods. The girls who were the most graceful would win. This is, of course, similar to many of the popular "toss and catch" games played by people of all ages.

I'm Thinking of Something:

The person who is "it" picks something specific, such as Mount Rushmore, a person everyone would know, an animal, or an item in the room. They give hints, such as "I'm thinking of something large," and the guests ask questions about the item, such as "Is it an animal?" or "Is it in Europe?". This continues until someone thinks they know the answer and makes a guess. If they guess correctly, they become "it" and think of a new item. If they guess incorrectly, the original person is still "it" and picks a new item.

I Spy:

This is a variation of "I'm Thinking Of Something" where the item in question must be within eyesight of the person who is "it."

Jackstraws, or Pick-Up-Sticks:

A bundle of "sticks," usually specially-made wooden rods, are held over the table and released to fall into a pile. Each guest removes one stick, trying not to disturb the remaining ones in the pile. If the other sticks move, the player must lose that turn. The object is to collect the most sticks.


The host picks some small item and shows it to everyone in the room. All guests then leave the room while the host hides the item "in plain sight" among the other items in the room. The guests then return and try to spot the item, but say nothing when they find it. Instead, they sit down once they have located the item. The last person standing is "it" and must hide the next item.

Squeak, Piggy, Squeak:

One person is blindfolded and given a pillow. The other guests sit at the person's feet. "It" is spun around until he or she doesn't know which direction they are facing, then they drop the pillow and say "Squeak, piggy, squeak!" The person who catches the pillow, or into whose lap it falls, must squeak or squeal like a pig, and "it" must try to guess who the person is. If they guessed correctly, the "piggy" then became "it."

Throwing the Smile:

The object of this game is NOT to smile. Everyone forms a circle, with "it" standing in the middle. "It" can either smile broadly, or can "wipe off" his smile and look mock-serious in an attempt to make the others smile or laugh, at which point they are "out." In some games, the person then has to "pay a forfeit" such as hand over a small item, or do something embarrassing. The game continues until only one person is left facing "it," at which point they become the new "it."

The Name Game:

Each guest is provided with a pencil or pen and ten slips of paper. They write down the names of ten famous people (the object was to try not to make them too easy to guess). The papers are then folded and placed into a large container, and everyone forms a circle. Each round of guessing lasts 30 seconds. The first player picks one name and tries to get the person on their left to guess the name by giving clues without saying what the name is or what the letters are. Gestures are not allowed. If the person guesses correctly before the round is over, another name is drawn and the same team continues until the time is up. The guesser keeps the paper slips and shares credit with the clue giver. The bowl is then passed to the guesser, and the game continues until everyone has guessed and given at least one clue -- or until the bowl is empty. The person with the most correct guesses wins the game.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

19th Century Gambling


  Gambling has always been a human pastime. Many of the popular casino games in the 19th Century originated in Europe and China. Games such as craps, baccarat, roulettte, faro, and blackjack had their origins in different areas of Europe, while keno derived from an ancient Chinese lottery game.

            Craps is a dice game in which players bet on the outcome of a roll (or series of rolls) on a pair of dice. Players can bet against each other or against the bank. Because the only equipment is the set of dice, this is an easy game to set up and play, and was very popular on the streets as well as in the gambling houses.

            Baccarat is a card game. There are three popular varieties: Punto banco (North American baccarat), baccarat chemin de fer, and baccarat banque (a deux tableaux). The first is simply a game of chance, with no skill or strategy involved, but the others allow players to make choices and bring a little skill to the game. Most casinos in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and Sweden and Finland use the first version of the game. In baccarat, cards numbering 1 through 9 count at face value; 10 and face cards are worth nothing; and Aces are worth 1 point. The name itself refers to anything with a value of zero - a queen or king is a "baccarat." Cards are valued according to the final digit of the sum (a hand with a 3 and 4 would be 7, but one with a 3 and 9 would be 2). The highest hand would be a score of 9.

            Roulette is a game of chance played with a wheel (the name means "little wheel"). Players bet either red or black, odd or even, or on a specific number or range of numbers on the wheel. The wheel is spun in one direction, and a ball is spun along a track in the wheel in the opposite direction. The ball will drop into one of the colored and numbered pockets on the wheel. Another version, familiar as the "wheel of fortune," features a standing wheel with a marker to determine the final outcome of the spin.

            Faro (Pharoah, named because of the picture on the back of the typical cards) is a card game played against a bank. Players bet on one or more cards, or could bet "high card." The cards were dealt from a box, or shoe, which made cheating unlikely.

            Blackjack, also known as Twenty-One, is a card game played against a bank. Players are dealt cards one at a time, and try to either attain the sum of 21, or to beat the bank's score. Cards numbering 1 through 10 count at face value; face cards count as 10 points, and the ace can count either as 1 or 11 (if you have an ace and a queen, you have 21, but if you have an ace and a 5, it can count as 6 and you can keep drawing cards).

            Keno is a form of lottery or bingo. The Chinese played the game with sheets imprinted with 80 characters; the Europeans played with 80 numbered balls which were spun in a cage. 20 balls or characters are drawn, and players win based on how many numbers they successfully chose.

            Of course, no discussion of table gambling would be complete without the game of poker. The game as we know it today originated in America in the early or mid-18th Century, and had spread throughout the Mississippi River region by the 19th Century. The game itself is similar to many card games played in other countries, but the betting system is different enough that the Americans can claim its invention. The game was played in a variety of forms, with 52 cards, and included both straight poker (cards are dealt face down and bets are made without seeing the hands) and stud poker (cards are a mix of face-up and face-down, and bets are placed in multiple rounds). There was even a variant played using only 20 cards.

            Table games were hardly the only forms of gambling available. Various types of races have always been popular, with horse racing in the lead. However, people will bet on anything -- foot races, dog races, even camel races were popular! The basic philosophy of gambling is: if there is an outcome, you can bet on it. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Cattle Drives in 19th Century America

Cattle drives -- moving herds of cattle from one location to another on foot -- were especially important in the American west between 1866 and 1886. Around 20 million cattle were herded from Texas to stockyards in Chicago and other eastern cities. Long-distance cattle driving was traditional in Mexico, California, and Texas, and horse herds were sometimes also driven. The term "drive" does not refer to carrying, as in driving a vehicle, but to forcing the cattle to move forward.

Cattle drives had to strike a delicate balance: the cattle needed to move as quickly as possible, but not so quickly as to cause them to lose weight. Fat, healthy cattle brought the best prices at market. The ideal speed was somewhere between 10 to 15 miles in one day, with rest periods for grazing at midday and at night. This meant that a drive could take several months to complete on a long trail. One of the most famous trails, the Chisholm Trail, was 1,000 miles long, stretching from Texas to Abilene, Kansas.

The more cattle you could move, the more money you made when you sold them at the end of the drive. A typical drive consisted of 1,000 to 3,000 cattle. With this many cattle, it was highly profitable for a town to encourage a drive to pass through, or even make it their destination once the railroads began expanding. So-called cattle towns experienced a boom between 1866 and 1890, as railroads reached them and the towns made themselves available for gathering and shipping cattle. The most famous towns were railheads, where the herds were shipped off to Chicago stockyards.

Abilene, Kansas was one of the first, and most famous, cattle towns. Other Kansas towns included Wichita and Dodge City. There were certainly other famous cattle towns, however: Las Vegas, New Mexico; Greeley, Colorado; Medora, North Dakota; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Ogallala, Nebraska; Miles City, Montana; and Prescott, Arizona are but a few of them. Texas was a frequent starting point for many drives, and Amarillo, Fort Worth, and Wichita Falls were all important cattle towns.

A drive couldn't exist without the cowboy, of course. A crew of at ten to fifteen men was needed for a sizeable herd. Each man needed from five to ten horses (ridden in shifts so that no one horse became exhausted), so a drive also included a small herd of horses, called a remuda. The cowboys worked in shifts to watch the cattle around the clock, herding them in the right direction during the day and making sure they were safe at night. Theft was a big danger, as was a stampede, when cattle became frightened and dashed away at top speed in any direction.

A typical drive would consist of the trail boss, who might be the owner of the cattle, the crew of cowboys, a horse wrangler to handle the remuda, and the cook, who drove the chuck wagon. This wagon carried not only food for the crew, but also the medical supplies and bedrolls. The cook was especially well-respected by the crew for his knowledge of food and practical medicine. Payment depended on your previous experience and the job you worked. A trail boss could earn $90 a month on a drive, while a good cook could bring in $60 a month. Cowboys typically earned between $30 and $40 a month, and the horse wrangler, usually the youngest member of the crew, usually earned only around $25 a month.

Once the herd was moving, everyone had an assigned spot. A good trail boss would rotate the positions of his crew so that no one cowboy had to ride in the most unpleasant spots all the time. First out of the camp would be the chuck wagon. This would travel in front of the herd, and usually be out of sight before long. A scout traveled ahead of the herd as well, seeking out the best routes and serving as go-between for the chuck wagon and the trail boss. The main herd followed the trail boss and the point riders to his right and left. Swing riders were positioned to either side of the herd, and were responsible for keeping the cattle bunched together, chasing down stragglers and driving them back into the herd.  To the back of the herd, in roughly the same positions as point, were the flank riders. Their job was to push the herd along, making sure they kept to the desired speed. The worst job of all was drag, which was directly behind the herd, pushing them forward and watching for stragglers. Drag riders were covered with dust and less-desirable products of the cattle, kicked up by thousands of hooves.

Here are some words of wisdom from cattle rancher Oscar Thompson to his son Webster before his first drive:

11.     First of all, obey your boss -- he's paying you for your service.
22.     When you camp at night, always point your wagon tongue toward the North Star.
33.     Explain to your men in a quiet voice what they are to do.
44.     Never say "no" to your employer.
55.     Be ready to go at all times.
66.     Don't say "You boys do this," but "Come on, boys, follow me."
77.     Put your best two men on point.
88.     Water your cattle and fill them up before night.
99.     Explain to your cook that he must be ready with meals at all times.
110.  Watch your horses -- don't let the men abuse them.
111.  Keep your harness and camp equipment clean and up out of the sand.
112.  Don't fight your men unless they jump you; but if they or anyone else jumps you, give them the best you have.
113.  Don't ever misrepresent anything to your employer; tell it just like it happened.
114.  Don't get rattled. No matter what happens, keep your head clear.
115.  Don't lose confidence in yourself.
116.  Look after the comfort of your men, and they will follow you to hell.
117.  Keep your mind on your business and make your head save your heels.