Wednesday, 2 May 2007
A kitchen sink history and mystery
"I write this sitting in the kitchen sink" (not my words - they belong to Dodie Smith and start her novel "I Capture the Castle"). I've borrowed them for the day because there are times when I feel I've taken up permanent residence in front of the sink. At least in the Spring and Summer the view from the kitchen window is pretty and distracting. I wonder how many women have stood at the same spot, looking at the same view, thinking the same thing!
The first woman to have stood here looking out into her garden was Emily Jane, she was 37 years old when her name appeared over a hundred years ago in the census at this address. The view would of course have altered over the years but our garden has offered us clues as to what she might have seen.
We live on top of a hill overlooking the city, a century ago this area was known as "laundry hill" deriving its name from the number of laundries private and commercial in the area. The air was cleaner here being high above the smoky town and breezier too and the larger gardens offered drying ground for the washing. Emily Jane worked as a private laundress in this house, taking in washing with her two sisters-in-law, Susan and Caroline, who also lived here. I like to think that these three ladies had a nice little business set up but the reality would have been very different, the work monotonous and hard and any earnings would probably have helped just to make ends meet.
Our garden has 3 existing old trees but we have found several old tree stumps and I think that these trees were once used as posts for washing lines and our garden would have been full of laundry drying in the wind (much as it is today but, thankfully, now on a smaller scale!).
Emily Jane had no children but her niece, Bessie, lived here too. It would be good to think that this little group of women had some fun together in their home and were able to enjoy living here as much as we do.
The only man about the house (just like ours) was Emily's husband, John Gilbert. There was a windmill at the end of the road and John was a miller/baker - maybe he didn't have too far to go to work in the mornings! In honour of John and Emily we have some old linen flour bags framed in the kitchen and an assortment of laundry signs and boxes.
Now to the mystery - when we were digging a patch of ground near the kitchen door, we uncovered a set of tools! Not enormous tools, ranging in size from approx 4 inches to 6inches. There were eight of them in total, each has a little lip at the top, presumably so that they could be hung from something. They look like craftsman's tools but that's just a guess (my husband thinks he has seen something similar at a potter's). They could be something or nothing, but they did belong to somebody and it would be lovely to find out who and find out a little more about their story too.
These glimpses of past lives (and they are nothing more than that) have added an extra dimension to our home and we hope to reveal more of its secrets and stories over the years, discovering more about the people who have shared our house.