A Place to Live Living gallery heading 1901: Living at the Time of the Census Living in 1901
At Home in 1901Housing for the PoorEscaping the Slums*  

At Home in 1901

New technology
Electricity was available for home use in 1901, but even by 1910, only 2% of houses were connected to the mains and it remained impossibly expensive for most people. Gas cookers were much cheaper than electric ones and were widely used, although many families still depended on coal-fired ranges.

The latest technology - link to an enlarged version

Coal fires produced huge quantities of dirt. The vacuum cleaner was patented by H.Cecil Booth in 1901, but it was a very large machine, only affordable in wealthier homes. Ordinary housewives were more likely to resort to sprinkling old tea leaves over the mat to absorb bits of dirt, which made sweeping up easier.

Flush toilets had been invented in the 1880s but many houses still had no mains drainage and used earth closets, often in outside lavatories, which had to be periodically cleaned out.

Many working-class houses did not even have their own piped water supply and water had to be carried in from a communal tap in the yard. Few such houses had bathrooms or hot water geysers, and having a hot bath might require filling a tin tub by hand. In towns there were also public baths and wash-houses.

In The Classic Slum, describing life in Salford in the early years of this century, Robert Roberts remarks that 'women wore their lives away washing clothes in heavy iron-hooped tubs, scrubbing wood and stone, polishing furniture and fire-irons'. Once a week, wash-day was a full day's work in itself and some women made a modest living by taking in the washing of others.

Furnishing the home
Standardised, mass-market, ready-made furniture was increasingly common by 1901. It was affordable, especially on credit. Robert Roberts recalled that 'From some shops you could buy the "basic House of Furniture" complete, designed to fill the "one [room] up and one down" home. This cost twelve guineas, with £1 8s 0d added if you were feckless enough to buy on credit.'

Furnishing a home - link to an enlarged version

While furniture for the better off might cost much more than this, the poorest of households might have to rely on orange boxes for both tables and chairs. In Round About A Pound a Week (published in 1913), Maud Pember Reeves describes a one-room tenement inhabited by a family of two adults and four children. The only bed was shared by the parents and two children, the third child sleeping in a cot and the fourth in a pram. There was one small table and three chairs; a sewing machine; a mantelpiece housing shells and small ornaments; a cracked mirror; and two saucepans, which had to be used on an open fire as there was no oven.

 For more on domestic life at the turn of the century, link to the American website about www link - opens in a new window The 1900 House.