September 17, 2010

A Glimpse into Everyday Life in London in the 1850s

" The London-road district, being the name given to that portion of the town under my direction, contains a population of about 30,000. It is bounded upon one side throughout its whole course (say the distance of a mile and a half) by the river Medlock, a black filthy ditch, into which the inhabitants upon its borders or the various manufactories in its course, consisting of dye and chemical works, pour all their superabundant filth. Innumerable privies, connected with the back of long terrace ranges of private dwellings, empty themselves into the same source; in fact, it is the eliminating channel for all who can reach its banks to pour off every nuisance, liquid or solid. The opposing side of the district is bounded by the Rochdale Canal, nearly throughout the same extent."- Report of the General Board of Health on the Epidemic Cholera of 1848 & 1849

London was known to be the place of high society, it was also known for its huge slums. Due to the large body of poor people in London, the rich had no shortage of servants. Below are some excerpted tips for servants from Murray's Modern Domestic Cookery, written in 1851. Many of the tips were strange and others came from common folklore of the time.
This is an interesting look into life in London during the 1850s. Not only do many families have servants but the servants would have a much bigger job than just cooking and cleaning. Can you imagine trying to muzzle a rat?
Modern wool will not help heal burns unless you can find wool that hasn't had the lanolin washed out of it. Lanolin is naturally produced in glands of sheep. It is commonly thought to be an oil but is actually a wax. The wax helps the sheep keep their coats clean and subsequently will keep any garment made from the wool, waterproof. It is currently used in hand creams, rust-proof coatings, instrument lubricants and has been shown to heal superficial wounds.

The National Druggist, published in 1905 claims this tip to be false. It said that this test would only show you if a mushroom was bad. 

  Thieves' Vinegar was once thought to protect from the plague. Folklore states that in a small village after an outbreak of the plague in the late 1700s, thieves were caught robbing the village dead. The thieves shared the recipe for their secret vinegar which allowed them to rob the dead without catching the plague in return for their lives. There may be some truth to the properties of the vinegar. The ingredients are known to be antibacterial and many people use a similar recipe today for disinfecting surfaces.


  1. Thanks for sharing! Some of those tips are just odd!

  2. Stephanie, I have tried e-mailing you but yahoo won't send you my e-mails. Sorry!

    So, I thought I would tell you that I would love it if you could write Modesty Monday. No, one is writing that at the moment. You could start this week if you want!

    E-mail me back if you want to start!


  3. Toad in a cellar. Expells rats. Wow.
    That might explain why we've never had rats at home. :D Seriously... there was a toad when my parents bought the house we live in now. Of course, it's probably long gone, but when we were small, it was one of the things that made our house special for us. Having a big toad somewhere under it.


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