Antonia, Joy Wardrobe
I dream of a big house with lots of windows. I will have bright wallpaper covered with animals and flowers. I hope it will be a country house, filled with music and dancing. I dream of being free to do as I like.
But Mother is negotiating my marriage. She boasts of my accomplishments in music and dancing and displays me like a songbird in its little cage. She says I must learn to be neat and tidy.
My brother is away at school having his intellectuals sharpened, while I am trained to be a wife. I will have to
give up my family name and my own room and precious belongings and live in somebody else’s home. Could I
love a stranger? Could I make a home in his house? Will it be my palace or my prison?
In here I can hide from my Fate just a little longer. Just play a little bit longer.
Eliza, Tate Baby House
Oh good heavens I didn’t hear you come in. I’m not quite ready for you.
Well, if you’re here, stay out the way while I set up for dinner. We’ve got the magistrate coming, and the old doctor and his wife. And the Lord and Lady from the big house. This is my first formal dinner and I want it to go well.
I think we will make a good impression. Her ladyship will find no finer satin to sit her bum on, and I have the most handsome mahogany for under his lordship’s elbows. Look how the table shines like glass. My husband went to town himself to buy it, and came back mightily proud.
There are no unnecessary decorations or trifling ornaments. Just a handsome, neat dining room as I’ve seen in the very best houses.
Look how the new plate sparkles. They will all admire the chocolate pot ready by the fire. We will spare no expense, and light all the candles tonight.
Johanna, Tate Baby House
Thank you for your kind letter. I am big-bellied and my confinement cannot be far off. The lying-in room is the same one my husband was born in thirty years ago.
I have done as you said: the bed is well plump’d, with heavy curtains all round, and the warming pan is here. The linen press is outside the door ready for clean sheets. I have a beautiful red and gold cradle for the little stranger.
I am praying for a fine live baby with all limbs and senses, and have engaged a man midwife to be on hand in case of any trouble with the birth. My friends will be here during the pangs of childbearing, and I will remain in bed for two weeks after. I shall go mad, I’m sure, tucked into bed day and night, but we’ll scatter flower petals on the carpet, and keep spirits up.
My husband and I both pray for the safe arrival of your grandchild.
Oh there are a thousand and one things to be done!
Louisa, Tate Baby House
Mother: Well, my little Louisa, mistress of your own house. It will be hard work. A house is never finished, there is always something to be done.
Louisa (keenly): Yes mother.
Mother: You are lucky to have such a charming drawing room, though it could do with improvements. This is your State Room, where you can display your good taste. It should possess all the elegance embellishments can give.
Louisa (seriously): Yes mother.
Mother: When a house is well-governed nobody’s attention is drawn to the little affairs of it. Do your duty and your family and your guests will find relief in the ease and elegance throughout.
Louisa (impatiently): Yes mother.
Mother: You are fortunate, my dear, in having a model such as I to look upon for example.
Louisa (ironically): Yes mother.
Mother: Pour the tea, Louisa.
Louisa (resignedly): Yes mother.
Sir Phineas, Henriques House
Sir Phineas: I am Sir Phineas Henriques. I am the owner of the new mansion in Eaton Square, Belgravia.
On the night in question I returned home half past eleven. As usual, I told my manservant Williams to secure the house and I went to bed. About 2 o’clock in the night I heard sounds in the house. I went downstairs and found Williams and the footman, Jones, scurrying around in the dark. They said the kitchen window had been forced
open and two candlesticks had been stolen.
I don’t believe them. I think Williams neglected his duty to lock my house and protect my property. He took those candlesticks. Maybe he sold them or hid them somewhere. I read all the time of servants turning on their masters and robbing them in the night.
Williams: This is not true! This is a new job and I want to keep it. I have many who swear to my good character.
William, Henriques House
Williams: I am William Williams, manservant to Sir Phineas at his new house on Eaton Square.
After the Master come home, I went round the house securing all the locks. Then I unrolled my mattress and settled to sleep in my usual place next to the front door. At about 2 o’clock, I was woken up by sounds in the cellar. I put on my jacket and went downstairs.
The cellar window was open and two candlesticks were missing off the table. Jones, the footman, and me went into the street but there was no-one there. I shouted out for a watchman, but no-one came. There was no moon, and it was pitch dark in the street. This is a new road and there are no street lamps.
I went up to the balcony to get a better view. I was a bit afraid. Jones stayed in the street with a bottle of wine to keep warm. We never saw no-one else. A stranger must have broken in the window and grabbed the candlesticks and run off quick.
Sir Phineas: Lies! He took those candlesticks. This is a put-up job. I can get new servants, but I will see to it he will never get another job.
Anne, Killer Cabinet House
Anne: John’s work as a surgeon keeps him here in town but I long for clean country air. Living in an industrial town is so unhealthy!
The streets below are full of bad smells and nasty diseases. My household must be protected and remain a clean, healthy and moral place.
The smoke, cotton fluff and dust get everywhere, staining the walls, and ruining our fine clothing. Each morning I have my chamber pot emptied and cleaned. Fresh water is brought up from the pump for ablutions at my washstand.
And my mattress, bed curtains and sheets are aired to release dirt and odours and prevent against an attack of bed bugs.
I do think that nothing tends more to injure health, debase the mind and corrupt the morals of people than living in places with no common decency and surrounded by filth.
Henry, Killer Cabinet House
Most grand families live out in the countryside but Mr Killer keeps his family in the town.
He’s a good man, a surgeon, you know. I bet he’s seen some terrible things down at the mills, those machines can be lethal, particularly on small hands.
I’m often in town running errands for Mr Killer. But out there, keeping these trousers clean is no easy task – the streets are so dirty!
I consider myself lucky to live in this grand house even if I do sleep in the kitchen. Most mill families live all in one room together, sometimes in cellars with no water and foul muck running past their doors. Master says something’s got to be done for them. What with their long working hours and living on top of each other, it’s no wonder folk are always getting ill and worse still, dying.
Betsy, Killer Cabinet House
Smoke from candles and the range and fats from the hastener stick to every surface of this kitchen. I have to scrub it down from top to bottom every single day.
We’ve got the cat to keep the rats away and cook’s careful to get rid of all old bones and vegetable scraps. - Anything that gives off putrid smells might attract disease into the house.
Upstairs, I’ve taken to sprinkling the carpets with tea leaves before I do the daily sweep. It does a grand job of settling the dust and lends a fragrant smell to the room.
But those fancy wallpapers are hard work. They’re not washable as such, so I use bread to wipe away the surface dirt until they come up nice. They’ll not last much longer, mistress will need new papers soon – I hope she gets a taste for those dark patterns that don’t show the dirt.
Sophia, Amy Miles House
Today is my ‘at home’ day, where ladies of my acquaintance can call to take afternoon tea. Sound of tea being served
Mrs Pearce has just arrived. She’s been telling me mine is the most attractive drawing room she knows. It’s long, with high ceilings and a handsome bay window. A grand piano, fine paintings, and homemade and exotic knick-knacks give an air of respectability with a hint of the artistic.I love the creams and gold I’ve chosen for the drawing room, and, after consulting some household guides, I had John’s billiard room and the dining room decorated in stronger, darker colours as those rooms really are more his domain.It’s my duty to care for John and ensure the house is run seamlessly. We have more than ample staff for a family of our station which allows me to carry out charitable work at the church and time still to create fancy work to decorate our lovely home. I’m quite creative you know – I have recently painted the screen in my bedroom and soon I’m going to start cultivating ferns.
John, Amy Miles House
They say an Englishman’s home is his castle, and I like to think I have provided well for my family…
Moral and religious guidance and love for one’s family are so important for a man to contribute to the home.
He too must strive to achieve respectability through his house, well-fitting of his position in society. After all, not living up to one’s income is frowned upon but so too is living beyond one’s means.
The Manor house is my rural retreat where I can wash off the sullying patina of work and the immoral stench of London life and enjoy all that is close to my heart.
Sophia is my companion and confidante and our marriage is one of great partnership. She is a wonderful mother, accomplished manager of the household and has a light feminine flair for decorations.
When at home, my natural domain is in the layout of the house and grounds. Over the years I have made extensive improvements. A croquet lawn by the east wing provides amusement for the family. An extension to the house has given us improved servants quarters, a bathroom with hot water geyser and a wonderful billiard room, exclusively for my use.
Amy, Amy Miles House
Our governess, Miss Eastman, usually teaches us in here, but today we are learning to paint with an artist friend of Papa’s. There’s a good view of the garden from the school room, so I am going to attempt a landscape.
Most days we learn reading, writing and arithmetic. Our globe shows us the extent of the British Empire and there are plenty of pictures and books to teach us.
Soon my brother Henry will go to boarding school but I’ll stay here with my sisters to continue my education with Miss Eastman.
Our nursery is at the very top of the house, far away from the drawing room where Mama spends most of her day. After our nursemaid has served us tea, we are taken to the drawing room to spend time with mama and papa before their supper. This is my favourite time of day because we often sit about the piano singing songs or playing parlour games.
I am going to show Mama the sampler I have been working. One day, I want to be mistress of a nice house and be as accomplished as her - she makes all manner of lovely things for our home
Arthur, Box Back Terrace House
What you really need in London is a warm coat and a good pair of shoes. It gets terribly cold and jolly gloomy in the fog. But the best way to get about is on foot.
I work on the Survey of London. It’s a grand survey of all the streets and buildings in this magnificent city. I get £80 a year to walk around and take notes! I walk miles, down dense backstreets and across open squares, recording what I see. New shops and markets, people from all over the world.
I get back to my room late in the evening and put my feet up in front of the little fire. In my room I have a stove, a frying pan and kettle, and do quite well for eggs, toast and tea. But every morning I can’t wait to get back out into the street. It’s different every day.
Fiander, Box Back Terrace House
I couldn’t live in London without a bicycle. The buses are so busy and slow.
It was difficult at first to convince Mrs R that I wasn’t a lonely spinster looking for a husband. “Mrs Reynolds” I said, “I am in no need of a man. I am an educator of young minds”. Now she lets me keep my bicycle in the hallway.
It takes me 20 minutes to cycle to the school. Today I’ll finish at 6, as I’m going to a lecture on votes for women with some of the other teachers.
Here, in my little room, surrounded by my books, colourful prints and cherished letters I really am free. Backward thinking people say that brain-work drains women’s weak bodies. Now, do I look like a quivering weakling to you?
George, Box Back Terrace House
To get by in this city, find yourself a good landlady.
An old man like me faces the problem of cooking, you see. Mrs Reynolds, for a small extra cost, provides meals of a quite acceptable quality six days of the week.
Yes, a room in lodgings is hardly the Englishman’s castle, but, I’ll tell you, the costs are known, there is no catastrophe that Mrs Reynolds can’t deal with, and it has a quiet respectability.
I work a few mornings a week for a Law firm. By 2 o’clock I’ll be back home to work on my encyclopaedia of ancient languages.
My room? It’s not much changed from when I moved in, oh, 12 years ago. It’s smallish, squareish, with giant pink roses on the wallpaper, and some family photographs. Not my family of course, they belonged to the fellow who had the room before me. But they’re familiar to me now.
Mrs Smith, Betty Pinney’s House
I’ve taken great pride in running Bettiscombe like clockwork for sixteen years. Lady Eveline, like Lady Cecila before her, is ever so particular.
We’ve been short staffed on account of the wretched war. And now it’s over the under butler’s gone and got new work in a fancy London gentleman’s club and Mr Roberts only has a footman and Reginald, a daily, as hallboy.
Two of my maids went over to factory work and even now the men are back, many of them fancy themselves above service. I’ve persuaded Agnes, a girl from Bristol, to take up a post as a new housemaid - I do hope she’ll pass muster.
I’ve had to offer better wages too - £28 a year and one afternoon off a week - and the mistress has provided fabrics to make up new uniforms, some cotton print for day dresses and black cloth for the afternoons and evenings.
You can’t say better that that, can you?
Lady Eveline, Sir George and Uncle Herman, Betty Pinney’s House
Lady Eveline: Oh George, do you remember those wonderful times before the war, the estate was alive with laughter - all those fancy dress balls and the hunting parties. Everything was so effortless - I simply can’t wait to get our full staff back again.
George: Yes dear, it’s time to get Bettiscombe back in order and deal with this servant problem. First things first, we must get a French chef back – cook’s all very well but she’s not up to much when we have important guests.
And that new housemaid… I saw her flustering about in here yesterday. I expect these girls to be going about their duties without me having to lay eyes on them.
Lady Eveline: Quite right my love. Do you know, a friend of mine’s taken to testing her staff. She hides coins under the carpet. If they remain undetected the maid is not cleaning properly and if she does find them but does not declare them, then she is not to be trusted. Her housekeeper’s had to let two girls go in this way and those were the ones with apparently ‘good characters’.
Uncle Herman: Anyway speaking of servants, where’s Roberts got to with that drink of mine? And what time are we being served lunch, it seems like forever since kippers this morning…!? George, be a good sport and ring the bell for Roberts will you…
Betty and Agnes, Betty Pinney’s House
Betty: Oh it’s only you Agnes, I heard a noise and thought it was our ghost!
Agnes: A ghost Miss Betty, I hope you’re pulling my leg??
Betty: Oh no, the ghost of the screaming skull lives at Bettiscombe - but don’t be scared, I reckon he’s friendly.
Agnes: A skull Miss? Whose skull?
Betty: Well, it all began hundreds of years ago when a poor slave sadly died at Bettiscombe. He had been brought here by his master all the way from the West Indies. His dying wish was to return there to be buried or else he said the house would be cursed. But his master didn’t listen to this warning and since then screams were often heard echoing around the grounds, and crops failed and the house would shake on its very foundations. To try and break the curse, they dug up the skull and brought it up to the house. Since then, things seem to have gone back to normal.
Agnes: And where’s the skull now Miss?
Betty: Oh, Father keeps it hidden in the wooden bureau in the saloon. But as the legend goes, if the skull is ever moved from the house then the curse will return… So, when you are cleaning in there, whatever you do, DON’T MOVE THE SKULL!
Graeme and Peg, Peggy Lines’ House
Graeme and Peg together: When we’re grown up we’re going to make the best toys in the world.
Graeme: I’m keen to learn the family business. Sometimes I’m allowed to visit the toy factory with father. The women there make such a fuss over me, but it won’t be long before I’m running the show.
Peg: Mock-Tudor beams and oak panelling make our house look old. Mother says pretending to be old is silly but if houses do it, why can’t I? …I ‘m always sneaking into her room to try on her make-up and her high-heeled shoes.
Graeme: At the factory we make a great range of toy pedal cars – Rolls Royces, Bentleys, Fords and the like. But I want to drive a car with a real engine like the one father takes to work.
Peg: I’ve no need for a rocking horse now we live in the country. I have a real horse of my own. Her name’s Susan.
Graeme: I’ve got toys in my blood. A merry gang of us tear around the house on our bicycles, that is until we get caught at it by Nanny!
Peg: I like to pretend I’m in charge of the house. I’ve laid out my tea set in the hallway, ready for guests. There’s cake waiting in the kitchen too. I hope being grown-up is as much fun as make-believe!
Moray, Whiteladies House
Come and join the cult of sunlight, darling. Escape the stuffy parlour and come into the countryside.
Everybody’s here. Stanley’s mixing gin cocktails, Bobby’s sunbathing on the roof, and Barbara and Basil are in the pool. We’ll all crowd round the table for dinner, what does it matter if there’s 4 or 14?
Max downstairs has just arrived from Germany. He has wonderful ideas about rational design. He’s organised my furniture into an efficient plan to cut down wasted energy. We can move the chairs to make room for dancing.
Take a look around, fix a drink, do as you like, and drive back to town when you get bored. The doors are always open, come in and help yourself. Oh do come, and wear one of your amusing hats.
Oh Stanley turn the music up! I adore this tune!
Roma, Hopkinson House
Since the in- in- incendiary bombs fell down the road, everyone’s scared we’ll be hit next. We’ve had a letter from school saying us kids are going to be evacuated to Cornwall. I hope me and my sister can stay together. I’ve never been to the proper countryside before. Mum says that all the greenery round the estate here’s just like the country, compared with our cramped old flat in the East End. But now there’s air raids all the time we’re not allowed out to play as much.
Mum says we can only take a few things away with us, whatever we can fit in one suitcase. I’m going to take Emily my favourite doll, my best dress and my gas mask of course.
So I don’t get too homesick, I’m going to take a family photograph too and write to mum and granddad every day until I can come home again – I hope they will all stay safe.
Grandpa, Hopkinson House
Ever since we moved to the estate and got our own garden, I’ve taken pride in growing flowers and borders and keeping it nice, especially out the front. Don’t want the neighbours thinking we’re slovenly and as council tenants, we still get inspected. But now the war’s on, the back garden’s been taken over by the Anderson shelter. I’ve started growing green beans and root veg in the odd spot of ground to help feed the family. I’ve got us a chicken as well, to keep us in eggs. Mr Curtis down the road is even keeping a pig in his back garden - in London, can you imagine!
When my daughter is working at the munitions factory, I try and help out in the kitchen. We all have our coupons to buy rationed essentials like sugar, meat, butter and cheese but you have to be inventive with recipes to make them stretch to feed a whole family. Today I am baking a special treat for the girls before they go away. Most of the ingredients I need are rationed but jam tarts are their absolute favourite!
Bill, Hopkinson House
I’m the Air Raid patrol officer for the estate. I’m just doing my rounds to check everyone’s prepared, in case there’s another strike tonight. It’s a dangerous job but I’ve got my tin helmet and I feel proud to be doing my bit for the war.
St Helier’s a really big estate, so I’ve got my trusty bike to cover a lot of ground. It’s a bit more difficult when there’s a blackout though, the streets round here all look similar and there’s still lots of debris about from last week’s blast.
It’s a shame, the estate’s not long been built and people round here take pride in their homes. Already there’s a lot needs rebuilding but there’s no money for that sort of thing from the council at the moment. Most people have their own air raid shelters but I still tell everyone to be prepared at all times-listen to the wireless, carry their gas masks and always have a torch to hand.
I’m advising people to tape up their windows to stop the glass shattering in a blast and I’m checking they are using their black out curtains properly- We don’t want to give the Germans any help directing their bombs down here in the dark now do we?
Well, I suppose I had better get on… I’ve lots more houses to visit this evening and the Mrs will have my tea waiting.
Jenny, Jennys Home
Have a gander at the views from the 14th floor – I can see all the way to the new Post Office tower in the West End of London!
My rent’s pretty affordable - after all I’ve only got one room really, but it’s cleverly divided into different spaces for sleeping, cooking and socialising and, don’t tell my mum and dad, but I’m not in much and I barely cook anything even though I have the kitchenette!
After work, I love to look at the groovy fashions on Carnaby Street. I’ve just made myself this red dress- I’ve copied it from one I saw in a boutique window.
When I’m in my bedsit, I have my trusty transistor radio for company and tune in to Radio Caroline for all the latest hits.
I’ve got some girlfriends coming over soon. We’re gonna get all dolled up and go out dancing later - there’s a swinging new club in Soho that has a live band every night!
Linda, Jennys Home
…I wasn’t sure about moving into Tri-ang towers with young baby Ned… I really rely on the lift and it’s broken down once already and when Daniel is at work, getting up 13 flights with the shopping and little Ned is no laughing matter.
But our new maisonette has so much room - It’s split over two floors and it’s really more like a house than anything else.
We don’t have our own washing machine so the communal laundry’s a lifesaver and with so many nappies to wash I’m down there a lot.
I’ve got lots of ideas for the flat but money’s a bit tight for us at the moment - We’ve only just bought a new dining room suite and the cot on hire purchase, and we’ll have to pay that off and save up for anything else new after that.
Nelson, Jennys Home
I’m originally from Jamaica and, like a lot of people, I came to London because there were so many jobs being talked about.
My first few years in London were hard - I rented a room in a shabby house with a shared bathroom and outside toilet. It was expensive but it was all I could find at the time. Then I applied to rent one of these council-owned flats and after a long wait, I moved in here.
For the moment it’s just me and my dog, Rex, but I hope to meet a lovely lady soon and settle down. Even though lots of people live on the estate, it can get a bit lonely, especially with me working shifts. What with the great British weather and all this concrete, it can get a bit grey up here! You can often hear the wind whistling and the rain pounding around the tower blocks and if you’re not careful on the high walkways the gusts can nearly knock you off your feet.
David, Kaleidoscope House
Yeah, so we wanted a house that would express our personalities. We have this awesome living space for family time, a gallery room for Naomi’s art collection, and my home office. And we wanted to really bring the outside in. We worked with the architect from the beginning to design something completely unique to our personal style.
I freelance, so I work from home a lot. It can be difficult to get peace and quiet, because the kids are always running around. My father said children should be seen and not heard, you know, but I disagree with that. They’ve got to feel free to express themselves. And it’s difficult being a step-dad. I love little Gracie but I can’t tell her off like her mum can.
We’ve had great dinner parties since we moved in here. Naomi fixes supper most days but I do the cooking when we have company. There’s a time in the evening when the sun comes through the windows at a certain angle, and it’s really wow. It’s a wow moment.