If Walls Could Talk: The Kitchen

A month ago, I posted a review on Lucy Worsley’s documentary series If Walls Could Talk. As a recap, this is a four part series covering the history of the most important rooms in the house: the living room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. Just recently I watched episode 4 of the series about the evolution of the Kitchen from Medieval times to modern day.

6 Cool things I learnt about the Kitchen from If Walls Could Talk Episode 4:

  1. In the Medieval Period the peasant’s kitchen was also the living room. The original open-plan living! From the Tudor period the wealthy moved their kitchens further and further away from the social areas of the house. Mainly they were concerned about the risk of fire to the rest of the house. But the smell and noise associated with kitchens was also seen as distasteful. This trend slowly filtered down into the middle and lower classes, who also began to build separate kitchens.
  2. Henry VIII only hired male servants to work in his kitchens at Hampton Court – 200 of them all up! In this period, employers paid male servants a higher wage than women. Henry wanted to show that he could afford the most expensive workers!
  3. In the 1600’s interesting inventions were created to make cooking a roast less labour intensive. Instead of one person slowly turning a spit for hours on end, a new invention connected the spit to a dog wheel. The Turnspit dog was bred specifically to turn the wheel, but is now extinct.
  4. In England in the 1800’s, French culinary utensils, kitchen-ware and recipes were in vogue. In fact, a man could give a trendy, new copper pan to his beloved to indicate that an engagement was coming!
  5. Cast Iron kitchen ranges were used from the 1800’s until the invention of gas and electric cookers. Scullery maids cleaned and blacked the range daily and the cook checked the temperature of the oven by hand. Cast Iron ranges required a constant source of coal to stay heated. So by the 1920’s the new gas cookers were advertised as ‘wageless servants’! A crafty ploy as many servants didn’t return to their jobs after World War I.
  6. Victorian housekeepers used kitchen scraps for a range of profitable purposes. Food scraps, known as ‘wash’, could be sold to the wash man to feed pigs. The word hogwash! is said to come from this practice.

It’s curious¬†that open-plan kitchen and living, so popular today, were not the design of choice for quite a long time. Since the Medieval period where it was a necessity for most, the design wasn’t back in vogue until the 1960’s and still wasn’t a trend until the 1980’s.

If you’d like to see how the lower and middle classes cooked bread in the Middle Ages or to find out more about the evolution of the kitchen in western history, check out If Walls Could Talk Episode Four.¬†

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