The Old Devon Farm-House. Part II. (1922)
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Author(s): Laycock. C. H.; Year published: 1922; Origin: DA Transactions; Pages: 224-270
Topic(s): agriculture and architecture; Location(s):
Full title: The old Devon Farm-House. Part II. Its Interior Arrangements and Domestic Economy.
by Charles H. Laycock.
(Read at Crediton, 10th August, 1922.)
In Part I* of this paper I endeavoured to give a short account of the general construction and exterior aspect of the old Devon farm-house. In this present Part II I propose to deal with its interior arrangements, giving a general plan of the house itself, noticing the furniture and utensils found within it, and finally giving short descriptions of various customs and practices connected with Devon farm-house life, some of which are quite obsolete, while others are now rarely met with.
* See Vol. LII, p. 158.
I had hoped to complete the subject this year, but when I came to tackle it I found that there was so much to be dealt with in giving a thorough survey of the interior of an old Devon farm-house, that it has been necessary further to subdivide my paper.
Before proceeding, I should like to warn readers of my paper not to be disappointed if they fail to find a farm-house with all its interior arrangements as I have described them. For, just as I found it impossible to obtain a photo of an exterior which contained all the typical features of the old Devon farm-house in one and the same building – the cob walls, the thatched roof, mullioned windows, Jacobean porch, etc. (though I feel sure that some examples do still exist, if one only had the good fortune to come across them), I think it is very doubtful indeed if a single example could be found of a farm-house with its interior arrangements exactly as described in these pages.
For, though much that is old and interesting still remains, the interiors of most of the old farm-houses still standing have been to a greater or lesser extent modernized, so as to comply with present-day ideas of comfort and hygiene. Thus we not unfrequently find a modern staircase run up in the centre of the house in place of, or in addition to, the old straight or winding flight of stone or wooden steps, without hand-rail, leading direct from the kitchen or parlour, or both, to the bedrooms above. A portion of these same bedrooms, too, has been cut off to form a narrow passage upstairs, from which each room may be entered separately, instead of being approached directly from the neighbouring room as formerly. In some farm-houses we may now even find bath-rooms served by a modern hot-water system, inside sanitation, and (in the case of farms in close proximity to towns) the house may be lit with gas or even electric light. All these “improvements” were quite unknown in our grandparents’ days.
I am, unfortunately, a good half-century too late to draw my picture entirely from “real life”, so to speak; so that, with regard to its interior arrangements in particular, it is rather a picture of the Devon farm-house as it was up to the middle of the nineteenth century than as it is now.
A good part of the old furniture and utensils can still be found in farm-houses in out-of-the-way country districts, probably more than most town-dwellers have any idea of, but a large number of things are no longer to be met with in their old and once familiar places. With the passing of certain customs and practices from the farm-house, have gone the implements and utensils intimately connected with those practices. For the farmer generally, and the Devonshire farmer in particular, though strongly conservative and the last to abandon old methods in favour of new ones, is at the same time essentially a practical man, his busy life indeed leaving him but little time to indulge in sentiment (though there are exceptions); and when once he has become thoroughly convinced that his old methods are no longer tenable, he has no hesitation in making a clean sweep of the old practices and everything connected with them, and replacing them with an entirely new outfit in conformity with modern methods, leaving the old implements and utensils to rot (unless he can find a fresh use for them), or selling them for a few shillings to the dealer in scrap-iron, little dreaming that one day many of them would command a fictitious value, as objects of antique interest, far in excess of their original value as articles of daily use.
In this way hundreds of interesting old farm implements, e.g. pack-saddles, timbern zoles, druges, drashles, etc., and, in a lesser degree perhaps, household utensils, e.g. spinning-wheels, turnspits, tinder-boxes, candle-boxes, etc., have perished. The tempting offers, too, made by collectors and dealers in “antiques” have unfortunately of late years robbed many an old farm-house of furniture and utensils which had been in it for generations, e.g. grandfather clocks, oak chests, warming-pans, brass candle-sticks, etc.
One thing I can truthfully say, that every article described in these pages has either been seen by myself in actual use in one or other of the farm-houses with which I am well acquainted, or else has been accurately described to me by one who has so seen it in use before my time. So that I have little doubt that, were it possible to go back a hundred years or even less, we should find the interior arrangements of the Devon farm-house very much as I have attempted to describe them.
As I said in Part I, no two farm-houses of the older type are exactly alike; and this applies with equal force to their interior arrangements as to their exterior aspects; particularly as regards the general plan and disposition of the various rooms. With regard to special features and furniture, such as the open hearth fire-place, with its equipment of chimley-crooks, crocks, brandis, vire-dogs, etc., the high-backed settle, and the grandfather clock: these may be said to be, or rather to have been, found almost universally and without exception in every farm-house within the county.
I regret that I have been unable to get photos of the interior of any large farm-house, which I could regard as typical of the old Devonshire barton unmodernized. But I am able to give a ground-plan of one that I knew well, which was pulled down some years ago and a modern house built in its place. The plan was kindly drawn for me by one of the students at Exeter University College, from a rough sketch made by myself from memory.
This will perhaps enable readers of my paper to follow my descriptions the more readily. But it must be understood that, though the descriptions apply to the house figured in this plan, the plates illustrating various pieces of furniture, cooking utensils, etc., are, for the most part, reproductions of photos of articles in my own possession, showing portions of the rooms in my own house at Moretonhampstead, which was formerly a farm-house of seventeenth-century date, but of the smaller class, not a barton.
On opening the massive vore-door described in Part I,* and stepping over the draxel, we find ourselves in the main passage, or drangway, as it is often termed, for it usually runs the whole depth of the house from front to back, and leads straight into the backlet through another, though lighter-built, door at its further end. This passage varies in width in different farm-houses, but in the larger class is usually about seven feet wide, and is frequently separated from the rooms on either side of it, not by walls of stone or cob, but by a stout oak partition formed by massive boards set in chases in the upright timbers.
* See Vol. LII, p. 176.
This is indeed the only passage to be found in the really old unmodernized farm-houses. All the rooms, not approached directly from this passage, open straight one into another.
Though these oak partitions in the passage are of very considerable antiquity, in some cases perhaps of two, or even three, centuries’ standing, I strongly suspect that, in the case of very old buildings of fourteenth and fifteenth-century date, they were not always there, but that the vore-door originally opened straight into the one large hall or house-place, which formerly served as kitchen, living-room, parlour, and even sleeping-room (for the men-folk) in most pre-Elizabethan dwellings, not only farm-houses, but manor-houses and country mansions as well. And I believe that the partitions were added at a later date, probably late sixteenth century, when the inmates of the houses began to desire more privacy and greater comfort and freedom from draught.
In many of the smaller farm-houses, and in most labourers’ cottages (except the quite modern ones), the older arrangement still prevails. And it is surely preferable to have one fair-sized living-room, even if the outer door does open straight into it, than to sacrifice three or four feet of it in making a narrow and useless passage, as is usually done in modern cottages.
The oak partitions we have just described are now usually found white-washed or painted a hideous stone colour; needless to say they look far nicer and more in keeping with the ancient structure when left in their natural state, and merely oiled occasionally, the wood having become almost black with age and smoke.
The passage or drangway is usually paved with square blocks of granite, or larger flags of other stone, according to the locality. In smaller farms it is often paved with rough cobble-stones. When all the doors are shut, this passage is quite dark, the ceiling being too low to admit of lights over the doors, though in some cases glass has been let into the panels of the back-door to serve this purpose, but this is a modern innovation. However, as one or more of the doors is almost invariably open, this inconvenience is not felt so much as might be supposed.
The main walls of the house on either side of the passage are connected by stout oak beams.
There is but one piece of furniture usually found in this passage, and that is the old oak chest. With the possible exception of the table, the form, and the stool, the oak chest is about the oldest type of farm-house furniture extant. Some of them date back to the middle of the sixteenth century, though they continued to be made until well into the eighteenth. They vary considerably in size, the older chests being usually smaller and standing higher from the ground than those of later date. Some are handsomely carved, others simply moulded or “scratched”, but in shape and structure they are all on one general plan, being made from six boards, the two side pieces projecting below the bottom of the chest proper to form legs. Inside the chest, usually at the top right-hand side, is a fixed tray or shallow box, four to five inches wide, with separate lid, for holding small articles, and known as a skibbet.
These chests were often spoken of as dower-chests. In olden days, no doubt, they formed a part of the dowry of the farmer’s wife, which she brought with her when she married. In later times they were known as linen-hutches. No doubt they formerly stood in one of the bedrooms, and were used to store the household linen in before the advent of the linen-press, when they were banished in favour of their more commodious successor, and found refuge in the passage just described. Some of the chests of later date are found with two drawers below the chest proper, and these were, in all probability, the true precursors of the now universal chest of drawers.
The variety of design and ornamentation in these chests is endless, but it is not within the scope of this paper to go into such details. I hope to give a clear and concise description of every article of furniture and household utensil commonly met with in the old Devon farm-house, noting particularly those which are more or less peculiar to the locality; but I do not intend to notice minute distinctions of design and ornamentation in different specimens of one and the same article. For this I must refer readers to more specialized works on the subject, and foremost among these I would mention Old West Surrey, by Miss Gertrude Jekyll (Longmans, Green & Co., 1904), and Chats on Cottage and Farm-house Furniture, by Arthur Hayden (T. Fisher Unwin, 1912; reprinted 1919). In both of these will be found most interesting reading and many excellent illustrations.
And I must here acknowledge my indebtedness to these two works in writing this paper. It is not that they contain much, if any, information that I did not know before, nor that there are many objects depicted therein which I could not also illustrate from examples in my own possession. But for their suggestive help I am deeply grateful, as without it, it is quite likely that I should have overlooked more than one object of interest connected with the interior arrangements and domestic economy of the farm-house.
It will perhaps be as well here to say a few words on farm-house furniture generally. It is hardly necessary to state that all farm-house furniture up to within the last fifty years or so was entirely hand-made. It is only within the latter half of the nineteenth century that the now universal factory and machine-made furniture began to find its way into our country farm-houses and cottages. Indeed, up to well into the nineteenth century all furniture, that of the town house and country mansion, as well as that of the farm-house and cottage, was made by hand. But the great distinction between the two classes of furniture was this: that, whereas the high-class type was made for the most part by great masters of the art of cabinet-making, such as the Adam Brothers, Chippendale, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton, and their followers, many of whom worked directly under their guidance, the furniture of the farm-house and the cottage was entirely the work of the village cabinet-maker, who was as often as not the village wheelwright as well, making the farmers’ carts, wagons, pack-horse gear, timbern zoles, and indeed all farm implements which contained wood in their construction. And when not engaged in making these (to the farmer) more important articles, he would occupy his time in turning out tables, chairs, and other pieces of household furniture.
In former days, when everything was made by hand, a far larger number of wheelwrights and cabinet-makers were to be found in our country towns and villages than is the case at the present time, when practically all furniture, and the parts of most farm implements, are made in the factory.
We do not, nor should we expect to, find in the work of these village craftsmen all the refinements of the various styles which were in vogue in the houses of the well-to-do classes in the towns, and to a certain extent in the country also, at different periods. But if less beautiful from the point of view of refinement and artistic finish than the more elaborate styles of the great London cabinet-makers, the furniture of the farm-house is none the less interesting, One of its most attractive features is its truly native character. It is made from the wood of native trees only, fashioned entirely by native craftsmen from designs originally evolved from native brains, and handed down traditionally, like our dialectal speech and folk-songs, through countless generations; with the introduction here and there of some slight addition, modification, or improvement in style, but with little or no foreign influence, such as inspired much of the work of the London cabinet-makers.
The furniture made by these local cabinet-makers is, as Hayden writes,* “strongly marked by an adherence to traditional forms and intensely insular in its disregard of prevailing fashions. It is as English as the leather black-jack and the home-brewed ale.”
* Chats on Cottage and Farm-house Furniture, p. 32.
There is in the work of these village craftsmen a naiveté which characterizes a design handed down from generation to generation. One of the surprising features of their work, says Hayden, is its curious anachronism. “There is nothing more uncertain”, he says,* “than to attempt with exactitude to place a date upon cottage or farm-house furniture. The bacon-cupboard, the linen-chest, the gate-legged table, and the Windsor chair were made through successive generations down to about fifty years ago without departing from the original pattern of Charles I or the Queen Anne period.” And not only is this true of the whole country in general, but each particular district, e.g. the West-country (in which Devon is included), may be marked by its fondness for certain clearly defined types not found in other districts.
* Ibid., p. 32.
The wood most generally used in the construction of farm-house furniture was undoubtedly oak, chosen no doubt with a view to its toughness and durability. But other kinds of wood were also frequently made use of, such as elm, beech, and yew. Much of the furniture in old Devon farm-houses is found to be made of elm, which tree grows abundantly in most parts of the county.
It must not be thought that farm-house furniture is but a weak and feeble imitation of the higher-class pieces of the great London cabinet-makers. It is quite true that some of the more ambitious among the village craftsmen did make somewhat rough (though none the less interesting on that account) copies in oak and other woods of the work of Chippendale and others; but the type of furniture in most general use in the farm-house was quite distinctive, and was never made by the London cabinet-makers.
This class of furniture the local cabinet-maker continued to produce for the farm-house and the cottage until well past the middle of the nineteenth century, when his craft was gradually obliterated by the rapid advance of factory-made furniture.
This latter at first followed closely the contemporary fashion in vogue in higher-class establishments. And so we find all machine-made furniture of that date (from about the ’fifties to the ’eighties of last century) purely Victorian in style. But of late years (starting roughly from about 1890), there has been a great revival of interest in the earlier styles of furniture, as also of architecture; and this interest has in still later times been extended, in a limited degree, even to the farm-house styles. So that, in order to meet the ever-increasing demand for these “antiques”, the factories have been for some years past busily engaged in turning out reproductions by the thousand of almost every conceivable class and style of furniture.
Though these reproductions can never be of the same interest or value as genuine old pieces, yet how far nicer and more homely they look, especially when in appropriate surroundings, compared with much of the ugly cumbrous furniture of early and mid-Victorian days, or with the equally nondescript gingerbread style of the last decades of the nineteenth century!
A considerable amount, however, of genuine old furniture still remains in some of our farm-houses and cottages. Far more in the former than the latter; for our farmers are, as a class, much more conservative than are our labourers. And there are still, we are thankful to say, some to be found who feel a sentimental attachment towards their old pieces of furniture, which have been handed down to them through successive generations of their family, and who will not be induced to part with their family treasures even when approached by the tempting offers of the dealer or the collector.
Still, it is useless to deny that much of the old furniture is fast disappearing even from the farm-houses, partly through natural decay, but still more from the fact that, as the older generation of farmer-folk drop off, the younger ones seem on the whole to have far less sentimental regard for such things. Consequently every year sees more and more pieces of genuine farm-house furniture pass into the hands of the dealer and the private collector.
My chief object, therefore, in writing this paper, is to try to place on permanent record a description, with illustrations as far as possible, of the interior of a typical old Devon farm-house or barton, as it appeared when all its time-honoured articles of furniture, household utensils, and cottage ornaments were still to be found in their accustomed places, in which many of them had stood for a couple of centuries or more.
After this somewhat lengthy digression we must return to the main passage of our farm-house. Within the oak partition will be found four doors, two on the right-hand side and two on the left, each door having its complete door-frame including lintern, durns, and draxel, the doors being hung on swing hinges (not on hanging-crooks and eyes as are the vore- and back-doors), and in place of the old wooden hapse and staple with shoe-string to lift it will be found the more modern thumb-latch and snite, known in other parts as the Norfolk latch. Even this form of latch has now been largely superseded by the brass-handled lock, though it is still used for cellars and outbuildings.
Of these inner doors the two nearest to the vore-door lead into the front kitchen and the parlour respectively, the two further back leading into the back kitchen and dairy. A glance at the Plan [above] will make this quite clear.
Since the kitchens are the principal living-rooms in every farm-house, and the rooms in which the greater part of the work is done, we will proceed by the door on the left-hand side of the passage, which takes us into the front or best kitchen.
People who live the greater part of their lives in towns, and who have rarely, if ever, been inside a genuine farm-house of the old type, have got a ridiculous notion into their heads that all the rooms in farm-houses are low-ceiled, small, and poky! Nothing could be further from the truth. The first supposition is probably correct in most cases, for the ceilings are certainly low, being rarely more than 7 ft. 6 ins. from the floor level, and often less than that; but the rooms are very far from being small and poky; indeed, judged by the standard of the average town or suburban dwelling-house, the rooms, and particularly the kitchens, in even the medium-sized farm-houses in Devon, are considerably larger than those of the average town house. The kitchen we have just entered is 24 ft. by 22 ft., and I have been in a good many farm kitchens even larger than this. No doubt some farm-houses have awkwardly low ceilings, which in a town house would cause a close atmosphere; but this inconvenience is largely overcome in the country by the constant current of fresh air which comes through the many doors, most of which are usually left open. And certainly these old low ceilings add much to the cosy, homely, and picturesque appearance of most of the old farm-house kitchens.
The floor of this kitchen, like that of the passage, is paved with large stone flags, which vary in size. They are kept clean and smooth by the constant scrubbing of the busy housewife. The interstices between the flags have been filled up with rubble, which has become almost jet-black from the smoke and dirt of centuries, giving a pleasing effect of contrast with the dark grey stone. This was the most usual type of flooring for most of the larger farm kitchens in Devon in the old days. But the flooring of many of the smaller farm and cottage kitchens consisted of rough cobble-stones, like our old-fashioned pavements and garden paths. I know of more than one house where these floors still exist. They strike us, with our present-day slender foot-wear, as most cheerless and uncomfortable, but were probably taken little notice of in the days when much heavier boots, not to mention clogs and pattens, were regularly worn by the farmer and his family.
Both these types of flooring have for many years past been superseded by the substance known as lime-ash, a mixture of lime, ashes, and rubble, which in its turn has given place to the still more modern refined concrete cement. The old stone floors acted as the farmer’s barometer, as they would foretell changes in the weather with wonderful accuracy. Especially after a long spell of dry weather, when a change was approaching, the flags would become wet and slimy, or, as the farmer termed it, would eave, or give out condensed moisture. “I knaw us be gwain ta ’ave rain avore long”, he would say, “’cuz the stwoans be eavin’ zo.” Lime-ash floors are affected in the same way, but to a lesser extent.
There was never any carpet found on the old farm kitchen floor, but occasionally one might find one or two of the old home-made clip-rugs, or rag-mats, put down by the settle to rest the feet on after the day’s work was over.
The walls throughout this house are about 3 ft. in thickness, built of cob on a stone foundation, and built on the old “piling” method, the interior (like the exterior) surface being but very roughly true, with much bulging and sagging. The chimneys are of solid stone masonry.
The two windows on the south side, looking into the front garden, are of the old latticed type, described in Part I,* with small leaded quarrels, each window having three lights, the whole being set in massive oaken moulded window-frames, with moulded mullions between each light. The centre light of each window is fixed, but the two side lights are made to open casement-wise with iron fasteners. And oh! the delicious fragrance from the monthly roses, the honeysuckle, the lemon plant, the bliddy-waryers, the clove-jilaufers, and other old-fashioned flowers and shrubs, which was wafted into the old kitchen through these open casements with the cool air of a summer evening, after the toil of the hot and sweltering day was o’er; never shall I forget it! The windows are deeply splayed, the window-recesses being a good 2 ft. 3 in. in depth on the interior side and about 9 in. on the exterior, making in all 3 ft., the total thickness of the wall.
* See Vol. LII, p. 173.
The broad, wooden window-ledges serve as stands for the good dame’s pots of scarlet geraniums, pelargoniums, ferns, parlour-palms, and other plants, which help to brighten up the windows of so many of our farm-houses and wayside cottages. About 1 ft. below the level of the window-ledges proper is another ledge about 1 ft. 6 in. deep and 16 ft. in length, running the whole length of the wall from one window to the other, taking in both window-recesses and the space between, some 2 ft. from the floor, and serving to support a fixed wooden bench on one side of the long kitchen table, for which purpose it was no doubt originally intended.
There is also a small window in the opposite inner wall, consisting of a single fixed latticed light, which looks straight into the back kitchen (which will be dealt with later). This window may have been put there in order to give a little more light in the back kitchen, which (as will be seen from the Plan) has but one other window facing into the back-court. But personally I think it may have originally looked straight into the court itself, the back kitchen having been a later addition to the house as it originally stood; the addition having been made probably in the latter part of the sixteenth century, when agriculture (and with it the condition of the farmer) began to improve by leaps and bounds. These inner windows, looking from one room into another in order to give more light to the further room, are, however, not uncommonly met with in old farm-houses and cottages.
A short distance to the left of this small window is a door leading into the back kitchen, which door is almost invariably kept open during the day. In the right-hand corner of the same wall is another door, at the foot of the steep, narrow, winding staircase without hand-rail, known familiarly as the timbern hill, which leads straight from the kitchen into the bedroom or chimber above. The lower part of this staircase is actually in the kitchen, but is hidden from view by being boxed in with broad elmen planches. This door is almost as invariably kept shut. The space under the stairs is known as the cubby-hole; it has a separate door, and is used as a receptacle for brooms, besoms, buckets, polishing materials, etc., and sometimes for small supplies of logs and peat for firing.
The inner sides of the walls are very roughly plastered over the cob-work; and, like the exterior of the house, they are simply whitewashed, as indeed are the walls of all the rooms throughout this house. And how far nicer and more appropriate they look when thus treated! For no paper will ever lie suant on the rough surfaces of these old walls, while the very humps and pits and unevennesses, which are so quaint and pleasing in an old whitewashed wall, at once look awkward and out of place behind a hideous, tawdry green and gold paper!
In the west wall, on the left-hand side of the hearth fireplace, is a deep recess, cut out of the cob-work, and reaching from floor to ceiling, some 6 ft. wide and 2 ft. deep, which forms a large fixed cupboard, divided into two main sections with a lower and an upper pair of doors, the upper section containing shelves. This is the principal store-cupboard, in which the family groceries are kept. Being near the fire it is always dry.
In the opposite corner of the same wall is a large oak corner-cupboard, also a fixture, being partly built into the wall, but standing out some considerable distance into the room. This cupboard is also in two sections, the lower part standing on the ground, while the arched top of the upper section is only a few inches below the ceiling. The doors are of fine old oak panelling. In this cupboard the good dame stores her pots of home-made preserves and her bottles of home-made cordials, e. g. metheglin, ginger wine, elderberry wine, etc., which were formerly the usual drinks of hospitality in the old times before these days of universal tea-drinking.
The only remaining wall fixture, not already mentioned, is a small recess in the same west wall, between the corner-cupboard and the fireplace. It stands about 5 ft. up from the floor and is 3 ft. by 2 ft. and 2 ft. deep, with a door made from a single board. This recess was, when I knew it, used merely for the storage of any small articles, but I have since often wondered if it might not have originally been the receptacle for the circular cage in which the turnspit-dog did his work when the meat was roasted, the door of course being a later addition. I have since seen one very similar in another old farm kitchen, with the circular cage and pulley-wheel in situ, though it was no longer used.
The ceiling in this kitchen, which is 7 ft. 6 in. from the floor level, is under drawn, as is the case in most front kitchens of the larger farm-houses. That is to say, it is lath’d and plastered (very roughly, like the walls), so that the jîces (joists) do not show, as in the unceiled kitchens of many smaller farm-houses and cottages, and as in the back kitchen of the farm-house we are surveying, but the massive oak beams, four in number (running from south to north, that is, at right-angles to the windows), which support the joists, protrude a good 9 in. below the plastered ceiling, which is whitewashed.
The beams themselves have become a rich dark brown, in some cases quite black, with age and smoke. They are often beautifully moulded and sometimes show traces of carving, having possibly come originally from better-class houses or from old ships. All these old beams are rough-hewn by hand, and show distinctly the marks of the hatchet or adze, or other hand-tool, with which they were roughly cut to shape. How charming they look when the wood is left untouched, except for an occasional oiling! Unfortunately in nine cases out of ten they are whitened over with the rest of the ceiling, perhaps chiefly to save the little extra trouble of keeping them clean and oiled. A still more regrettable practice has arisen, in these degenerate days, of encasing these beautiful old beams within wretched match-boarding of varnished pitch-pine, or deal painted a hideous stone colour: “to mak ’em look a bit more naiter an’ tidier like”, as a modern housewife explained to me when I tried to remonstrate with her on the subject. As if she were ashamed to own treasures of which she should have been justly proud. It would serve these vandals right if the old beams were to fall upon them and break their necks, after the harsh and cruel treatment they have received at their hands!
The beams in this, as in all old farm kitchens, have many ancient hand-forged iron nails and crooks driven into them, from which various articles are hung, such as dried hams, spare Kirsmas pudd’ns, a variety of dried ‘arbs (herbs) tied up in muslin bags, which the housewife uses for seasoning or for medicinal purposes, an old-fashioned brass and hornen lantern, and, at Kirsmas taime, bunches of mistletoe “vor the bwoys to kiss the maidens under”. It was from one of these beams, too, that the neck, or miniature sheaf of corn, was hung until replaced by a fresh one the following year after harvest, so long as the old custom of “Crying the neck” was kept up.
The space between the plastered ceiling and the floor of the room above is known as the false-floor. These spaces served as convenient hiding-places for money and other valuables, which could be got at by lifting one of the planches in the chimber up auver. When old farm-houses have been taken down or repaired it has been no uncommon thing to find quite large sums of money concealed in these false-floors, often in coins of seventeenth-century date, which had no doubt been placed there for greater safety in the days of the Parliamentary wars, when there was much looting by the soldiers of both parties, who were quartered on the farmers in many districts in the West of England, as elsewhere. The original owners of the hidden treasure had died without revealing their secret.
In the top left-hand corner of the kitchen, above the fireplace, is the bacon-rack, a large framework consisting of three boards about one foot deep joined together, and suspended horizontally from the ceiling, with a number of thin and narrow bars of wood about one inch apart nailed across the bottom of the framework, having one side left open, in which flitches of bacon, tied up in bags of unbleached calico to keep off flies, are placed, after being taken out of the brine. Here the bacon dries, and is kept safely out of the way of rats and cats. In unceiled kitchens the bacon-rack is formed by simply nailing the narrow raps of wood to the joists, and utilizing the spaces between the joists for storage purposes.
In dealing with the articles of furniture in the kitchen, other than fixtures, the first thing to notice is the long and somewhat narrow table, which in this case is 12 ft. long by 4 ft. wide. It is of solid oak. The top is not fixed to the frame, or trustle, which bears it, but is loose and can be lifted off when desired. The trustle is composed of four solid legs, sometimes straight and sometimes turned, which are joined together by a massive top-rail and, in the case of the older sixteenth- and seventeenth-century tables, by stout stretchers also, a few inches only from the ground, which are mortised into the legs and secured by wooden pegs. The top of the table is made of two stout oak planks, each about 2 ft. in width, often joined together by means of cross-pieces at each end. The top is kept spotlessly clean and smooth by constant scrubbing.
This table, standing against the south wall beneath the windows, was, when I remember it, used only for the Sunday meals of the farmer and his family, or on special occasions; the ordinary daily meals being served on a table of similar form, though with common deal top, in the back kitchen. But, of course, in smaller farm-houses, which have only one kitchen, the one table would serve for all the meals of the family. And in former days it was the custom for all the labourers on the farm (whether unmarried and living in the house, or married and living in cottages near by) and any maid-servants (such as milkmaids, dairy-maids, or the labourers’ wives or daughters who helped in the house) to eat their meals at the same table with their master and mistress. The farmer with his wife and family would sit at one end, the servants and labourers at the other.
This was, no doubt, a survival in humbler homes of the custom which was formerly practised in the mansions of the nobility and gentry, where the lord and his family dined at the “high table”, raised on a dais at one end of the spacious hall, while his servants and retainers ate their food at the same time in the body of the hall.
In many a farm kitchen in Devon this practice has been abandoned only within quite recent years, well within living memory. Whether it is for the better or otherwise that it should have been abandoned, it is not easy to say; but one cannot help regretting that much of the affection and good-will which formerly existed between farmers and their labourers appears to have died out along with this custom of the common dinner-table.
Personally I think the two chief contributory causes to the abandonment of the old custom are:
(1) The regrettable practice, to which many farmers were driven by force of circumstances owing to agricultural depression in the latter half of the nineteenth century, of letting off a part of their houses to visitors from London and other towns. This brought them and their children into contact with the snobbish ideas and artificial modes of life of the “idle rich” and the self-made city merchant. The result of this has been that many of them, especially the younger generation, have grown to feel it “beneath their dignity” to sit down at the same table with their servants and labourers. And
(2) On the other side, the system of universal education (not that I am in any way against it) which has raised the social status of the labourer, enabling him to read and so to think more for himself. And so, in time, he came to regard it as a survival of the days of feudalism and slavery (which no doubt it really was), that he should be expected to sit at the lower end of his master’s table.
But although the old custom is dead, or practically so, except on smaller farms in the case of men living in the house, many of the old tables still remain; and fine old tables they are too, some of them over three centuries old, and good for another three.
It was on this same table that in former years the journeyman tailor used to sit, with crossed legs, in order to get as much light as possible from the small and deeply splayed windows, when he periodically visited the farm, often remaining for a week or longer, making breeches and coats for the farmer and his sons, in the days when each farm was a more or less self-supporting little community, and almost everything was made at home.
On the window side of the table is the long fixed bench already alluded to. On the other side is a loose, long form, the same length as the table. In olden days, at either end of the table stood a “joint stool”, a rectangular oak stool with four legs and stretchers, which served as the seats for the carvers of the joints. They stood somewhat higher than the forms. They are now rarely met with, except as “antiques”, for in most farm kitchens the joint stools have been replaced by arm-chairs of the rail-back or Windsor type.
My own memory does not go back beyond the days when, as at the present time, the food was served on cloam dishes and plates, but I have been told by many of the older generation that they could remember the time when the farmer and his family regularly ate their dinner on pewter plates, while their servants and labourers had wooden platters, known as timber-dishes or trauncherds (trenchers). There were two forms of timber-dishes, some being circular like a large shallow saucer, others being square with a circular hollow in the middle and a smaller hollow at one corner for salt.* Some of the best of the pewter plates of various sizes have been preserved, and, though no longer used, are shined up, along with the old warming-pan and the brass candlesticks, and will be found displayed in a row on one of the shelves of the dresser (which will be dealt with shortly). The commoner ones were used for more menial purposes, such as feeding dogs and fowls. The timber-dishes, being less ornamental and less durable, have for the most part perished; though one of the circular ones is still preserved, and used at Christmas and other festivities for the well-known pastime of “turning the traunchard”, one of the many games of pawns, or forfeits, still indulged in at farm-house parties. Frequently a modern wooden bread-trencher is used for this purpose, but I know one farm, at least, where a genuine old timber-dish is still used. I have seen wooden egg-cups, salt-cellars and pepper-dredgers, but as a general rule these, together with the mustard-pot, were more commonly of pewter, until superseded by cloam and glass ones.
* Mr. F. J. Snell, in The Blackmore Country, says the tables themselves were sometimes hollowed out in this manner; but I have never seen one.
As with meat, so with drink; other times, other vessels. Since I can remember, beer and cider have been drawn from the cask into large cloamen jugs, which have been placed upon the table. The variety in size and design in these jugs is endless, the most usual types being the white “barrel” jug, the Bristol embossed stoneware “beer” jug, the beautiful jugs of Staffordshire ware decorated with representations of farm implements, sheaves of corn, etc., and often containing mottos such as “God speed the Plough”, “Long life and success to the Farmer”, etc. etc.; and finally, the still more beautiful jugs of lustre glazed ware, with ships, figures, and landscapes painted on them.
The liquor was drunk out of cloam mugs of various sizes: quarts and pints for the men, half-pints for the women and children. It must be remembered that beer or cider, the latter most commonly in Devon, was always drunk, by the men at all events, with their breakfast as well as with their dinner and supper, until well into the nineteenth century. The present custom of drinking tea or coffee at breakfast time is really a comparatively modern innovation of the last half-century or so, among all classes of the community. The mugs, like the jugs, varied much in design and make; the commonest type, perhaps, being those of blue and white “dipped” ware with tree pattern decoration; these mugs are still made. But of course there are also Bristol, Staffordshire, and lustre mugs found in most farm-houses. It is no uncommon thing to find the name or initials of the owner, or rather the former owner, of the farm, together with a date, embossed or painted on one or more of these old jugs or mugs.
Glass mugs, and, in later days, thick glass tumblers, were used on many farms. In earlier days, pewter vlagins (flagons) and tankets (tankards) were almost invariable. These also were frequently engraved with name or initials and date. I have myself seen pewter tankets in use in country inns. In still earlier times horn and wooden mugs were in common use. Earliest of all were the leather bottel and the black-jack. The former, in shape somewhat like a pouch or wallet, did duty for the jug of later times, while the black-jacks of various sizes were the drinking cups. Both vessels were made of very strong stout leather, which has stood the wear and tear of three centuries or more. The black-jacks usually had leather handles. They were in use in all farm-houses from Elizabethan times, and earlier, up to the close of the seventeenth century.
Both the leather bottel and the black-jack have been immortalized in old English songs of the seventeenth century. The former song, “The Leather Bottél”, has not, to my knowledge, been published since it appeared in Old English Ditties, selected from Chappell’s Popular Music of the Olden Time (1861), which has long been out of print. It was a favourite song at farm-house gatherings. The words are of seventeenth-century date, and both words and tune are traditional. As there are nine verses to the song it is too long to give here in full. I give the first and last verses only.
When I survey the world around,
The wond’rous things that do abound,
The ships that on the sea do swim
To keep out foes that none come in;
Well! let them all say what they can,
’Twas for one end – the use of man.
So I hope his soul in Heaven may dwell
That first found out the leather bottél.
And when the bottle at last grows old,
And will good liquor no longer hold,
Out of the sides you may make a clout
To mend your shoes when they’re worn out;
Or take and hang it up on a pin,
’Twill serve to put hinges and odd things in.
So I hope his soul in Heaven may dwell
That first found out the leather bottél.
This last verse is particularly interesting, for it is exactly what did happen. When the leather bottel was no longer of use as such, a piece of the leather was cut out of one side, which was no doubt used, as the song suggests, to repair boots and shoes. The bottle was then commonly hung up in the stable or the cart-linhay, and was frequently used to hold cart-grease. And no doubt the fact of their having been saturated with grease accounts for the survival of many of them in fairly sound condition. They were also much used by blacksmiths as receptacles for nails, etc. I have one in my possession that was so used until quite recently. But it is rare to find a leather bottel now which has not been mutilated in this way. Two leather bottels will be seen on the table in Plate I, one of them turned so as to show the piece cut out.
The song, “Simon the Cellarer”, in which the black-jack is mentioned, is too well known to need repeating. It may be found in almost every collection of “Old English Songs”. Its chorus runs thus:
Then ho! ho! ho! his nose doth show
How oft the black-jack to his lips doth go.
There is also an old black-letter song, entitled “When this old Cap was New”, dated 1666, and published in the Roxburgh Songs and Ballads, two verses of which give some idea of the changes which had taken place in drinking vessels during the seventeenth century:
Black-jacks to every man
Were filled with wine and beer;
No pewter pot nor can
In those days did appear;
Good cheer in a nobleman’s house
Was counted a seemly show;
We wanted not brawn nor souse
When this old cap was new.
We took not such delight
In cups of silver fine;
None under the degree of knight
In plate drank beer or wine;
Now each mechanical man
Hath a cupboard of plate for show,
Which was a rare thing then
When this old cap was new.
Two black-jacks, of pint and half-pint size, may also be seen on the table in Plate I.
Table-cloths, or board-cloths as they are always termed, were an unknown luxury in farm-houses in the olden days, and were only used on special occasions. They did not come into general use until mid-nineteenth-century days. The older board-cloths were made from hand-spun and hand-woven linen, and were made by the women of the household.
The old table-knives and forks had buck-horn handles. The knives, when not in use, were kept in the old oak knife-box which was hung upright upon the wall; its panelled front is the lid, which runs in a groove, and can be drawn straight up. Wooden-handled knives and forks were also in use up to quite recent times, and are still occasionally met with. The forks had usually but two, never more than three, prongs, which were of iron; they were sometimes spoken of simply as prangs. The spoons were usually of pewter, though I have also seen old spoons of wood, glass, horn, and brass. The large wooden-handled carving-fork, or beef-fork as it was termed, had its two prongs set about two inches apart, almost as wide as the old-fashioned hay-pick, which it closely resembled.
The next piece of furniture to notice is the fine old oak dresser, which stands against the north wall between the little inner window and the staircase up to the bedroom. It is 6 ft. wide and 7 ft. high. The lower portion, the dresser proper, which is 2 ft. 6 in. in depth from back to front, consists of two large cupboards surmounted by three good-sized drawers. The upper portion is a large rack of five shelves of slightly varying height, the whole rack standing out 1 ft. from the wall. On the top shelf stand what remain of the old pewter plates, tankets, and measures (noggins, nipperkins, etc. ) of a former generation. The latter are often of copper. All are kept shining and polished. The remaining shelves are devoted to the more modern best chainy service, used on Sundays and special occasions only; the everyday cloam being kept on a similar, though larger and less ornamental, dresser, in the back kitchen. On the top of the dresser proper, which projects some 18 ins. beyond the rack, stand the larger jugs, tea-pots, a set of old wooden dry-measures, the old wooden coffee-mill, spice-box, and tea-caddy, and various other articles. The handles of the drawers are of the old iron drop-handle type, and a row of small hand-forged iron crooks are driven into the front part of each shelf ledge, on which are hung various smaller jugs, mugs, and cups.
Some dressers consist merely of the lower portion with drawers, having no rack above; while the variety in design and disposition of the drawers and cupboards in kitchen dressers generally is endless, hardly any two being exactly alike, but they are too well known to need further description.
There is probably no piece of farm-house furniture more sought after by collectors than the genuine old oak dresser. And to meet this demand, hundreds of so-called “old” dressers have been “faked up” by clever artisans, in which the only thing that is old is the wood they are made from, usually old oak obtained from church pews, panelled walls, four-post beds, etc., which have been knock’d abroad. The factories, too, are busy turning out replicas of old dressers by the thousand, even the wooden pegs by which they were fastened together and the old iron handles and mug-crooks being cleverly imitated. In the dining-rooms of many modern houses the oak dresser, genuine or reproduced, has supplanted the sideboard, and, though at all times a handsome piece of furniture and one reminiscent of olden times, its appropriateness in such surroundings is questionable, especially when the rest of the furniture in the room is not in keeping with it.
There is one other type of dresser which must not be overlooked, and that is the closed or cupboard-dresser, in which the upper portion with the shelves is also enclosed within large doors, sometimes with glass let in, but more usually with plain wooden panels, so that the shelves are visible only when the doors are open. These cupboard-dressers are often met with in Devon farm-house kitchens. There is one in the kitchen I am attempting to describe in addition to the open dresser just dealt with. It stands against the oak partition, which forms the east wall of the kitchen, just to the right of the door as one enters the room from the main passage. These cupboards, though less picturesque than the open dressers, have one great advantage, that the crockery is kept, to a great extent, free of dust.
Against the same wall, between this cupboard-dresser and the wooden staircase, stands the old thirty-hour grandfather clock, with square brass dial, in plain oak case, known in Devon as a long-sleeve clock.* There it has stood for over two centuries, ticking slow and solemn with a ponderous melancholy, “tick-tock, tick-tock”, that seems to say: “Don’t hurry, don’t worry, there’s plenty of time”; while it solemnly knacks out each hour with deliberate and measured stroke on its clear, mellow, deep-toned bell, with much growling and grating of its fly-wheel and falling weight; slowly but surely numbering the lives of generation after generation. Its bold and handsome brass dial is kept bright and shining by an occasional polishing, the glass in front of it keeping it from quickly tarnishing.
* I have sometimes seen grandfather clocks standing in special recesses cut out of the cob-wall to receive them.
These thirty-hour grandfather clocks rarely stand over 7 ft. in height, and many of them are under that, being no doubt originally intended for the low-ceiled kitchens of the old farm-house and cottage. Both the going and the striking trains are driven by the one weight attached to an endless chain, by which it is wound up, being pulled up by hand without any key. The winding up of this clock is generally the last act the maister does every night, after taking off his boots before gwain up timbern ’eel to bed.
In the oldest type of grandfather clock there is but one hand, the hour-hand, so that one can only approximately gauge the time between one hour and the next. This was the type which first (about 1680) began to supersede the still older brass “lantern”. “bird-cage”, or “Cromwellian” clock, as it is variously termed, which stood on a wall-bracket with pendulum and weight exposed, and which also usually had but one hand. But the minute-hand was added soon after 1680, and by 1700 grandfather clocks with two hands were general; though country clock-makers continued to make both grandfather and lantern clocks, with hour-hand only, long after the London firms had ceased to make them.
At first the dials were always of brass or of white metal, and were often ornamented with quaint and interesting designs engraved upon them. The name of the maker, and the town or village in which he lived, are almost certain to be engraved on the dial. In the latter part of the eighteenth and throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, a cheaper class of grandfather clock was made, with white enamelled dial, often with flowers or landscapes painted in the spandrels. This is the type of clock usually found in smaller farm-houses and cottages.
The eight-day grandfather clock, of which an example is to be found in the dining-room of the farm-house I am describing, will be dealt with later. There is also the type, both thirty-hour and eight-day, with arched, or lunetted, dial; but they are not so commonly met with in farm-houses as those with plain square dial.
A whole volume might be written on the subject of grandfather clocks alone;* the variety in design and ornamentation of their cases and dials is endless; but as a rule those found in farm-houses are plain and unornamented.
* To those interested in this subject I would heartily recommend Hayden’s Chats on Old Clocks, an excellent little volume.
There is something very human about a grandfather clock, the sound of its measured tick and strike seems to take one back in fancy to the gude ole days when life was not all of a hurry-push as it is now, when everything was done by hand, thoroughly, solidly, and well, and plenty of time was given to the doing of it.
Owing to the very tempting offers of dealers and collectors during the last half-century or so, many old grandfather clocks unfortunately have left their ancient homes for ever, especially those with brass dials, for which there is always a greater demand. Their office of time-keeping has been taken over by the cheaper American eight-day or thirty-hour weight-driven, rectangular-case clock standing on a bracket against the wall, which, with its rapid tick and hurried strike, on a gong, seems more in keeping with the spirit of modern times than its ancient prototype. One of these clocks will be seen in Plate VII. Equally common is the spring-driven American clock in case of rude Gothic design.
Many of these American clocks are now some sixty or seventy years old, and bear quite an antique and not unpleasing appearance in old-fashioned kitchens. And one not unfrequently finds one of them in addition to the grandfather clock in many a farm-house kitchen. Indeed, farmer and cottage folk, as a general rule, seem particularly partial to clocks, and it is no uncommon thing to find as many as three, of different types, in one room, all going at the same time!
There are three or four old Windsor chairs found in this, as in most old farm kitchens, either of the rail-back or wheel-back type, or both; two with arms and two without. How charmingly light and picturesque these old Windsor chairs look when compared with their heavy modern, factory-made descendants!
Close by the store-cupboard, on the left of the fireplace, and a short distance away from it, stands the old wooden flour-hutch, with large wooden flour scoop, in which was stored the flour used in baking the bread in the old stone oven.
But the most striking features of all in this, as in every Devon farm-house kitchen of the old type, is the large, open-hearth fireplace, which in this kitchen is in the centre of the west wall (as will be seen from the Plan), immediately facing one as one enters the kitchen from the main passage.
From time immemorial the home life of the farm has settled round the hearth fireplace, which has been the scene of many an evening of innocent fun and merriment. It is here that the Kirsmas braun and the Ashen facket* have been burned year after year for generations; while many a rustic joke has been cracked and many a blood-curdling tale of warfare and of witchcraft has been told by members of a former and more simple, if more superstitious generation, who have sat around this ancient fireside.
* As this and other old customs connected with farm-house life are fast dying out, I propose to give short accounts of them in the Appendix, which, however, I am unable to print this year.
These old farm-house chimneys are so large and wide that a ladder can easily be put up them. And when they required cleaning, which was only very occasionally, this was done with a large holmen facket (bundle of holly) attached to the middle of a length of stout rope, which was held by two men, the one sitting astride on top of the tun (chimney-top) outside, the other standing in the hearthplace below, when they would draw the facket up and down and back and vore until the chimney was quite clean. This primitive method of sweeping chimneys is still practised in old farm-houses and cottages on Dartmoor. Not much soot, however, collects on chimneys in which wood and peat only are burned.
When old dwellings of this sort have been demolished, it has been no uncommon thing to find a small door, often plastered up or otherwise disguised, some eight or ten feet up the kitchen chimney, which could only be reached by a ladder, and which gave access to a small secret chamber. This chamber, which was in reality a cellar, formed in the thickness of the wall and the chimney, without any opening to the light outside, was used in the old smuggling days as a safe receptacle for kegs of spirits and other imported goods that had never paid customs. There was much traffic of this sort between farmers and sailors (i.e. fishermen), who were always the best of friends; and many a load of contraband goods has been dragged by stages over Exmoor or Dartmoor, or conveyed by pack-horses, on dark moonless nights, from the coasts of Devon and Cornwall, and finally deposited in the farmer’s secret cellar, the kegs being tapped one by one, as required, and the liquor bottled off.
The secret chamber could usually also be entered through a door in the kitchen wall, which, when not needed, was plastered up or else carefully hidden from view behind some large piece of furniture, such as the dresser, so as to defy detection. In cases where the walls were oak panelled, as they often are in old farm kitchens, there was generally some secret contrivance whereby one of the panels could be made to slide back, revealing a hollow space behind, which was a secret passage leading to the hidden cellar; the secret being known only to members of the family.
It was in such chambers as these that many a fugitive was hidden, often for days or weeks on end, during the Seven Years’ Civil War and the Monmouth rising in the seventeenth century, and the Jacobite risings in support of the Pretenders in the eighteenth. I have little doubt that many of these secret chambers still exist in old buildings with thick walls and wide chimneys, though their existence is probably quite unsuspected by the present occupiers.
These large wide chimneys, while allowing of easy ascent, also permitted easy descent; and many a house was entered and burgled by this means. Mr. Baring-Gould mentions one well-known character, who lived about one hundred and thirty years ago in his neighbourhood, and who inspired such terror among the householders that all who had anything to lose had spiked contrivances of iron put into their chimneys, so that the would-be burglar, in descending at a rapid pace, stood a good chance of being impaled.*
* See An Old English Home, p. 59.
Witches, too, were always believed to come down, and vanish up, these old chimneys, riding on besoms. And many are the traces which have been found, secreted within them, of means employed by the farmer and his family to counteract the influence of the “evil eye” of the witch, whom they fully believed had ill-wished, or auverlooked, them, causing their cattle to die, their crops to fail, and themselves to suffer. Traces, such as small images cut out of wood or cork and stuck all over with pins, supposed to represent the witch herself; or bullocks’ and pigs’ hearts, also stuck with pins or thorn-prickles; the idea being that this caused the witch to suffer stabbing pains, and that, as the heart dried up, so the witch would pine away and die.
Before describing the actual fireplace itself, we will notice the articles of furniture in close proximity to it. And first and foremost there is the large oak settle, which in this kitchen stands on the right-hand side of the fire-place, close up to, and in a line with, the chimney-corner. Unless the main windows of the room happen to be in the wall opposite to the fireplace, the settle is almost invariably placed on the side away from the windows, so as not to block out the comparatively small amount of light which, at the best of times, is able to penetrate through the small and deeply splayed latticed windows. It is also placed with due regard to keeping off the draught, which in this case would come from the ever-open door leading into the back kitchen.
This particular settle is a fine example of the typical Devon, or West-country, settle. It is nearly 8 ft. wide, 2 ft. 6 in. deep from back to front, and stands over 7 ft. in height, the top being barely 6 in. below the ceiling. Both the back and the seat are curved in the form of a crescent or semicircle. The seat is about 2 ft. up from the floor, while the back rises to a height of 5 ft. or so above the seat, which effectually keeps off all draught from behind it, thereby rendering the settle a most valuable and indispensable article of furniture in a room where there are at least three doors, two of which are almost always open.
The seat of this settle, as of many others, can be lifted up in two sections, on hinges, and the boxed-in space under the seat is used for the storage of various articles, especially anything required to be kept dry. Also, when there was no cradle handy, this space served as a place of security in which the baby could be deposited whilst the mother was engaged at the fire. The high curved back forms a cupboard at the back of the settle, which reached from the top to the ground, having two large folding doors; this cupboard is known as the bacon-cupboard, it being furnished with strong iron crooks, on which are hung large sides of bacon to be kept dry. Sometimes there are also two long narrow cupboards in front along the top of the settle, in which the smaller groceries are kept. When it contains the bacon-cupboard, the whole piece of furniture is known as the bacon-settle, to distinguish it from the settle pure and simple, without cupboards or enclosed spaces under the seats. An example of the bacon-settle is figured in Plate IV, and one of the simple settle in Plate V.
The Devon settle may, and does, vary considerably in width, being anything from about 3 ft. 6 in. to 8 ft. or over, and, to a lesser extent, it also varies in height. Genuine old settles are almost always of oak or elm wood, but modern reproductions are found in other woods, such as pitchpine or deal, for the settle is still made to a limited extent. It is, however, always made according to one more or less fixed pattern, viz. the semicircular or crescent-shaped, which is distinct from the so-called settles found in other parts of the country. The straight high- or low-backed settle, and the bacon-cupboard without seat attached, are, I believe, unknown in Devon, except as “foreign importations”.
The settle is not a fixture, but can be moved about if desired; and, during the Christmas and Harvest Home festivities, it is often pushed back against the wall, so as to give more space for the dancers.
There is usually but one settle in every farm-house kitchen, but I have occasionally seen two, one on either side of the fireplace, which could be drawn together and hooked when desired, so as to form one continuous circular seat, thus rendering the hearth-place absolutely immune from all draught. But this is unusual, though there is generally a curtain which can be drawn along a curved iron rod fixed from the ceiling, which serves the same purpose, of keeping the fireside snug and lew on cold winter evenings.
On the opposite side of the hearth to the settle is more commonly found, as in this kitchen, a large, heavy, wooden, straight-backed arm-chair of seventeenth-century date, with a cushion on the seat. This chair is generally referred to as “Maister’s chair”, for it is the good farmer’s favourite seat, on which he takes his Sunday afternoon zog, and his well-earned “night-cap” before gwain up timbern ’eel.
Two, or more, low three-legged stools, known as crickets, are found on either side in front of the hearth, on which the children and the cats often sit and croodle auver the vire. The legs of the cricket are shorter than those of the milking-stool, which it otherwise resembles, while its seat is slightly larger. There are also small rectangular wooden stools with four short legs, used to rest the feet on.
The hearth-place itself is, in this kitchen, 8 ft. wide, 4 ft. deep, and 6 ft. high from floor to clavel. These fire-places vary in size to a certain extent in different farm-houses, but are rarely less than 6 ft. wide in any genuine old kitchen. The hearth itself is usually, as in this case, on the same level as the kitchen floor, but not unfrequently it is raised some four inches or so above the floor level on a superimposed course of stone or brickwork.
Within the hearth-place are two fixed stone seats, raised about 2 ft. from the ground, one at either end, facing each other, with the fire in between. These are the “ingle nooks” of the poets, and are still so-called in some districts, but in Devon they are known merely as the chimley-cornder saits. Frequently a wooden top has been added to the stone seats for greater warmth and comfort. In hearth-places where there are no fixed seats, two loose rectangular wooden stools serve the same purpose. It was on one of these chimley-cornder saits that dear old Gramfer was wont to sit during the cold winter evenings, and smoke his long clay pipe and drink his tanket o’ cider, the while he would delight to have a tell about the gude old taimes in the days of his youth; while Grannie on the opposite seat would nod assent to every remark be made, and gradually fall asleep over her knitting, while the dying embers glowed and the crickets chirruped merrily on the hearth. In some of the smaller hearth fireplaces there is only room for one chimley-cornder sait.
There is often a small niche in the wall, within easy reach of the chimley-cornder sait, which served as a handy receptacle for a short clay pipe, the old lead baccy-box, or a pint mug. The long clay churchwarden pipes were kept in a special wrought-iron rack, which was hung up within, or near, the hearth-place. This rack consisted of three flattened iron rings set horizontally about 6 ins. apart in an iron frame; and, in addition to the small ring at the top by which it could be hung up, there were two legs at each end of the frame, so that the rack could be stood upon the ground or on a table, if desired. When the pipes became foul this rack containing them was put into the fire, after which they came out perfectly cleaned. In the days when churchwardens were regularly smoked, one of these iron racks was almost sure to be found in nearly every inn and in many farm-houses. Two examples of them will be seen on the chimney-piece in Plate VI.
In the angle of the left-hand corner of the hearth-place, about 3 ft. from the ground and 1 ft. above the level of the chimley-cornder sait, will be found the old oven (pronounced auv’m, awn, and awp’m in different districts in Devon). In this case, as most frequently on Dartmoor, it is built entirely of stone; but in other parts of the county it is often found lined with brick. The mouth of the oven is small, being but 18 in. wide and 1 ft. high; it is closed by a heavy iron door. Inside the opening the oven itself increases very considerably in size, being about 4 ft. wide, 3 ft. high, and some 4 to 5 ft. deep, the top being arched; the immense thickness of the wall and chimney-stack admitted of these dimensions. These ovens, of course, vary considerably in size in different farm kitchens, but they are usually capable of holding at least a dozen good-sized loaves at a time. The method of baking in the old stone or brick oven will be fully dealt with in the Appendix. One of these ovens will be seen in Plates II and VII, but the door is missing. In some cases, instead of the iron door, a heavy wooden door is found, and occasionally instead of the door being hinged, it consists of a loose heavy slab of wood with handle in centre, which, after the loaves were put in, was placed in front of the oven-mouth and plastered up with clay or mortar, so as to keep the oven air-tight. In some districts of North Devon the oven is composed entirely of earthenware, or cloam, cast in one piece, which is built into the cob wall. This type of oven is known as a cloamen auv’m, or Barnstaple auv’m, because chiefly made at a pottery in that town. Many of these old ovens still exist, though frequently the doors have perished, and, except in out-of-the-way farms on Dartmoor, etc., where baking is still done in them, they are used merely as places of storage. But few farmers’ wives now bake their own bread, and other things are baked either in one or other of the cooking-pots, or in a modern range with close oven, which has been added.
The open fire itself is on the bare stone hearth, without any grating, but in order to give a little draught under the wood, and also to keep it from vallin’ abroad, it is supported by a pair of iron vire-dogs, one on either side, about 2 ft. or less apart, according to the size the fire is required to be.
In the in-country farm-houses wood only is burned on these hearth fires, there being usually abundance of wood to be had from the hedges and copses belonging to the farm. On farms situated on the moorland borders, turf (i.e. peat) and vags (i.e. surface parings), as well as wood, are used; while farms lying in the heart of the moor burn turves and vags only, wood being practically unprocurable from most parts of the moor, and only to be obtained at considerable cost of haulage, while the moor-men are allowed to cut turf and vags for their own use free (though they are not allowed to sell it to outsiders), it forming a part of their “Venville Rights”. A short account of the cutting and saving of peat for fuel will be given in the Appendix.
In olden days the fire was teen’d (kindled) by means of the flint, steel, tinder, and brimstone-tipped match, which were kept in the old tinder-box.* This was superseded by the general introduction of the lucifer match some seventy years ago. A yaffle o’ facket-’ood (handful of dry sticks), a blast o’ vuzz (branch of dried gorse), or a vew cricks (a bundle of dried hedge-clippings) is first placed on the hearth across the vire-dogs, and lighted. When this is well alight, brauns and chumps of hard-’ood (i.e. large unsplit logs and smaller cleft pieces), or, in the case of moorland farms, turf and vags, or both, are put on. And the fire can be kept high or low according to the amount of fuel applied.
* A note on Old Methods of obtaining Fire and Light will be given in the Appendix.
The masonry of the chimney above the fireplace opening is supported by a single beam of oak or elm of immense size and thickness, placed horizontally at a height of about 6 ft. from the hearth, and known as the clavel or clauvel. I have seen clavel beams as much as 3 ft. in thickness, but 18 in. to 2 ft. is the more usual size. On the inner side of the clavel will be found many nails and crooks driven into it, from which are hung hams or sides of bacon to be cured by the smoke of the wood or peat fire beneath. Fixed in the centre of the outer side of the clavel will be seen a movable brass knotched bracket, from which was hung the brass spring-driven clock-work jack-spit, which in mid-nineteenth-century days superseded the older weight-driven jack used in combination with the great spit.
Sometimes the clavel is composed of one huge slab of granite, instead of the wooden beam. I have an instance of this in my own house. But the beam is the more usual. A good example of an oak clavel will be seen in Plate II.
The stranger from town often wonders how it is that these clavel beams escape being burnt, especially when they see the enormous fires that often blaze on these old hearths. But as a matter of fact they rarely even get scorched, as they are not directly over the fire, and their considerable height up from the hearth itself, together with the hardness of the wood of which they are composed, seems to render them almost impervious to fire. Indeed, personally I never remember having seen or heard of a clavel beam catching fire, though I have seen scores of ashen fackets burned beneath them. These remarks, of course, apply only when the hearth-place is left open and the clavel is exposed, as it was originally intended to be. When the opening is built up to the beam and a modern grate inserted, as is the case in many an old farm kitchen and in almost every farm parlour at the present day, it is quite a different matter; for in these cases when the clavel is thus “boxed in” the heat cannot escape, and consequently the beam is much more liable to catch fire, which a good number have done. Though Mr. R. Pearse Chope tells me he has known at least three kitchen clavels catching fire, I can only say it has not been my experience. Most of the fires which occur at old farm-houses and cottages, if not caused by sparks from the chimney igniting the thatch, originate in the ends of the beams supporting the floors of the upper rooms, or the roof, which builders of old left unprotected, and often projecting 6 inches or so into the chimney-stack, which in course of time get very dry, and at last ignited, often smouldering for weeks beforehand unsuspected.
Sometimes a small narrow curtain of cotton print or other material is hung or nailed on to the clavel beam. This helps the draught by slightly lowering the opening. Also, from the housewife’s point of view, it gives the hearth-place a neater and more artistic appearance, though personally I must admit that I prefer to see the clavel without this embellishment.
The wood, or peat, fire is, as I said, supported and held together by a pair of small iron vire-dogs. The dogs are plain stout bars of iron supported on three short legs, two in front bow-shaped and one straight one at the back; they are usually without any ornamentation, though sometimes there is a short raised head and knob over the front legs.
In addition to these vire-dogs, which bear the fire at all times, are a very much larger pair of dogs, known as andirons or andogs, which stand further apart, one on either side of the small dogs; these are only needed for use when an extra large fire is wanted, e.g. in roasting meat. The andirons are the same in form as the vire-dogs, only much larger and heavier; the upright part in front, standing from 2 to 3 ft. high, is curved at the top and finished with a round knob. The andiron is well described in this old farm-house riddle:
“’Aid lik’ a awple, neck lik’ a swan,
Bak lik’ a lung-dug, an’ dree lags ta stan’.’’
(“Head like an apple, neck like a swan,
Back like a grey-hound, and three legs to stand.”)
To the upright part of each andiron are rivetted three or four flattened iron crooks, one over the other, about 3 in. apart, usually on the side nearest to the fire, though not unfrequently on the front side away from the fire. On these crooks rested the great spit on which the meat and poultry was roasted in former days. The old method of roasting meat before the fire will be fully dealt with in the Appendix. Both dogs, and andirons with spit resting on them will be seen in Plate II.
In better-class houses the upright parts of the andirons are often made of brass or burnished steel, and are of quaint and fantastic design; but in farm-houses they are usually of plain wrought-iron, as just described. Occasionally, instead of the usual knob, the top of each andiron is furnished with a tulip-shaped open wrought-iron cup, which served as a receptacle for a glass of hot grog or a mug of spiced ale or cider. When in this form they are known as cup-dogs. A pair will be seen in Plate VI.
A large rectangular iron plate is often set up and fixed against the masonry of the chimney at the back of the fire, to protect the stonework from getting worn away by constant blows from heavy logs thrown on the fire, and also from being burnt out by the fire itself. This is known as the vire-back, chimley-back, or iron-back. In more pretentious establishments these iron-backs are frequently very ornamental in character, being often beautifully moulded with figures, mottoes, coats of arms, and other devices; but in farm-houses they are more usually plain sheets of iron, with the top sometimes arched and a plain or beaded moulding round the edge. There is often no vire-back at all, and when this is the case the back of the hearth-place is sometimes built up in a square of 3 ft. or so with rows of small slates placed on edge, each row sloping at a different angle from that next to it, so as to withstand the blows of heavy logs.
There is never any fender to a hearth fire, but the fire-irons will be found stood up against the wall on one or other side of the fireplace. The shovel is not so often seen in a farm kitchen where only wood or peat is burned. It must therefore be regarded as a modern innovation along with the use of coal on certain hearth fires in some of the in-country farms in districts where wood is not easily obtainable. The poker, too, is not often used except where coal is burned; if found at all, it is large and heavy. But the tongs, vire-tongs or tongses as they are spoken of in Devon, are invariably found on one or other side of the fireplace.
The Devon farm-house tongs are of distinct and peculiar design. They vary in size, but as a rule are smaller and slenderer than the modern kitchen tongs; the head is much longer and the knob at the top much smaller than in the more usual type. But the most marked peculiarity is that, instead of opening at the joint where the legs fork, they open half-way up the long tapering head. A pair will be seen in Plate II. Tongs are described in the old riddle:
“Long legs, crooked thighs,
Little ’aid, an’ no eyes.”
The chief use of the vire-tongs is to build up the fire when it has fallen abroad; that is, to pick up logs or turves which have fallen off after being only partially burnt, but which are too hot to pick up with the fingers. They are not used for putting on fresh logs and turves; these are always thrown on with the hands.
Besides the larger vire-tongs, a very much smaller pair of tongs, known as ember-tongs (yummer-tongs) or brand-tongs (brawn-tongs), will be found. These were used by the farmer and his men-folk to pick up small burning wood embers wherewith to light their pipes. They open and close with a spring, and are easy to manipulate with one hand only.
Another article in constant use in every farm kitchen is the large pair of dark brown wooden bellows – bellisses as they are always termed, which are sure to be found hung up on, or resting against, the wall close to the fireplace; they are used daily to start the wood or peat fire, and to coax it up when low. The older bellisses usually have much longer handles than the more modern ones, but old ones with fairly short handles are also commonly met with. Examples of farm-house bellisses will be seen in Plates VI and VII. It is considered most unlucky to put the bellisses on the table; many a housewife would be horrified at the sight!
The long-handled iron oven-peel, used for placing loaves in the old stone or brick oven and taking them out, and also the mawkin or oven-swab, for cleaning it out, will be found stood up in the corner of the hearth-place near by the oven.
At a height of about 8 ft. above the hearth, and quite hidden from view unless one looks up the chimney, is a stout iron bar, fixed into the masonry on either side, and laid horizontally over the hearth, known as the chimley-bar or back-bar, upon which are hung the chimley-crooks or bar-crooks by which various cooking vessels are suspended over the fire. The back-bar, though most usually of iron, is in some districts more commonly made of wood, chestnut being the wood most used for this purpose. The hardness of the wood and its height above the fire seem to preserve it from getting burnt away, as one would imagine it soon would be.
The chimley-crooks, of which there are seldom less than three or four in every hearth fireplace, are made in different lengths, but are always of the same design, having a row of notches and a ratchet, by means of which they can be lengthened or shortened at pleasure, so as to raise or lower the pots suspended over the fire. And of course the chimley-crooks can be slid along the back-bar, if it is desired to shift the cooking vessels sideways to the right or left. The names of “pot-hook” and “hanger”, by which these contrivances are known in other localities, are never heard in Devon. Examples of chimley-crooks will be seen in Plate II.
Nor is the contrivance known as the chimley-crane, so common in the northern and eastern counties, very often met with in Devon, though I have occasionally seen them in large farm-houses, and in the halls and kitchens of old country mansions. In the latter, they are often very ornamental in character, with beautiful wrought-iron scroll-work; but in the farm-house they consist merely of two bars of iron welded or rivetted together at right angles to each other, with a brace to strengthen them at the angle. The bottom of the vertical upright bar is bluntly pointed and set in a small hollow chiselled out of one of the hearth-stones, in which it can work freely. The top part of the same bar is rounded, and works in the socket or loop of a short iron cramp driven into the wall at the back of the hearth-place. The chimley-crane can thus be swung forward and back on its two pivots, and has therefore this advantage over the fixed back-bar. The cooking vessels are suspended from short loose crooks or hangers, sometimes with chains, hung along the horizontal bar of the crane.
It should be borne in mind that, just as the old farm-house furniture was made by the village carpenter and wheelwright, so the old wrought-iron kitchen utensils and the contrivances for suspending the cooking vessels over the fire, were the work of the village blacksmith. Occasionally, especially in older examples of seventeenth-and eighteenth-century workmanship, one comes across traces of real artistic design and finish, even in some of these everyday farm-house utensils; but, as a general rule, simplicity, strength and durability are the most marked characteristics of the village blacksmith’s, as of the village cabinet-maker’s, work.
The following are the cooking utensils found in this, as in the majority of farm-house kitchens which have hearth fires:
The kettle. Kettles of various shapes and sizes are met with in different farm-houses in Devon, made of cast-iron, bell metal, brass, and copper. But the most typical form in the neighbourhood in which I live is that known as the Dartmoor kettle, because found chiefly in farm-houses on or near Dartmoor. The shape of both the kettle itself and its handle is distinct from the more usual type. It may be met with in copper, brass, and bell metal. I do not remember having seen a kettle of this type in iron, but they may exist. An example of a Dartmoor kettle, suspended from a chimley-crook, will be seen in Plate II; another stands in the centre on the chimney-piece in Plate VIII. There is sometimes seen a mechanical device known as a kettle-tipper, or idle-back, by which the kettle can be easily tipped, without stooping, or having to remove it from the chimley-crook.
The crock. This is a cast-iron cooking-pot, or cauldron, of very distinct design, being nearly globular in shape, with three narrow rings on its greatest circumference. It has a detachable, bow-shaped handle (which in the case of the large crocks is usually in two parts, hinged together like a pair of tongs), and three little legs about 2 in. long, to keep it steady when placed on the ground. The crock varies very considerably in size, the largest sizes being capable of holding several gallons, while the smallest will hold barely a quart. But it is always of the same design. The older crocks were cast in bell metal, but the more modern ones are always of cast-iron. It has a separate lid or cover of thin sheet-iron, with a handle rivetted in the centre, by which to lift it. There are rarely less than three, often more, crocks to be found in any large farm-house kitchen. The small and medium-sized crocks are used for household cooking, for boiling or stewing meat or vegetables, crockie-stew* being a very favourite dish of the Devon farmer. Sometimes the crock is used for baking bread. The very large crocks (which are found in the back kitchen of the farm-house I am describing) are used principally for boiling tetties for the pigs, warming milk for the young calves, etc., and sometimes for washing clothes. Crocks are still made to a limited extent. Examples of crocks of various sizes will be found in Plates II, V, VII, and VIII.
* The recipes for these old Devon farm-house dishes will be given in the Appendix.
Both the crock and the kettle naturally get much blackened and begrimed by the smoke from the fire beneath; hence the origin of the well-known saying: “It’s a case of the crock callin’ the kettle smutty”, when one person, being equally in the wrong, tries to blacken the character of another. The term crock is never used in Devon, as in some parts, for an earthenware pot, nor indeed for any other vessel except that just described. Many old crocks, and modern reproductions of them in various metals, are found in the sitting-rooms of the “gentry”, used as coal-scuttles.
The fountain. This is a kettle-shaped iron boiler, of varied size; but instead of a spout it has a small brass tap near its base. It has a loose, but not detachable, bow-shaped handle, to the centre of which is affixed a small iron loop on a swivel, by which the vessel is hung on to the chimley-crook. The fountain is used mainly for heating water for household use, such as washing up dishes, scrubbing, etc.; the water for cooking purposes and making tea being more usually obtained from the kettle. A small fountain will be seen figured in Plate II, hanging next to the kettle. Since the introduction of Bodley’s, and other kitchen ranges, the term fountain is also applied to the boiler with tap frequently found on one or other side of the stove.
The boiler. This is an oval-shaped iron vessel, with a tin-plated lid and a loose, often detachable, bow-handle, similar to that of the crock. The boiler is also found in various sizes, and old examples exist in bell metal. It is used for boiling large joints of meat, whole hams, etc. It is in this vessel that the Kirsmas pudd’ns are generally boiled. And, when there is no furnace (copper) in the back-’ouze, the family washing is often done in the boiler. A boiler will be seen in Plate VII, below the American clock. The same type of boiler is still used on modern stoves, only it has a fixed handle at each side in place of the loose bow-handle. There is often a tin-plated steamer, which fits on to the top of the boiler, the same lid or cover being used for both boiler and steamer. The modern fish-kettle is a lineal descendant of the boiler.
The dish-kettle, or cheese-kettle. A very large open vessel, of iron, brass, or copper. The largest of all the cooking vessels suspended from the chimley-crooks, and generally found in the back kitchen of a large farm-house. It is in shape like a very large and very deep preserving-pan, with a loose, but undetachable, swing-handle. It has no legs, and the bottom being convex it will not stand on the ground without support. I have seen dish-kettles large enough to hold 30 gallons or more of liquid. The primary use of the dish-kettle is, in cheese-making,* to raise the milk to a certain temperature before putting in the rennet to make it curdle. But, like the boiler, it is also used to wash the clothes and linen in, when there is no separate furnace. There is an old saying, in reference to one who is lacking in good manners: “Manners! Why er was a-born in a turf-’eap an’ bred up in the dish-kettle.” In other localities this vessel is known as a cheese-cauldron, but the term “cauldron” is not used in Devon, though cheese-kettle is often heard.
* An article on cheese-making will be given in the Appendix.
The preserving-pan. In shape it is like a miniature dish-kettle. It has either a loose, or a fixed and rigid, bow-handle. Preserving-pans are found in copper, brass, bell metal, and occasionally iron. There is also the shallower circular copper or brass preserving-pan, with a fixed handle at each side, but this vessel, of course, cannot be suspended from the chimley-crook. The largest sized preserving-pans in common use will make about twenty-four pounds of jam at one boiling.
The baking-kettle. An iron or bell metal pot, similar in shape to the preserving-pan, but, in addition to a loose bow-handle, it has three short legs, like the crock. Loaves of bread were (and still are by some on Dartmoor) baked in these kettles. The method of baking in them will be described in the Appendix. When not required for baking bread, the baking-kettle is often used as an ordinary saucepan or crock. On the other hand, a small or medium-sized crock often does duty for the baking-kettle, when that vessel is lacking. A baking-kettle may be seen in Plate VII, standing on the ground, next to the crock.
The brawn-kettle. An iron vessel, in shape not unlike the fountain, only smaller, and without the tap. It has a loose bow-handle, and a special contrivance of a heavy iron plate which screws down inside and compresses the brawn.
The girdle. A circular iron plate with a fixed, flattened, iron bow-handle, by which it is suspended over the fire, on which small cakes, called girdle cakes, are baked. The recipe for these cakes will be given in the Appendix.
When the fire is low, the smaller of these cooking vessels may, instead of being suspended from the chimley-crocks, be placed upon the brandis, or brandires, an iron tripodstand, which is placed over the fire. The most usual type of brandis consists of a flat circular iron ring of about 7 in. diameter (though it is made in various sizes), into which are welded three straight legs, so as to support the ring horizontally at about 1 ft. from the ground. It is well described in the old riddle:
“So round’s a ’oop, so black’s a craw,
Dree legs, an’ a dumpin’ ’aul.”
(“As round as a hoop, as black as a crow,
Three legs, and a thumping hole.”)
The brandis is also to be met with in a triangular and in a square or rectangular form; in the latter form it has four legs; while from the triangular form is derived the well-known adverbial expression brandis-wise or brandis-fashion, applied to anything set triangularly. Brandis Corner is a well-known hamlet in North Devon, where three roads diverge from the centre, thus forming a triangle. Brandish Street (really Brandis Street), a spot where three roads diverge in a similar manner at Allerford, between Minehead and Porlock, also derives its name from the brandis. Illustrations of all three types of brandis will be found in Plate II.
The brandis is indispensable when cream is scalded in the old-fashioned way, over a wood or peat fire in the old brassen cream-pans,* one of which may be seen under the settle in Plate V. It is also used, almost invariably, when frying over a hearth fire, to support the large copper or bell metal frying-pan with long iron handle, one of which may be seen in Plate VII, below the American clock.
* An article on scald, or clouted, cream will be given in the Appendix.
The gridiron, or girdire as it is pronounced, is also placed on the brandis, when chops or steaks are girdled (grilled) over a hearth fire. For this operation the fire must consist of bright clear wood or peat embers only, and be free from smoke.
In addition to the cooking vessels already mentioned, the copper, brass, bell metal and iron saucepans, of various shapes and sizes, are also usually placed on the brandis, unless the fire is very low, in which case they would be placed on the bare fire.
The brandis must not be confounded with the trivet, or kettle-stand, which is used merely to keep things warm in front of the fire, and is never placed over the fire itself, like the brandis is. Trivets may be found in various shapes and sizes, and made in iron, steel, and brass. The top of the trivet, though sometimes plain, is more usually perforated, and is often of quaint and ornamental design. It has three (sometimes four) legs, and stands about 1 ft. to 18 in. from the ground. A circular trivet, without handle, made of steel, with perforated top, may be seen in Plate VI; another, with four legs and plain, unperforated steel top, is seen under the settle in Plate V.
But perhaps the most usual type of all is the oblong-shaped trivet, with iron frame and three long legs, and a wooden handle by which it is lifted, while the top is of plain or perforated brass (usually with some design), which is rivetted on to the iron frame. It also frequently has two claw-like projections, by which it can be hung on to the bars of a grate. Indeed, this type of trivet is more commonly used with grates than with hearth fires. One of these may also be seen in Plate VI, next to the circular steel trivet.
There is one more cooking vessel which must be noticed, and that is the skillet. It is a heavy long-handled saucepan of cast bell metal, occasionally of brass, semi-globular in form, having three short legs about 3 in. in length cast on its bottom, similar to those of the crock, but a good inch longer and flattened, not circular like those of the crock. The handle is tapering, flat, and quite straight, and of greater length than those of ordinary saucepans; it is cast in the same piece as the vessel itself, and in a line with the diameter. The handle usually bears the maker’s name, and occasionally the date, embossed or engraved on the upper side of its flattened surface; the name of Wasbrough (of Bristol) being one of the commonest found. Sometimes, in place of the maker’s name, the handle bears a quaint motto.
There is no lid or cover to the skillet, and, though it varies fairly considerably in size, it does so to a less extent than most of the other cooking vessels. The largest skillets I have seen would hold barely a gallon of liquid, the smallest about a pint. The chief use of the skillet is to warm milk, gruel or skilly over the fire for the children, old folks, or invalids; and, in fact, to cook anything which might be done in a modern saucepan.
If the fire is quite low, the length of its legs allows of the skillet being placed on the bare hearth over the embers; but when there is a larger fire it will need to be raised higher, in which case it would be placed upon, or rather set in, the brandis. Several skillets will be seen in Plate VI, one to the right on the hearth in Plate II, and one on the mantel-shelf in Plate VIII. I have in my possession a fine brass skillet inscribed John Fry and Son, and dated 1748, on the handle.
The skillet may still be found in use in a few old farm kitchens where hearth fires remain, but the majority of them have been snapped up by dealers; for, next to the brass cream-pan, the skillet is perhaps the most popular of the old cooking vessels with the collector of “antiques” of this description, and many hundreds of them may be found “shined up”, and displayed in the halls and the dining-rooms of the well-to-do. The skillet is a very ancient cooking vessel, but pre-eighteenth century examples are rare, for in late Jacobean times a large number of them were collected and melted down to provide material for copper coinage.
Firmly fixed to the centre of the clavel beam, and running to nearly its whole length, is the high mantel-shelf, or clavy-tack as it is termed in Devon, on which stand various articles, useful and ornamental. A pair of brass candlesticks, one at either end, is found on the clavy-tack of almost every farm kitchen. These once held the home-made tallow candles, and were regularly used, but now in these days of cheap oil lamps, not to mention gas and electric light on certain farms, they are no longer needed for purposes of light, but are shined up and kept as treasured memorials of Gramfer’s and Grannie’s young days. The variety in shape and design in these old brass candlesticks is almost endless, hardly any two pairs being exactly alike. They, too, are much sought after by the dealer and the collector. One may also see specimens of the more commonplace iron candlesticks, the bases of which are still used for the purpose of scraping off the outer skin and bristles from pigs after they have been killed and boiling water has been poured over them. A pair of old iron snuffers and cutters, with which the tallow dips were snuffed and trimmed, will probably also be in evidence on the clavy-tack.
Occasionally one may see specimens of the still earlier rush-light holders, and also of the old tinder-box.* Then there are the brass pepper and flour dredgers; Maister’s brass baccy-box; a copper biggin (coffee-pot); and the old brass, or bell metal, pestle and mortar, now superseded by the modern earthenware type, but still used on occasions when the bees swarm, when it is tinkled like a bell to make them settle.
* These will be fully dealt with in the Appendix, under the heading “Old Methods of Obtaining and Maintaining Light.”
There is also seen on the clavy-tack one of the old iron sugar-cutters, or sugar-nippers. They were used to cut small pieces off whole loaves of sugar, in the days when this was done at home, before the loaves were cut up by machinery into small cubes. Many old, and even middle-aged, people can well remember them in use. Another type of sugar-nippers, on a wooden stand and with wooden handle, may be seen in the foreground in Plate VIII.
Lastly, there is a pair of cloamen or chainy dogs, and other quaint figures of old Staffordshire ware, such as Dick Turpin and Tom King on their famous steeds, Little Red Riding Hood, The Sailor and his True Love, etc., referred to by the farmer’s wife as her joanies. A good example of a farm-house kitchen clavy-tack, with many of the articles just described on it, will be seen in Plate II.
Fixed firmly to the wall, on the right-hand side of the clavy-tack, will be seen the old iron and brass clockwork jack,* driven by a heavy weight attached to an endless chain, by which the great spit was turned before the fire. One of these jacks will be seen in Plate V. On the left-hand side, hanging against the wall, will be seen the bottle-shaped brass clockwork combined jack and spit, driven by a spring inside it, which superseded the former type. One may be seen in Plate VII, above the salt-box. This jack-spit was suspended from the brass-notched bracket, which will be seen fixed in the centre of the clavel beam. It was afterwards used in conjunction with the tin-plated hastener, or Dutch oven, as shown in Plate VIII.
* This machine will be more fully dealt with in the Appendix, under the heading “Old Methods of Roasting Meat.”
The old wooden salt-box will also be found hanging against the wall on the left-hand side of the fireplace. This is still used, and its proximity to the fire keeps the salt always dry. The lid is hinged with leather, as metal hinges would soon become corroded by the salt. The salt-box will be seen in Plate VII.
The old japanned tin candle-box, which formerly held the home-made tallow dips when not in use, is now used merely as a receptacle for any small odds and ends.
Other objects of interest in the way of farm-house utensils, once in everyday use, but now most frequently shined up and kept as treasured relics, will be found hanging against the wall on the fireplace side of the kitchen. There are a couple of brass ladles, formerly used chiefly for basting meat when roasted before the fire; a brass toasting fork; a brass reamer (pronounced raimer), or cream-skimmer, which is like a large and very shallow ladle, only perforated all over with small holes, and having a long iron handle; and a brass chestnut roaster, with perforated base and hinged cover, in which chestnuts were roasted, by being held over the fire or placed on the brandis.
Two types of copper ale-warmers, or cider-warmers, one in the shape of a horn, the other in that of a boot or slipper, are still sometimes met with. They were used to warm ale or cider by being thrust into the fire and left there a few minutes, the liquor being often spiced as well. These ale-warmers were once commonly met with in almost every country inn as well as at most farm-houses. Both types will be seen in Plate VIII, as also will the other objects just mentioned.
There will also be seen in the same Plate a small keg, or cider virkin. This particular one is a somewhat rare example, it being bound around with beens of withy, and having thick plate glass lights at either end. The more usual types of older virkins were bound with either brass or copper, and had plain wooden ends. The cider virkin is still made, the modern form being more spherical, like a miniature barrel, than the older type, which is much flattened. The modern virkin, which is bound with plain iron bands, is made in various sizes, as also was its older prototype, the most usual size holding about two quarts. It is the vessel in which the labourer carries his daily allowance of cider; it is slung over his shoulder by a cord or strap passed through holes on each side of the raised bung-hole. The virkin is much in requisition at times of hay and corn harvest.
Lastly, there is the old warming-pan. Though found in almost every farm-house, the warming-pan was by no means confined to these dwellings, but was once a familiar object in almost every dwelling-house from the mansion to the labourer’s cottage. There is an especial charm in these old warming-pans which has caused them to be preserved as treasured and highly polished ornaments in the houses of the well-to-do and the poor alike.
In form the warming-pan consists of a circular brass or copper pan with a hinged lid or covering of the same metal, to which is affixed a long iron, or wooden, handle. The size of the pan varies in different examples, though not very greatly; but the lid varies very considerably, both in shape and design, hardly any two being exactly alike. In the older type, which usually has an iron handle, the lid is decidedly convex, and its outer rim overlaps the pan by a couple of inches or so, completely hiding it from view when hung up. An example of this type will be seen in Plate VII. In the later types, with wooden handles, the lid is almost flat, or very slightly convex, and closes within the outer rim of the pan. Examples of this type may be seen in Plates III and VIII. The lid is sometimes plain and solid, but far more usually it is perforated so as to let out the heat, and it has almost always some pattern or design incised upon it, often very beautiful in character, usually of some conventional flowers or birds, such as a pheasant or peacock in the centre. Occasionally an inscription or motto, and a date, may be found running around the rim of the lid.
The warming-pan was in general use by all classes until well past the middle of the nineteenth century. The pan was filled with glowing embers from the hearth, and shortly before the family retired to rest the mistress would take it and rub it up and down between the sheets in each bed, which would thus be thoroughly aired and warmed. The introduction of cloamen hot-water bottles and jars, and still later of india-rubber hot-water bags, has wellnigh closed the account of the warming-pan as a bed warmer.
There is one other type of ancient bed warmer which must be noticed, and that is the large flattened copper or brass pan, which is filled with hot water through a hole in its centre which is fitted with a screw-cap top; it is then placed in the bed to air it, and left there.
Of pictures, there is but one in the kitchen: an old-fashioned ship in full sail on a bright blue sea, in a black oak frame, which hangs on the wall between the two front windows. It is the production of one of a former generation of the family, who had been to sea in his early days and who had leanings towards the artistic. The perspective will not bear close examination, yet the picture as a whole, in its sombre frame, and mellowed with age and smoke, is far from unpleasing.
I know of no place on earth more cosy and homely than a genuine old Devon farm-house kitchen, such as this one I have tried to depict. It is charming at all times, but most especially of a winter’s evening, when the glow from the wood and peat fire on the spacious hearth dimly lights up the old room with its low ceiling and blackened beams, its deeply splayed latticed windows, and its time-honoured old hand-made furniture and utensils. Truly it is a haven of rest and peace, and hard to please indeed must he be who cannot find happiness and contentment amid such surroundings.