The Old Devon Farm-House. Part II continued (1923)
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Author(s): Laycock. C. H.; Year published: 1923; Origin: DA Transactions; Pages: 154–181
Topic(s): architecture and furniture; Location(s):
Full title: The Old Devon Farm-House. Part II (continued). Its Interior Arrangements and Domestic Economy.
by Charles H. Laycock.
(Read at Salcombe, 12th July, 1923.)
In the first portion of Part II of my paper, dealing with the interior arrangements of the old Devon farm-house, which I read last year, I completed my survey of the front or best kitchen. We will now pass through the door leading into the back kitchen, which will be seen figured on the Ground Plan, which I again reproduce, to facilitate reference.
It must be clearly understood that the back kitchens of these large farm-houses are by no means merely sculleries, or, as we term them in Devon, back-‘ouzes, which the term “back kitchen” usually implies in the case of a town house. They are kitchens in every sense of the word, equally as much as are the front or best kitchens. Indeed, if anything, more so, for the front kitchen is really almost a semi-parlour, all the rough work of the house and the greater part of the cooking being done in the back kitchen, with the exception of the Sunday roast joint and the baking of the bread, there being no turn-spit or oven in the back kitchen.
In the particular farm-house which I am attempting to describe, the back kitchen stands fully a foot lower than the front kitchen; consequently, after passing through the doorway, one has to descend a step. Now this is the case with the majority of the rooms in genuine old farm-houses, hardly any two rooms being on the same level. This makes it somewhat awkward, especially for anyone not used to it, as he is liable, in passing from one room to another, to trip up or “hitch he’s voot an’ vall all along”, as the Devonian would say. On the other hand, it has its advantages; for in a farm-house where there are many doors, none of which fit too well, it tends to keep the rooms freer from draughts than would be the case if they were all on the same level, and at the same time keeps dust and dirt from being carried so easily from one room to another.
The back kitchen we have just entered is the same length as, and only 2 ft. less in width than, the front kitchen. Its floor is composed of similar stone slabs, but as they have had more wear and rougher usage, the surface of the stones is not so smooth and suant as of those in the best kitchen.
Besides the small fixed light between the two kitchens, which we have already noticed,* there is a window in the left-hand corner of the north wall, which looks out into one of the meadows. This window has been inadvertently omitted from the Plan.
* See Vol. LIV, p. 236.
There are, in all, three doors, the one by which we entered from the front kitchen, another opening into the main passage, and a third leading into the back-’ouze, or scullery. This latter door is almost always left open.
The ceiling of the back kitchen is not lath’d and plastered, like that of the front kitchen, so that the jices (joists), as well as the main beams, are exposed to view, the ceiling proper being merely the under side of the broad elmen planches which form the floor of the bedroom or chimber above. The joists, beams, and floor-boards have all become much blackened by age and smoke, which gives to this kitchen a very sombre and old-world appearance. The lack of a plastered ceiling has its advantages, for it gives greater air space in a room which is little over 7 ft. in height, and it also allows of more room for the storage of small articles, numerous racks being made by nailing thin laths to the joists, about an inch apart, and using the spaces thus formed for this purpose. Its one disadvantage, if it may be reckoned as one, is that, from the bedroom above it is possible to hear almost every word that is said in the kitchen below, while by kainin’ droo the squinches between the planchin’, one can also see most of what goes on there. I am afraid I must confess to having been guilty of this practice more than once in my youth! It also tends to make the bedroom more draughty.
From the massive beams in this back kitchen are hung, not only household utensils and tools, such as lattin lanterns, saws, hammers, cleavers or bill-hooks, hatchets and the like, but also many spare farm implements of the smaller order, which are used only on certain occasions and need to be kept dry and free from rust, such as zies (scythes), browse-hooks or parin’-hooks for paring hedges; dibbers or dibblin’-irons, formerly used in tilling wheat by hand as an alternative to sowing broadcast from the zellup (seed-lip), and still used occasionally by the farmer for dibblin’ in his tetties and plants in his garden. There are also two or three picks (hay-forks) and reap-hooks, used at harvest-times, and one or more drashles or vliles, once in common use when corn was thrashed by hand, but now only used occasionally on very small out-of-the-way farms, or when wheat-straw is preserved as reed for thatching purposes. All these, and many other, implements might be seen hanging from or resting on crooks alongside of one of the great beams. The cider-virkins hang on nails from the same beam. Many of these objects will be seen in Plates I-VIII.*
* See Vol. LIV, pp. 224-270.
Hanging from another beam will be seen spare bits of harness and plough-tackle, and some of the well-known cart-harness ornaments of brass on leather bands; a couple of spare straw bee-butts; many baskets of various sizes; a wink for making straw-ropes for thatching ricks; want-snaps (mole-traps), rabbit gins, sheep-shears; and always a pair of steelyards (pronounced stillyards), the usual appliance for weighing.
One may still sometimes see, preserved as family heirlooms, specimens of man-traps and spring-guns, once in common use on almost every farm, up to about 1860, to keep off poachers; now happily things of the past, along with the stocks, the pillory, the ducking-stool, and the whipping-post; their use being forbidden by law. A small man-trap will be seen in Plate VIII.
From a beam near the window hangs one of the old-fashioned wicker bird-cages, which are still made after the same original design, containing a tame cock blackbird. In fine sunny weather the cage is hung on a nail driven into the wall outside near the back-‘ouze door during the day, and brought in again at night. One of these cages will be seen on the settle in Plate VI.
The lattin lantern glazed with horn, in which a candle is burned, is, like the wicker bird-cage, still made, or certainly was up to a very few years ago, in practically the same design as it was made two or three hundred years ago. But one may also see in most farm-houses the well-known, though more modern, oil stable-lamp, sometimes painted red, with swing handle by which it can be carried or hung up. Also the small bull’s-eye lantern, formerly used by policeman at night, now superseded by the electric torch.
There will also be seen many oil-cans, bottles of linseed oil and other liniments, tins of blue-stone, and various remedies for ailing stock; wooden spigots (pronounced spickets), used for tapping casks of beer and cider, on the upper sides of the beams, or in the home-made racks between the joists and ceiling.
Indeed, it is impossible to describe the limitless number of odds and ends which might have been found knocking about in this old back kitchen. There is a deep cupboard on the left-hand side of the hearth fireplace, into which the good dame, in her vain endeavours to keep the place witty and tidy, used to bundle boots, leggings, gambaders, strads, etc., while grousing at the men-folk for leaving their things about, and declaring that the place was like a proper rogues’-roost.
There is a massive square oak post near the centre of the room, which gives further support to one of the main beams. How long it had been there I could not say, but when I knew it, it bore as old an appearance as the beams themselves. This post was made much use of by the farm labourers, who used to hitch up their hats and caps to the many nails which were driven into it when they came in for their meals.
On the right-hand side of the fireplace is a straight, steep, and narrow flight of steps leading up to the chimber above, which is the room in which the young farm-labourers and ’purntice-bwoy, who “lived in”, used to sleep. These steps are not boxed in, but there is a light hand-rail on one side. On the floor, under the steps, stands one of the old oaken buckets bound with iron hoops, now superseded by the zinc pail. Leaned up against the wall is one of the old heath- or birch-brooms, besoms or bizzums as they are usually termed, which are still made, and cannot be beaten for sweeping up leaves, etc. A bittle and wadges, for cleaving large brawns (logs) are also seen here. All these may be seen in Plate VI.
With regard to the furniture of the back kitchen, little further description is needed, as it is practically similar to that of the best kitchen, except that in quality it is coarser and rougher, and although always kept clean, it is not rubbed and polished with the same care as are the more highly finished pieces of furniture in the room we have just quitted.
There is the same long table, but its present deal top is more modern than the massive elmen trustle which supports it. Probably the original top got worn out after centuries of rough usage and scrubbing. For this is the actual table on which, up to quite recent times, the farmer and his family ate all their meals at one end, the servants and labourers at the other, with the exception of Sunday dinner and tea, which they usually had in the front kitchen. There is a similar long fixed form, in this case against the oak partition, at one side of the table, and the loose form at the other. This latter form shows traces of having been used also as a chopping-board, for it bears many deep cuts as if from a chopper or hatchet. The chairs are all of the old Windsor type, and there are many stools of various sizes, circular and rectangular.
The dresser, of elm wood, stands against the north wall, between the door leading into the back-ouze and the window; it contains the cloam dinner service of the old blue pheasant pattern, the white and gold tea-cups and the mugs in everyday use.
The settle, also of elm, is of the same crescent-shaped form as the one in the front kitchen, but it has no bacon cupboard or boxed seats; the space under the broad seat being filled up with various brown cloamen jars, pitchers, bottles, etc. See Plate V. It was on this settle that the good dame and her maidens used to sit and pick the fowls, and the geese at Michaelmas and Christmas times, taking care to save the soft downy feathers to make weather bed-tyes.
The hearth fireplace is similar to the one I have already described, except that it is about 2 ft. less in width, and it lacks the chimley-cornder saits and the stone oven. It is over this fire that most of the larger cooking vessels are hung, such as the large crock in which tetties are boiled for the pigs and scald-milk warmed up for the calves, and the dish-kettle, the largest of all cooking vessels, in which the milk is warmed up in cheese-making and in which also the family washing was done in the days before the copper or furnace was put in the back-’ouze.
In later times, about the middle of the nineteenth century, a small iron cooking-stove, with oven on one side and small boiler, or fountain, as it is termed, with brass tap, on the other, was placed in the back kitchen. This took up a little over one-third of the fireplace opening, so that it was still possible to have the hearth fire at one side, while the stove was used when baking was required to be done, as baking in this stove virtually superseded the older method of baking in the stone oven in the front kitchen already alluded to. The stove was made by the firm of Geo. Bodley of Exeter, its inventor; and it was always spoken of as the bodley. Indeed, so common did the name become that it was usually applied to similar stoves made by other firms as well. An iron flue-pipe at the back connected it with the chimney of the original hearth fireplace. The damper was worked by a chain round a small pulley fixed into the masonry above the clavel.
This addition of a bodley to a hearth fire, now itself of some years’ standing, may be seen in many farm kitchens on Dartmoor. An example of this may be seen in Plate IX. Even in the modern-built farm-houses in that district, it is still customary to have both a closed range and a hearth fire, only in these cases they are built with separate flues and some little distance apart from each other. The hearth fireplace in these modern kitchens is rarely more than 4 ft. in width, a poor apology indeed for the grand old type, and leaving no room for chimley-cornder saits. The main reason for the continuance of the hearth fire, even in modern farm-houses in the moorland districts, is no doubt because turf (peat) and vags can be had by these farmers for the cutting, in accordance with their “venville rights”; so that it is, for them, by far the cheapest fuel they can burn. But this fuel is of little use except for an open fire, wood or coal being needed for the close range.
The clavy-tack in the back kitchen is devoted to things useful rather than ornamental. There are tins of various shapes and sizes, two or three flat-irons, or yetters (heaters), as they are termed, common iron or tin pepper and flour dredgers, a coffee-mill and spice-box, and a couple of old iron candlesticks, but no brass and copper utensils or chainy ornaments, as in the best kitchen.
On the wall above the clavy-tack will be seen a wooden rack containing the farmer’s sporting guns, and the old blunderbuss of former days. Also hung against the wall are the metal and leather powder and shot “flasks”, used in charging those old “muzzle-loaders”. A couple of old “constables’ rattles” will also be seen here. They were formerly used to sound an alarm to attract the night-watchman, and in later days they were (and still are occasionally) used for scaring birds away from fields of newly-sowed grain, in place of the older bird-clappers made out of two flat pieces of wood fastened loosely together. Two of these rattles will be seen in Plate VI.
The American rectangular-case clock, of mid-nineteenth-century date, is supported on a bracket against the wall to the left of the small window which looks into the front kitchen. Precisely this clock is figured in Plate VII.
On the window-ledge stands one of the old-fashioned home-made weather-glasses, consisting of a globular salad-oil bottle, with long narrow neck, placed neck downwards in a glass pickle-jar half full of water. In fine dry weather the water is drawn up some distance into the neck of the inverted bottle, while in wet weather it recedes from it again. No truer barometer has ever been invented. A glass fly-catcher will also be found on the same ledge. Both these articles are figured in Plate I.
We will now pass on through the door leading us into the back-‘ouze, which is the true scullery of the farm-house, where all the dishes, plates, knives and forks, cooking pots, etc., are washed up and scoured out. This is usually, as in this case, a single room of one storey only, built out from the main structure, though adjoining it, but with separate lean-to roof, or slee-roof, as it is generally termed. The room itself is sometimes referred to as the slee. There is another door leading out into the backlet, or back-court, and a small window facing the same way, as will be seen on the Plan [above]. Inside, near by the window, is a large iron pump and a wide and deep stone trough, known as the zink – (i.e. sink) traw, above which is a wooden plate-rack fixed against the wall.
Besides being the scullery, the back-’ouze is also now the wash-’ouze, since, about the same time that the bodley cooking-stove was placed in the back kitchen, a large copper, or furnace, as it is always termed in Devon, was built in one corner of the back-‘ouze, with a separate flue of its own. And in this is now done all the family and household washing.
Near the furnace stands the old wooden mangle or wringing-machine. The mangle is by no means a modern contrivance. Not long since I saw at Moretonhampstead a fine example of an old, I should say undoubtedly eighteenth-century, mangle. The frame was entirely of wood, elm in this case, very stout and strong; the wooden rollers and iron cog-wheels were somewhat similar to the modern form, only of course all hand-made, but instead of the iron springs at the top, the leverage was obtained by two heavy granite weights which were hung on iron levers below the rollers, something after the style of the old lever cheese-press. There is a large table on which the folding and ironing is done.
Some large farm-houses have a separate wash-‘ouze, but as a rule the furnace will be found, as in this case, in the back-ouze or scullery. Of course on many small farms the washing is still done in one of the large iron or metal cooking-pots, boiler, crock, or dish-kettle, over the hearth fire, there being no separate furnace.
The outer door of the back-’ouze leads us into the back-court, or backlet as it is usually termed in Devon. This is a small court-yard in the form of a quadrangle, paved with cobble-stones. On the north side of this court is the back door leading from the main passage of the house, on a line with which are the dairy and the cheese-room, which, as will be seen from the Ground Plan, are part of the main structure of the house. Their windows, which of course face north, look out into this court. Along the wall on this side of the court, and embracing these two windows, is a narrow, tiled, lean-to roof, supported upon four stout oak posts, in the form of a verandah, and known as the skilling. Under this are placed, on a long wooden jib, the empty milk-pails, strainers, cream-pans, reamers, butter-tubs and boards, calves’ drappers, and other dairy utensils, to dry and sweeten after being washed and scoured.
On the east side of the court is the back-’ouze, which we have just noticed, near to the door of which, on the outside, is another pump, encased in wood with sloping top, having a wooden handle and a large granite trough, known as the pump-traw, or plump-traw. This is the original pump, the one inside the back-’ouze being a later addition. In some farm-houses the pump is found in a separate little room or building of its own, known as the pump-’ouze. Also hanging on the wall here is the large wooden and perforated zinc meat-safe, which serves as a larder as well.
Beyond the back-’ouze, on the same side of the court, is the wood- and turf-’ouze, in which the fuel for the hearth fires is stored. Beyond this again is the cellar, in which are stored casks of beer, hogsheads (pronounced ’ockseads) of cider for home consumption, and in later times also a large drum of paraffin oil for the lamps. The casks are placed on wooden stands known as jibs, and near by will be found the wooden mallet used in “tapping” them, also many spare spiles, spickets, tunners (funnels), corks with bits of sacking for bung-’oles, etc. The term “cellar”, in reference to a farm-house, never implies an underground vault, as in a town house, but always a room or outbuilding, more usually the latter, on the same, or nearly the same, level as the ground-floor rooms of the house,
On the south side, that is facing one as one enters the backlet from the house, are the pound-’ouze, in which the cider is made, and the brew-’ouze, both of which will be fully dealt with in the Appendix, under the headings of Cider-making and Brewing respectively. Between these two buildings is a small gate leading into the kitchen gardens, which I dealt with in Part I.
Finally, on the west side is a large gate leading into the farm-court, where are the barn, stables, shippens, etc., which I also dealt with in Part I. On either side of this gate are blank walls, really the backs of the round-’ouze and the pigs’-’ouzes, or pigs-lewzes, as they are often termed, as will be seen from the Plan. In the latter wall are two small wooden hatches, through which the pigwash could be tipped without having to go into the farm-court.
Across the backlet is stretched the old iron-wire clothes-line, affixed to two tall wooden posts with small cross pieces at the top to prevent the wire from slipping down. On this the family washing is hung up to dry by means of the old wooden cloase-pegs.
We will now once more enter the main building by the back door at the end of the passage, and the first door on the left-hand side of the passage, as one enters this way, will take us into the dairy. A glance at the Ground Plan will make this quite clear.
The dairy being some 2 ft. lower than the passage, one has to descend two steps into it. It is floored with smooth stone flags, as are the majority of dairies in old farm-houses. The great object aimed at in the construction of a dairy being coolness, the stone flags ensure a cool floor. Modern dairy floors are usually cemented or tiled.
The window, which faces north, is always left open, if indeed there is any glazed window at all, the opening being covered with fine perforated zinc (pronounced prefforated sink), to keep the dust out as far as possible, and also to prevent cats and birds, etc., from entering. In earlier times thicker perforated iron ventilators were used.
Around the walls, on three sides of the dairy, and some 3 ft. up from the floor, is a long and deep shelf or staging, usually of thick slate, supported by stone masonry, on which the cream-pans are placed both before and after the milk has been scalded, also the rolls of butter ready for market. In some old dairies these shelves are of wood, but stone or slate is far preferable, both for coolness and cleanliness.
In the centre of the dairy is a large rectangular table, often with slate top, on which the butter scales (always spoken of as weights in Devon) stand, and on which the butter was sometimes made; though, except in very hot weather, it was more usually made at the zink-traw in the back-’ouze, as the water was then handy. In up-to-date modern dairies water is always laid on in the dairy itself as well.
In the right-hand corner of the east wall of the dairy is another door, leading into the cheese-room. This room is similar in size and appearance to the dairy; only there are tiers of shelves around the walls, on which the cheeses are stored. In this room will be found the cheese-tub, cheese-press, and other utensils used in cheese-making, which will be more fully dealt with in an article on that subject in the Appendix.
We will now retrace our steps back to the passage, as there still remain two rooms on the ground-floor which we have not yet entered. These are the two sitting-rooms on the right-hand side of the vore-door as one enters the house from the front garden; they are known in this farm-house as the parlour (pronounced parldur) and the dining-room. I have left these to the last, because, although they contain many things of interest, they are the rooms which are least often used, being made use of as a rule only on Sundays and special occasions. At least this was the case up to some thirty years or so ago.
At the present day, however, since most farmers’ daughters have learnt to play the piano and sing, the parlour, which contains the piano, is far more frequently occupied than in former days, when the utmost that the majority of them could do was to pick out hymn-tunes with one finger, of a Sunday afternoon, and even that with considerable difficulty and many mistakes!
A still more potent reason why the farm-house sitting-rooms are used so much more frequently than of old is the fact that a large number of farmers now take in “visitors”, at any rate during the summer months. And this has tended, more than anything else, to the majority of these farm parlours having been so much altered and modernized.
However, the parlour we have just entered is of the old order. And there are still a fair number of farm-house parlours to be found, especially on the larger farms, in which much of the old furniture, and many of the old pictures and ornaments, are still retained; though in but few cases will the parlour furniture be found to be of much older date than early and mid-nineteenth century.
The floor of the parlour was formerly of stone, like that of the kitchens, but about the middle of the nineteenth century this was taken up, and a boarden or planch floor put in, which raises it slightly above the level of the passage, so that there is a small step up on entering the room. A planch floor, when carpeted, is certainly conducive to greater comfort in a sitting-room, being less tiring to the feet, and tending to greater warmth and dryness, provided only that dry-rot can be kept out, which is no easy matter in these old houses which were built in the days long before such improvements as damp-courses or floor ventilators were thought of.
There is in this parlour one latticed window of three lights, facing south and looking into the front garden, similar to the windows of the front kitchen. On the window-ledge will be seen more flowering plants and ferns in pots, while the lower ledge forms a pleasant window-seat.
The ceiling is plastered, like that of the front kitchen, the main beams being exposed to view in the same way.
The fireplace, judging by the width of the chimney-stack, was originally intended for a hearth fire, but for many years the opening has been partially built up, and a hob-grate, of late eighteenth or early nineteenth-century date, has been inserted, having wide hobs on either side for resting a kettle or saucepan on. There is a large fender and fire-irons of burnished steel, and a brass trivet which hangs on to the top bar of the grate. In front of the fender is one of the old-fashioned clip-rugs, or rag-mats, made by the labourers’ wives and daughters from clippings of cloth of various colours sewn together on strong canvas, and making a rug which for comfort and durability cannot be beaten. There is also a long and narrow fender-stool, upholstered with wool-work, on which to rest the feet.
At the back of the chimney-piece is the old “parlour looking-glass”. It stands on the mantel-shelf, the upper part being fixed to the wall by wall-plates. The frame is of rose-wood, having round pilasters on either side with caps and bases, of wood gilded over, running up to angle blocks, and on the upper part of the frame another such pilaster, laid horizontally, connecting the two upper blocks. These old looking-glasses are still met with fairly frequently in old houses. There is scarcely any variation in their form. One may be seen in Plate X.
In the centre on the mantel-shelf stands the “parlour clock”, one of the old English brass “skeleton clocks”, in which the works are all exposed to view, and which is always kept under a glass shade. There is a pair of “lustre” candlesticks with cut-glass pendants, one at either end of the mantel-shelf. Between these and the clock will be found small figures of Staffordshire ware, such as a pair of small red and white dogs, sheep with imitation woolly fleeces, a little chainy house with figures looking out of windows, and a small vase of coloured wax flowers under a glass shade. Most of these ornaments will be seen in Plate X, but the clock is an American clock.
The parlour fireplace is against one of the inner walls, as will be seen on the Plan, and the massive chimley-breast projects a good 2 ft. into the room, leaving deep recesses on either side.
To the right of the fireplace is a door leading into the dining-room; and to the left, in the corner of the room, a boxed-in wooden staircase leading to the chimber above, similar to the one in the front kitchen.
The first piece of furniture to notice is the large mahogany couch with curved ends and arched back, the back, seat and ends being upholstered in black horse-hair, and having bolsters and cushions of the same material to match. It stands against the wall opposite to the fireplace, and on a line with the door from the passage. It is capable of seating at least six persons sitting side by side. It was not unfrequently used as an emergency bed during the Christmas festivities.
The large circular rose-wood table, standing nearly in the middle of the room, is an ugly cumbrous piece of furniture, which in early nineteenth-century days supplanted the older and far more graceful gate-legged table of seventeenth-century design. On this table reposes the large family Bible, placed on a coloured wool mat, together with one or more photograph albums and some photos in frames of various members of the family, past and present, the former being old daguerreotypes. In the centre of the table stands a stuffed owl under a glass shade, also on a wool mat. In summer there is a bowl of roses or other flowers, which are renewed each Sunday morning, but get somewhat daver’d (faded) by the end of the week. There is also a small round table of walnut near the window, the top of which opens, disclosing a deep work-box underneath, lined with red silk.
The mahogany chiffonier stands against the wall on a line with the window and near to the corner by the door leading into the dining-room. The lower portion consists of a spacious cupboard and one long narrow drawer above it, this is surmounted by a flat top with arched back containing a small mirror with two small shelves on either side. In the centre, on the top of the chiffonier, stands a large vase of coloured wax flowers under a glass shade, and two more “lustre” candlesticks; and there will also be seen displayed thereon many interesting old jugs and mugs, some of which were once in common use, others being always intended primarily for ornament. There is the “toby-jug”, representing a farmer in eighteenth-century dress, with knee-breeches and three-cornered hat, holding a foaming jug of ale upon his knee. Then there is the “cow-jug”, sometimes with a milkmaid sitting or standing by its side, the open mouth of the cow forming its spout, and the curled tail its handle. There are also quaint old jugs of Staffordshire and lustre ware with representations of various farm implements on them, many of them also bearing quaint mottoes and verses. On one of them are the following lines: –
“God speed the Plow.
He that by the Plow would thrive
Himself must either hold or drive.”
While on the opposite side is a circle enclosing this verse: –
“Success to the Plow
The Fleece and the Pail,
May the Landlord ever flourish
And the Tenant never fail.”
On another jug, and also on a mug with two handles, are these well-known lines: —
“Let the wealthy and great
Roll in splendour and state,
I envy them not I declare it;
I eat my own lamb,
My own chickens and ham,
I shear my own fleece and I wear it.
I have lawns, I have bowers,
I have fruits, I have flowers,
The lark is my morning alarmer;
So jolly boys now,
Here’s God speed the plough,
Long life and success to the farmer. ”
A number of smaller ornaments and knick-knacks, too numerous to mention, will also be found here. The chiffonier, with its contents, is figured in Plate XI. The more elaborate chiffonier, with marble top and china-cupboard with glass doors below, is not often met with in farm-houses.
Against the wall opposite to the window stands the piano. It is one of the old-fashioned tall upright instruments, known technically as a “cabinet piano”. Its case is of solid mahogany and stands over 6 ft. in height. The massive top is supported on two Corinthian pillars, and the space between these pillars is filled up with pleated red silk, now somewhat faded. Its tone is thin and tinkling compared with that of a modern instrument, but nevertheless is pleasing and old-world. This piano is figured in Plate XII.
Another type of piano, very frequently met with in old farm-house parlours, is the “square” or “table-piano”, which, when closed up, looks like a rectangular table, and has often been used as a sideboard. Both these types of pianos are of early nineteenth-century date; though, in the majority of cases, they have not been in the farm-house since they were new instruments, but have been bought second-hand at sales some thirty or forty years ago, when farmers’ daughters first began regularly to learn music.
Standing in front of the piano is a large square music-stool, with upholstered wool-work seat; and by its side is an old wooden “canterbury” containing the music. See Plate XII.
In the left-hand corner of the same wall is a corner-cupboard with glass door, containing more chainy figures and ornaments and many small articles of interest belonging to former generations. In this cupboard may be seen the old hour-glass, dating back to the time when clocks were very much scarcer and dearer, which was used principally to time the roasting of a joint and the baking of bread, etc. It took one hour for the red sand to run from the upper glass bulb into the lower one. The hand-made frame which supports the glass vessel is usually of wood, though sometimes of brass. Hour-glasses were once commonly used in churches for the preacher to time his sermon by, and occasionally one of the old wrought-iron cup-like brackets, which formerly contained the hour-glass, may still be seen affixed to the pulpit in some country churches in Devon, and probably elsewhere also. An hour-glass will- be seen in the corner-cupboard in Plate XII, another one on top of the settle in Plate IV, from which it will be readily seen that the small five-minute “egg-timer” is the lineal descendant of the old hour-glass.
In this same corner-cupboard may be seen gramfer’s large “turnip” watch, with old verge escapement, in silver case, his hornen snuff-box and sparticles (spectacles), the old punch-ladle with bowl of silver and handle of horn, and other small objects, all relics of olden days. The corner-cupboard with some of its contents will likewise be seen in Plate XII.
Occasionally one may see one of the old spinning-wheels, an example of which is figured in Plate XIII, another one in Plate VIII. They were formerly, up to about the commencement of the nineteenth century, in common daily use by the women-folk of the family, both married and single being “spinsters” in those days. “The sight of these simple pieces of mechanism”, says Miss Jekyll, “mechanism that supplemented but did not supplant hand labour – makes one think how much fuller and more interesting was the rural home life of the olden days, when nearly everything for daily use and daily food was made and produced on the farm, or in the immediate district; when people found their joy in life at home, instead of frittering away half their time in looking for it somewhere else; when they honoured their own state of life by making the best of it within its own good limits, instead of tormenting themselves with a restless striving to be, or at any rate to appear to be, something that they are not. Surely that older life was better and happier and more fruitful, and even, I venture to assume, much fuller of wholesome daily interests. Surely it is more interesting, and the thing when made of more vital value, when it is made at home from the very beginning, than when it is bought at a shop.”
But unfortunately, as a general rule, if the spinning-wheel has been preserved at all, it has long since been banished to the lumber-room, along with the yarn-winder and the old wooden hand-loom.
Another article, still sometimes met with in the farm-house parlour, is the old carved or “scratched” oak Bible-box, of Elizabethan and Jacobean days; though it is no longer used for what it was originally intended, viz. to keep the Protestant Bible safe under lock and key during the century or so which followed the Reformation. If found at all, it is now used merely as a receptacle for any odds and ends. But both it, and the old oak desk of the same period, are, like the spinning-wheel, more likely to be found stowed away in the lumber-room than anywhere else. It is surprising how many of these “treasures” have come to light, even in recent years, when farms have changed hands, especially after they have been in the occupation of one family for many generations.
On one side, in front of the fireplace, stands a large “grandfather-chair”, upholstered in leather and having leather cushions, the leather being considerably worn. One will be seen in Plate IV. On the other side is a large spindle-backed rocking-chair, and there are two square “box” foot-stools with wool-work tops. There are five or six “occasional” chairs, of the ladder-back, spindle-back, and “country-made Chippendale” styles; no two of them alike. For this parlour was furnished in the days before the “parlour suite” (consisting of settee, two arm-chairs, and six occasional chairs, all exactly alike, and upholstered in hideous green saddle-bag) was thought of. These chairs are perhaps the most interesting, certainly the most valuable, pieces of furniture to be found in most farm-house parlours, which as a rule do not contain much of intrinsic value to the collector of antiques.
The pictures, which are numerous, relate chiefly to farming and agricultural, Biblical, and naval subjects. And they are usually in plain oak, mahogany, or maple wood frames. Many examples may be seen in Plates XI, XII, and XIII. Not unfrequently pictures painted on glass are found. I have a fine one of Queen Anne, in an oval gilt frame; it was given to me by my old nurse, in whose family it had been for generations. It has been pronounced by an expert to be contemporary work of the period, and therefore of some value. This picture will be seen in Plate VII.
There is also, of course, the framed sampler, found in almost every old farm-house and cottage parlour. Samplers vary in date, from early eighteenth century (examples of which are rare) to mid-nineteenth century. The designs are endless, but usually contain conventional flowers, trees and birds, with often the letters of the alphabet and some quaint and original verses, together with the name and age of the worker, and the date when worked. Nearly every farmer’s family has at least one sampler worked by a member of a former generation. There are also old pictures of needle-work, both in coloured silks and wool, some very beautiful. There are square and circular placques of pink and white lustre ware, depicting rustic scenes, or texts, such as “Prepare to meet thy God.”
Supported on a bracket against the wall is a model of an old oak battleship in a glass case, made by a former member of the family, who served in the Royal Navy in the days of Nelson. See Plate XIII. On the wall in the window recess, and resting on a special bracket made for it, is a glass bottle containing a small ship. How the ship got there was always a mystery to me as a child, but I have since been told that it was inserted through the neck of the bottle in a flattened condition, and that the rigging was pulled up into position by means of long threads attached to it, which were afterwards cut off short. But this does not account for the little model lighthouse and cottages also to be seen in the background within the bottle. The bottle will be seen in Plate XIV, but unfortunately the ship is hardly discernible.
There has always been a close connection between farmers and sailors, both seamen of the Royal Navy and fishermen; and this, no doubt, accounts for the number of sea pictures and models of ships so often met with in farm-houses, In the old smuggling days, many farmers, even those living at considerable distance from the sea-coast, had kegs of brandy and other “duty free” goods brought to them by sailors and fishermen, who, in return for this service, were not only well paid, but were liberally entertained by the farmers, with whom they were on the best of terms.
Another ornament, found hung against the wall of almost every farm-house and cottage parlour, is the so-called “Bristol roller”, a glass rolling-pin, which was made in various sizes and colours, usually with transfers and mottoes stamped on it. A large one may be seen in Plate XI, a smaller one in Plate VII. As there are some interesting facts in connection with this familiar cottage ornament, an article on the “Bristol roller” will be given in the Appendix.
Glass walking-sticks, and other objects made of the same material, are also frequently met with, especially in farm-houses and cottages situated near a town which contains, or has contained, an old glass factory. Often, too, will be found one or more glass balls, of either silvered or transparent coloured glass, hanging from the ceiling, usually near the window. These were known as “witch balls”, and were supposed, in some mysterious way, to ward off the influence of the “evil eye” of witches. Two of these balls will be seen in Plate XIV.
The old constable’s staff, or baton, will also be seen in Plate XIV. It formerly belonged to a member of the family who had served as a constable in the days before the regular police force was instituted. The letters W.R. painted on it show that it dates back to the reign of William IV. They frequently have G.R., which stand for George III or IV, and of course V.R. for early Victorian.
The bludgeon, the flint-lock pistol, the brass and the leather powder and shot flasks, and the constable’s rattle will also be seen on the wall near the mantel-shelf.
We will now pass through the door on the right-hand side of the fireplace, which leads us into the dining-room. This was the arrangement of the sitting-rooms in this particular farm-house when I knew it, and in a good many others that I have been in. But in most old manor houses the rooms are found in just the opposite order, the dining-room being the outer room entered directly from the hall, and the parlour the inner room, when the latter was the true “withdrawing-room”, to which the ladies retired after dinner, while the men remained in the dining-room to finish their one, two, or three bottles of port apiece! The withdrawing-room in course of time became shortened into the present-day meaningless term – “drawing-room”.
I have little doubt that, in many of the old farm-houses also, this was the original order of these two rooms, and that it was altered to its present order probably in early nineteenth-century days, when the dining-room was no longer used so frequently, while the parlour came more and more into vogue.
The furniture in the dining-room, though in reality far more antique, being some two centuries older than most of that found in the parlour, yet in appearance strikes one as far less antiquated. This is, no doubt, because the excellent old styles of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries have of late years been revived, and may be seen, either in genuine pieces or in facsimile reproductions, in most up-to-date town houses and in many of the modern hotels. The late Georgian and early Victorian furniture of the parlour, on the other hand, is no longer fashionable, and has, perhaps deservedly, been allowed to die out and not been reproduced. But, though ugly and cumbrous as much of the parlour furniture is, it yet has a certain old-world charm of its own, when seen in appropriate surroundings, such as the parlour we have just surveyed. It has one merit at least, it is strong and thoroughly well made, and is in every respect vastly superior to the present-day nondescript factory-made suites, or the rickety bamboo and base imitations of Oriental styles so much in vogue in the ’seventies and ’eighties of the last century.
The dining-room, at the period to which this description mainly applies, viz. about fifty years ago, was used only on very special occasions, as, when the squire brought over a shooting party, or (in the case of a tenant-farmer) when the landlord paid him a visit, or when the local M.P., or would-be M.P., called to solicit his vote. How comes it, then, that many of these old farm-house dining-rooms, though so little used, should so often contain such hand-some and valuable pieces of furniture and plate?
It should be borne in mind that the social status of the average yeoman farmer in this country, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, was considerably higher than it is now. Though (with few exceptions) always a thoroughly practical farmer, and never ashamed to turn his hand to any work that might be required of him on the farm, he nevertheless, in his private life, lived more after the manner of the squire or country gentleman of later nineteenth-century days. He was quite the social equal of the doctor, the ‘turney, the merchant, and, in many cases, even of the pa’ss’n; with all of whom he was on friendly and intimate terms, accepting their hospitality and extending his own to them in return.
Many of the sons of yeomen farmers, who had long fam’lies, regularly entered one or other of these professions; and intermarriages between the sons and daughters of farmers and country practitioners were of almost daily occurrence. Moreover, they were all keen sportsmen, and accustomed to meet at least once a week in the hunting-field during the hunting season. Indeed, it was no uncommon thing for a yeoman farmer to run a pack of hounds of his own; and after the day’s sport was over, he would entertain his friends and colleagues of the field to dinner, and give them of his best. So, in those days, the old dining-room was in constant use.
It is not that the farmer himself has materially altered; he is still, with few exceptions, the same kind-hearted generous fellow as of old, but his financial position at the present day would never admit of his entertaining as his forebears did a hundred years ago. Owing to the years of agricultural depression which followed the repeal of the Corn Laws in mid-nineteenth-century days, many good old yeomen families were reduced to the condition of small hard-working farmers, while their descendants were often still further reduced to that of agricultural labourers. Even those who were able to retain their position as yeomen were very much poorer than they had been in the previous century.
A far greater change, though, has taken place in the professional classes. The old rough-and-ready country doctor and ’turney, and the old hunting pa’ss’n, are now beings of the past. The advances in medical science, the improvements in the laws of our country, and the reforms in the services of the Church, all demand an education which could never have been attained under the old system, when the village dame’s school was considered a sufficiently sound early training, followed by a year or two at a private school “for the sons of farmers and professional men” at the nearest market town. Nowadays, with a public school and university education, these youngsters are turned out polished “gentlemen of the world”; while their former friend and colleague, the yeoman farmer, still prefers to adhere, more or less, to the old regime for the education of his children, even when he could afford the public school fees, which few nowadays can.
This difference in education has unfortunately caused a breach between the farmer and the professional class; so that, if intermarriage does take place, it is now looked upon by the latter class in the light of a mésalliance. Alas! that it should be so, for some of the best English blood runs in the veins of our stalwart yeomen farmers.
Another feature, resulting from this difference in education which tends to widen the breach, is that the farmer still speaks his native dialect, while the professional classes no longer do so. Less than a hundred years ago, almost every country doctor, ’turney, squire and parson spoke with a strong provincial accent, and was justly proud of his native brogue. Now he dare no longer use it, for if he did so, he knows he would not be received in “polite society”.
Whether these changes have proved beneficial or otherwise to the community, is not for me to say. I merely state facts. But they have undoubtedly killed much of the bonhomie and hail-fellow-well-met spirit which formerly existed between the farmer and the professional man in the country.
The first marked rise in the social position of the yeoman farmer began with the increased prosperity of agriculture during the latter half of the sixteenth century. This was followed by the civil and parliamentary wars of the seventeenth century, when most of the old landed gentry threw in their lot with the unfortunate and misguided House of Stuart, and by so doing ruined themselves and their families and lost practically everything. It was owing to this fact that much valuable furniture and plate passed into the hands of the thrifty hard-working yeoman families, who had wisely remained neutral during the years of civil strife, and at the same time had contrived to amass considerable fortunes, which their descendants continued to enjoy until evil times came upon them in the nineteenth century.
The dining-room, as will be seen from the Plan, is similar in size and shape to the parlour. Its fireplace is the exact complement to that of the former room, the two flues being carried into the same massive chimney-stack. But in this case the original hearth-place opening is left, and the grate is not a fixture, but is what is termed a dog-grate, that is a movable iron bar-grate, on which large logs and turf can be burnt; and in place of a fender there is a granite coping. Behind the dog-grate is a fine old iron fire-back with moulded design, and upon the wall over the carved oak mantelpiece is a plaster moulding representing the arms of some former owner, with seventeenth-century date. In the centre of the mantelpiece stands an old English bracket clock, which chimes the hours and quarters on eight bells. On either side of the clock are massive bronze vases and a pair of fine old silver candlesticks.
The ceiling of this room shows traces of fine moulding, though much of it has now perished. The oak floor-boards are kept polished.
The furniture is all of dark oak, and mostly of Jacobean date. In the centre of the room is the solid oak dining-table with bulbous legs which are further supported at the bottom by stretchers. Its top is kept brightly polished. Two oak arm-chairs stand, one at either end of the table, and four occasional chairs on either side, all of the straight high-backed pattern. Near the window is a small oak gate-legged table. This type of folding table, in various sizes, has been popular since the middle of the seventeenth century. It is too well known to need further description; hundreds are being reproduced daily in our furniture factories at the present time.
Against the wall opposite to the window stands the typical old oak seventeenth-century sideboard, consisting of a large cupboard below and two smaller ones above, set back from the front of the lower one, the whole being surmounted by a top shelf, supported by the upper cupboards and two boldly turned pillars. This piece of furniture, also, has been much reproduced of late years; though in many a modern dining-room the sideboard proper has been replaced by the dresser, genuine or reproduced, which properly belongs to the kitchen.
Upon the sideboard will be seen displayed some fine old silver tankards and flagons and a pair of silver salvers. In the centre stands a large copper tea-urn, and there are various cut-glass decanters and rummers, also an inlaid wooden tea-caddy, knife-box, and bread-truckle.
A massive oak settee, with straight back, stands against the wall opposite to the fireplace; and against the same wall, on a line with the settee, will be seen the fine old eight-day grandfather clock, with brass dial, in oak case. The eight-day differs from the thirty-hour clock in that the going and striking movements are on separate trains, driven by separate weights which are attached to gut lines, and are wound up by means of a key, instead of being merely pulled up by hand, as in the simpler type with single weight and chain.
The fine oak corner-cupboard, standing in the corner on the left of the window, and containing blue china of the old willow pattern, completes the furniture in this room.
The pictures consist chiefly of family portraits, most of which will not bear close inspection from an artistic point of view, but are much valued by their owner as a guarantee of his ancient yeoman ancestry. There are also a few coloured prints of various hunting scenes, cock-fighting episodes, etc.
We have now completed our survey of the ground-floor rooms, and must retrace our steps once more through the parlour, the passage, and back into the front kitchen, where we shall ascend the winding wooden staircase, or pair o’ stairs, which will be seen in the right-hand corner from the door by which we entered. This staircase is familiarly known as the timbern ‘eel (timber hill), and it leads straight up into the bedroom, or chimber, in which the farmer and his dame always slept.
Originally there was no passage at all on the upper floor, and every one of the six bedrooms opened directly one into another. And, as there were only three staircases – one from the front kitchen, one from the back kitchen, and one from the parlour – certain of the bedrooms could only be reached by passing through another, and sometimes two other, rooms first.
But from the time I knew the house, an upper passage, or “landing”, had been made immediately above the main drangway, by cutting off small portions of four of the bedrooms; and a main staircase had been made from the lower passage to the upper one, though the old timbern ‘eels were still used regularly, more often indeed than the main staircase, except by visitors. Even this improvement still left the two inner bedrooms, on the right-hand side of the front porch, able to be entered only through connecting doors from the outer rooms, as before.
The bedrooms, being practically the same size as the lower rooms over which they stood, could by no means have been called small, but they were distinctly low in proportion to their size, being little more than six feet in height, and their ceilings took the slope of the roof. The small latticed casement windows were built out in dormer, or chicket, fashion, with separate little gables. No doubt one of the chief reasons why the bedroom ceilings in old farm-houses and cottages almost invariably follow the slope of the roof is that thatched roofs are obliged to be pitched more stickle (steep) than tiled or slated ones, in order that rain water may drain off them more effectually and not soak into the thatch.
The floors of all the bedrooms consisted of broad elemen planches (elm planks), more than twice the width of the average modern deal floor-board. There were no fireplaces in any of them, but where there were fireplaces, against an inner wall in the rooms below, as in the parlour and dining-room in this house, the massive chimley-breast would be seen protruding into the bedrooms above, and as it gradually gets narrower by stages, wide ledges are formed at the side, which serve as shelves for books and other articles. There are also many cupboards of various sizes found in the walls of these old bedrooms, often furnished with crooks or shelves, or both, and doing duty for both wardrobe and chest-of-drawers. These cupboards, being in rooms without fireplaces, are usually somewhat damp and fusty, or, as the Devonian would say, smell a bit old, and anything kept in them for any length of time will soon acquire the same odour.
The bedrooms are but sparsely furnished, though what furniture they have is strong, useful, and well made. The principal article of furniture to notice in the farmer’s own bedroom is the large oak tester bed, better known as a vower-paust (four-post) bed, with heavy canopy, and curtains which can be drawn around both sides and the foot of the bed. I can well remember my grandfather sleeping on such a bed, on a plum veather-tye (soft feather-bed), with nightcap on, the bed-curtains drawn all round, and the window shut even on a hot summer night!
In the other bedrooms will be found the half-tester bed,. with canopy and curtains covering the top half of the bed only. The children and farm-servants sleep on the old-fashioned iron bedsteads with slightly arched back. The old oak cradle of Jacobean design is still occasionally to be met with in old farm-houses.
There is, in the farmer’s own bedroom, a fine old chest-of-drawers, or pair o’ drawers, as it is usually termed in Devon, of the tallboys type, and a couple of windsor chairs. This, in the old days, constituted the sum total of bedroom furniture in the average farm-house. Of course, in later days, dressing-tables, washstands, wardrobes, pedestal cupboards, and so on, have been added. The pictures consist mainly of Biblical subjects and framed scriptural texts.
The small room over the porch was used as a lumber-room, though in some farm-houses it serves as a small extra bedroom. The space between the ceilings of the bedrooms and the thatched roof – known as the cock-loft or cock-lart, and entered by means of trap-hatches in the ceilings of one or more of the bedrooms – was used for the storage of woordin’ awples (hoarding apples), zeed tetties, onions, etc., etc., and various odds and ends.
But, as I said at the outset, this sketch depicts the old Devon farm-house rather as it was up to about fifty years ago than as it is now. For, with but very few exceptions, even when the exterior structure remains more or less untouched, the interiors of almost all the old farm-houses have been considerably altered, so as to conform more nearly to modern ideas of comfort and hygiene. And, in addition to the introduction of the staircase and landing already alluded to, not unfrequently one of the bed-rooms, or a portion of it, has been converted into a bathroom.
Such innovations as these one cannot reasonably regret, since they are conducive to the greater comfort, decency and morality of the farmer and his family. But it does go to one’s heart to see the fine old farm kitchens converted into modern living-rooms, their grand old hearth fireplaces built up and wretched close cooking-ranges put in their place, their beautiful old beams encased in hideous pitchpine match-boarding, their picturesque old latticed windows replaced by modern sash-windows, and their time-honoured hand-made furniture superseded by the miserable nondescript factory productions of the present day.
One can only hope that the few genuine old farm-houses, which are still to be met with in the county in a more or less unspoiled condition, may remain in the hands of those who will love and respect them for what they are, and will not seek to convert them, so to speak, into mean and tawdry imitations of fashionable town dwelling-houses.
Before concluding, I should like to point out the desirability of acquiring and preserving at least one typical example of the old Devon farm-house, with its furniture and utensils intact, before it is too late and they have all been swept away and forgotten. Or, if this could not conveniently be done, the desirability of erecting on some suitable spot in, or near, one of our large towns – our county town of Exeter by preference – a “life-size” model in lath and plaster, or better still in cob, of a typical old farm-house, complete with its furniture and household utensils, as they appeared up to about fifty years ago.
This has been done successfully in Sweden and Denmark,* and there seems no reason why it should not be done in this country.
* See Hayden, Chats on Cottage and Farm-house Furniture, p. 38.
With the passing away of old farm life, there has been a steadily growing interest taken in old farm-house furniture and utensils during the last twenty years, both by students of native craftsmanship and by lovers of relics of bygone days. And much of this class of furniture has of late years been added to many of our museums.
But, if old farm-house furniture is worth preserving at all, due consideration should surely be given as to the best means of exhibiting it. Now there can be no doubt about it how very much more interesting and life-like it appears when exhibited in its natural surroundings within the farm-house, than when displayed in the usual dry-as-dust method of museum arrangement adopted in this country, of rows of chairs and tables, cases of china, etc., without any background. It is like taking a precious jewel out of its setting.
Most natives of any particular county have a very deep affection for anything which is purely local and more or less peculiar to their own county. And perhaps in no other county in England are the natives more imbued with this spirit than in our own county of Devon. So that I venture to think many Devonians would welcome with delight such a representation of a typical old farm-house as I have suggested, which would serve as an epitome of old Devon farm life.
Large sums of money are being spent annually at most of our museums in housing collections of Oriental furniture and china, of arctic and tropical animals, birds, and fishes, but comparatively little has been spent as yet on what is to me, as an Englishman, and I fancy to a good many of my fellow-countrymen also, of far greater interest, pleasure and value – collections of local domestic furniture and utensils, the creations of native brains and hands of bygone days.
Such an undertaking ought not to be impossible, under the auspices of this Association and other antiquarian societies within the county. The authorities at the Royal Albert Museum, Exeter, for instance, might reasonably be approached as to the desirability of granting a site for the erection of a model farm-house, and an appeal made to the general public of Devon for financial support.
If Devon could lead the way, possibly other counties might be induced to follow suit. So that in time we might have the pleasure of seeing in many of our county towns examples of old farm-houses which might be regarded as typical of certain particular localities, and thus preserve for all time this national heritage bequeathed to us by our forefathers.
Such a scheme is, I venture to think, worthy of consideration.