When I find old documents that describe the rooms in a house with their fixtures and fittings I sometimes wonder what people in earlier times would have made of some of our modern domestic appliances.
Where they might have employed a scullery maid to wash their dishes, some of us put ours in a special ‘cupboard’, add mysterious white powder, and shut the door without so much as a ‘that will be all thank you Mary’. Our ancestors would probably have been initially alarmed at the strange sounds coming from our dishwashers, but would surely have been astonished on opening the door later to find clean and shiny cutlery and crockery, all intact.
Much of the work in old kitchens involved getting the fire going and keeping it hot, with the time in between spent sweeping out and disposing of the ash, and cleaning the hearth and range, not to mention looking after all the fires in the rest of the house. What then would cooks have made of electric kettles, induction hobs and microwave ovens that generate untold power at the flick of a switch?
One appliance that would surely have been welcomed was the washing machine which can truly be described as a labour-saving device. Washing clothing and linen was physically demanding work with long hours spent boiling, washing, wringing and drying.
Industrialisation has released us from many of these back-breaking and time-consuming chores – although we still have to operate vacuum cleaners, and bathrooms cannot yet clean themselves. It would be fascinating to see how household tasks are done a hundred or two hundred years from now, and what their historians make of our fitted kitchens and wondrous kitchen gadgets.