Kerry Jordan, Kitchens in the Early Victorian period
Kitchens in the Early Victorian period
Interview with Kerry Jordan
Filmed by Tribal Media
Contributor: Heritage Victoria
What house is that? Interactive, created by Heritage Victoria.
Kerry Jordan describes the various rooms and functions of what we would now call the ‘kitchen’ in larger early Victorian homes. Different tasks took place in different spaces – the kitchen, scullery, pantry and larder.
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Kerry Jordan is an architectural historian at Heritage Victoria. She wrote her PhD thesis on the grand houses of nineteenth century Victoria. In particular she looked at the relationship between interior planning of houses and the social history of the period. She considered how and why local house planning differed from contemporary British models.
If you had a moderate-sized house, for example, you'd definitely have a drawing room and a dining room.And that's where any visitors to the house might be entertained.
But if the house was big, it might also have a library and a morning room and a breakfast room and an afternoon room. And they might double up and just be used at separate times of the day.
For example, a morning room was basically the same as a drawing room but it was used at different times of the day. Similarly, a breakfast room and dining room were still eating rooms but used at different times.
So they became very specialised, and this was especially true in the service functions of the house, so that whereas now we have a kitchen where we store everything and we do the washing up, etc, these functions were much more specialised then.
So that you'd have a kitchen but the kitchen was basically just for cooking in and you'd have a separate scullery off the kitchen where you prepared all the dirty, you know, did the washing and so on first and then afterwards, you'd do the washing up of the dishes.
And similarly for storage, you'd have separate pantries and larders. The pantry's usually for storing dry foods and things like china and glassware, etc, and a larder for storing wet goods, meats and cheeses, etc. And again, this could be infinitely specialised.
So in a very grand house, you might have a separate meat larder, cheese larder, fish larder, bacon larder. So it got a bit ridiculous, in fact, in the end.
So yes, that specialisation of function was very typical of the 19th century.
But for a smaller, less modest house, obviously, that wasn't possible. But often, you still also would have, say, a kitchen and a scullery separate.
So it meant because the kitchen was only used for cooking, you didn't have the built-in storage that we have now. You'd have a big table in the centre, you'd have the stove.You might not even have a place for washing, 'cause that would be done in the scullery.
The kitchens were quite different then.As well as being laid out differently, they were located differently.
In the earliest houses - in, say, the 1840s - the kitchen was most likely to be detached. It was a separate little structure a few metres from the back door of the house, and you can still see this sort of thing in the National Trust house McCrae Cottage, down at McCrae, which was built in the 1840s.
And it's commonly believed that this was largely to prevent fire - that because you're cooking in the kitchen, if there was an accident, the fire wouldn't spread to the house.
But considering that they had fireplaces in the bedrooms and the other rooms anyway, that's not the only reason. But it was also - and I read this in a letter written by a lady in the 1840s - that if you had the kitchen near the house, the servants were more likely to overhear what was going in the house, so it was another way of separating the staff from the family.
So the very earliest kitchens, then, were always detached, but from about the 1850s on, it became much more common to include them in a separate service wing.
And you can see this in most of the terraces around Melbourne, for example, at the moment, that you've got the main part of the house and then you've got a separate little wing, which is lower at the back, and this was for the kitchen and those service functions.
And it wasn't till the late 19th century that the kitchens start to be incorporated into the main body of the house, and of course now we know that it's a very important part of the house because there are no longer servants that need to be kept separated - the family is doing the cooking. Usually, still the housewife, but not always.