© Stuart Stark, Heritage Consultant
Kitchens are rarely photographed, being seen as utilitarian rooms, and not something worth being recorded for posterity. While every home has a kitchen, information on historic kitchens is more difficult to research than most other rooms of a house.
For people wanting to ‘restore’ a Victorian kitchen (pre 1900) for their own use, they usually are approaching it from a romantic viewpoint, rather than from creating a workable room for food preparation. An Edwardian kitchen (1900 – 1920) on the other hand, is usually worth restoring , as those rooms can be easily adapted to encompass most everything that we count on as being essential in a modern kitchen.
Between 1890 and 1920, everything to do with kitchens changed: Food availability and storage; type of food; the lack of servants – who actually made living possible for families – and technology of providing water, fuel and refrigeration. Even the introduction of central heating reduced peoples’ reliance on the kitchen stove for heating the house.
Victorian kitchens – those before 1900 – mostly had not changed a great deal since Georgian times in the early 1800’s. They had a fireplace or a ‘range’ (a built-in-to-the- chimney stove) for cooking, a dresser to keep china on, and a kitchen table for food preparation, at a back-breaking low height. Refrigeration was mostly non-existent, unless one was wealthy and had an ice house. Ice boxes could keep food cold for a short period.
Other forms of food preservation was used, including salting, and canning, by many households. Root cellars could keep potatoes, and other produce through the winter.
Ranges and kitchen stoves in Victorian houses required constant fuel – even in summer – and the resulting heat in the house could be overwhelming to the housewives and servants tasked with food preparation. Water for baths and washing clothes and dishes also had to be heated on the stoves, so there was no let-up with the heating requirements in the house. It was hard, physical work.