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Get to know A Bit About Britain - an idiosyncratic view of places to visit in Britain, British history - and stuff. Warts and all. Where shall we go today?

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Changing rooms

York Castle Museum is a lot of fun.  I’ve been there several times and it never fails to delight.  The museum was founded in 1938 and is housed in 18th century prison buildings constructed on the site of the Norman castle.  The galleries include a full-size reconstructed Victorian Street, ‘Kirkgate’, much of it based on real businesses and people.  Plus, there are some wonderful rooms, recreated from past eras, where you can take a trip back in time and/or marvel at how quaint/tatty/awful it all once was.  I guess it depends on your age and state of mind; nostalgia’s not what it used to be.  If some of them look horribly familiar, it is merely indicative of your wide knowledge and vivid imagination.  Or perhaps you like period dramas.

York Castle Museum, Victorian parlour, how people lived, British social history

Take a look at the Victorian parlour.  Now tell me you don’t remember a time when it was common to have a piano in the house, lace mats all over the place, hideous gilt-framed pictures on the wall, a good china tea service and one of those multi-tiered tables in the corner?  You still have all of that?  Well, bless you; you’re looking great.

York Castle, Dales farmouse, how people lived, British social history

The early 20th century farmhouse seems more alien to me – it actually looks older than the Victorian parlour.  But I liked the dog and was impressed that he remained so still, and quiet, whilst people took their photographs.

York Castle, 1940s, how people lived, Ascot heater, British social history

I’m certain they’ve got the 1940s kitchen all wrong.  Surely, Ascot heaters were much, much later than that?  Perhaps this is cutting-edge stuff.  But you still see clothes driers with pulleys to haul them up to the ceiling today – don’t you?

York Castle, 1950s Britain, social changes since 1950

The living room from the 1950s was immediately recognisable, despite me being much too young to ever experience anything like it...  The TV, the Coronation Coach, the tray, train set (a Hornby?), electric fire, leather pouffe, d├ęcor – all very familiar, yet so far removed from a living room of the 21st century.  You can almost see father, pipe clenched between his teeth, reading the newspaper on the settee; of course, he is wearing a jacket and tie.  Messy though - mother must be down the pub.

York Castle, 1980s, mum's kitchen, growing up in Britain

And, finally, a kitchen of the 1980s – I’m assuming that decade, though in many ways it could be the 1970s.  Apart from the Vesta ready meal, the contents of the kitchen cupboard and worktop don’t seem that far away.  But you won’t find coffee sets and kitchen units like that in too many showrooms these days.  Microwaves only really took off in Britain in the 1980s and 90s – though invented in 1947, the first domestic ones were not sold here until 1974; I’m proud to say that I learnt to use one just the other day.


We can all recognise that these rooms are manifestly from another age.  But I’ll bet the perspective is very different, depending which side of 30 you’re on.

10 comments:

  1. rather neat to see an era captured in a room. :)

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  2. Fascinating stuff...and a lot of stuff I remember only too well! The farmhouse is pretty close to some I remember from my childhood, though nobody had a spinning wheel as far as I remember.
    Oh, and by the way a bit of Googling came up with this:
    http://www.londonbusmuseum.com/1940s50s-ascot-water-heater-needed/

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    1. Well, I certainly remember those Ascots in the 1960s and 70s!

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  3. "O" your photos did jog memories, the first Victorian one reminded me of my grans place in Ireland as did the second but like you I'm very dubious about the 1940's kitchen, late 40's maybe. The 50's sitting room looked like where I lived with my parents with that crappy tiled fireplace. I even had one in my sitting room of our present house and nothing gave me greater pleasure than slamming a pickaxe behind it & ripping it off the wall much to the horror of my Father-in Law who through better of trying to stop it going over. The 80's kitchen looks more 70's and I am surprised you have only just learned how to use a microwave, we have had a few but in all honesty I could well do with out it.
    Still I enjoyed the your little walk though brought a lot of memories back.

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    1. Thanks, Bill. I was joking about the microwave, though - been using one for over a year now...

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  4. This brings back memories! I agree with you about the 1940's kitchen. My Grandparent's house was 1940's and they never changed it, so to me, it doesn't look quite right. The 80's kitchen does remind me a bit of my first house that I bought in the 90's... oh my word, what work I had to do to that place! I have to say the living room reminds me of my teenage girl's room... where's the carpet! I'm off to York for work in June, so I'll see if that dog moved... is it real?!

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    1. It's a stuffed dog. If it isn't, it's extremely well-trained!

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  5. We had a ceiling clothes rack in the council house I grew up in the 50s-60s and we had one in the terraced house we lived in late70s/early 80s. Still have a mirror similar to the 1950s one in the storeroom. Used to have one of those metal fireguards at one time.

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    1. Yes - a lot of it's horribly familiar!

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  6. That early 20th century farmhouse setting is quite appealing. Maybe it's the wallpaper that seals the deal with me, or the presence of rocking chairs.

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Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to www.bitaboutbritain.com and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.