Saturday, March 09, 2013

The Housekeeping Book by Susanna Whatman

Laundry day.
Susanna Whatman began this book in the first year of her marriage, 1776, to James Whatman a paper maker. She was mistress of Turkey Court in Kent and she detailed much of her housekeeping instructions for her servants in a book that she kept for twenty-four years. This is a fascinating account of the way a household was run in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.
In it we learn that washing the wooden floors caused them to turn white so she recommended that they were 'dry-rubbed'. Carpets were turned face down and walked on for a while in order for the dust to be driven from them.
Four layers of cartridge paper were stuck together and placed on top of the mattress - this was to collect the dust and make it easier to keep the bed clean. The paper was changed twice a year. I had no idea mattress protectors were in use so early on.
Another thing we discover is that all furniture had to be a hand's width from the stucco walls - this prevented chunks of wall being knocked off when anyone sat down. Wish I'd thought of this before my husband knocked a hole in the wall with his recliner chair.
Mrs Whatman paid her house bills weekly, including butcher's bills, candles and flour. However, soap, wax candles and grocery came down from London and were paid for by draft by Mr Whatman.
Here is an extract of a letter sent from her town house to the butler, William Balston.
27th June 1800
'This is glorious weather for hay making, but sadly hot for being in London. I hope the sun is kept from the pictures and furniture. the blinds will not always exclude it. I am often obliged to shut the shudders. Remind them of the blinds in the Hall: they sd be down by the middle of the day.'
This could  be Susanna and her butler.
(The spelling is hers.)
I wonder why she was still in London so late in the year - the Season was finished and the gentry would be back in the country. I think that although wealthy, Susanna wasn't part of the ton as her husband's money came from trade. Maybe James had business there and she, like a good wife, preferred to remain with him.

When modern women go away the last thing they worry about is the sun getting on to the pictures. Susanna had little to fill her time but housekeeping and she obviously took this very seriously.
I. like most writers, don't 'do' housework - far more interesting things to occupy my time.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into Susanna Whatman's life.
Fenella J Miller
A House Party - available on Amazon.UK & -£0.99


Elizabeth Hawksley said...

What an interesting post, Fenella. I enjoyed it very much. I like the sound of Susanna, busy and practical and, obviously, a good manager of her household.

Re: keeping the sun off pictures. This is important if they are watercolours, otherwise they fade. I try to make sure that any watercolours I have are hung out of direct sunlight.

Fenella J Miller said...

Elizabeth - you're right about the fading - interesting that Susanna must have ahd watercolours she treasured. Wonder who they were painted by.

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

My guess is that Susanna's watercolours would have been painted by female friends or family. It was very much a female accomplishment - didn't Elinor Dashwood paint a watercolour which her sister Marianne thought hadn't been properly appreciated by the unpleasant Fanny?

Fenella J Miller said...

As always, Elizabeth, your knowledge of all things Regency is excellent.Wish my typing was as good :)

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