The other day, while doing some housework, I remembered the hardworking and brilliant ‘maid of all work’ in a television programme I saw years ago when I first moved to Blackheath, called The 1900 House. I’ve discovered that the whole programme is available to watch again and spent yesterday watching it on my day off while rain and thunderstorms raged outside. The programme was filmed in 1999 and moved a modern family into a house as it would have been in 1900, to create a living history documentary to see how they found the experience of being Victorian. Tough as it happens, but they enjoyed a great deal of it, as did the audience.
There’s a lovely bit a few weeks in where Joyce (the mum) is reflecting on a point at which she’d had enough and just wanted to ‘put on her hat and walk out’. That sounds a very Victorian way of expressing it – no-one really wears everyday hats these days – so it seemed like she was certainly in the right mindset. They all stuck it out. The maid, who was a cleaner in real life and whose mother and grandmother had been too, wasn’t in the programme for very long but there were scenes of her visiting a library to discover more about the very hard life of working class Victorian women who might work for 15 hours a day every day. They didn’t have much time (or resources to fall back on if they lost their job) to campaign for votes for women, something done more by middle class women. It was an interesting programme.
I was very new to Blackheath when it aired in 2000 and had completely failed to spot that it’s set in the next village, Charlton, with excursions into Blackheath Standard. I was reading the Wikipedia article which mentioned Elliscombe Road (‘hang on that sounds familiar’) and then spotted that it was the one in Charlton. The Clarendon Hotel features in the opening sequence as the family changes their 1999 clothes for 1900 ones and are then conveyed in a horse-drawn carriage to their new house in 50 Elliscombe Road.
Occasionally I take the 380 bus to Charlton rail station, alighting at the Sundorne Road bus stop on Wellington Road. The previous bus stop, also on Wellington Road, is the Elliscombe Road one and the bus announces the road name, so I’ve been hearing that name for years while paying attention to it so that I get off at the next one (incidentally I wonder if there are any two bus stops in London closer together than those two). I’d not like to drive a horse and carriage down Eastcombe Avenue though, which is further up in the journey from Blackheath, it’s a bit steep.
The Apple N’Orange fruit shop at Blackheath Standard opposite the library features in the programme too – it’s still there, same name, open late and on Sundays. At one point the eldest daughter gets a Saturday job there to stave off the boredom of having not that much to do and limited opportunities as a sixteen year old Victorian girl. We also see some bicycling going on around Blackheath Pond (Princess of Wales pond) and St German’s Place too.
- The Book of Household Management (Gutenberg free online) by Mrs Isabella Beeton
- Cassells Household Guide (free online)
- 1900 House (The Greenwich Phantom) – there are also comments from Joyce the mum there
1900 House: Featuring Extracts from the Personal Diaries of Joyce and Paul Bowler and Their Family (Amazon) – the book accompanying the series