THE Victorian Society lifts the lid on the kitchens of the era.

We do a lot more in our kitchens than the Victorians did in theirs.

In the Victorian period, it was understood that the kitchen was used only for cooking.

Washing-up, scrubbing vegetables and all the messy, low-status activities that involved water were done in the scullery.

Even the smallest Victorian houses had a separate scullery, and it was rare for sinks to be installed in kitchens before the 20th century.

Kitchen walls were of plain plaster, regularly whitewashed or distempered.

A bag of laundry blue in the paint bucket imparted a faint blue tinge to the walls, which was said to repel flies. It also imparted a feeling of coolness to the room.

Lower down, the walls were covered with a high dado of tongue-and-groove boarding painted with washable gloss paint, tiles or glazed brick for hard wear and hygiene.

Windows were high to prevent the servants from daydreaming, or spying on their employer’s family taking the air in the garden.

Open ranges generated huge amounts of heat, so high ceilings, with the windows set as high as possible, also provided the most efficient ventilation.

Gas-fired ranges were exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851 — and in 1868, Shrewsbury’s portable gas oven came on to the market.

However, prejudice, fear of explosions and health scares about eating food impregnated with harmful fumes delayed the widespread introduction of gas ovens, and they did not begin to replace solid-fuel ranges in any numbers until the 1890s.

Few proprietary cleaners were available. Most of the cleaning materials used in the Victorian kitchen and scullery were hard on the hands.

A mixture of soda and soft soap was used for washing-up.

Whiting made a mild, creamy cleaner that would remove grease.

Stronger abrasives such as bath brick and emery powder were used for cleaning knives and iron utensils. Rottenstone was mixed with rape oil to make a paste for cleaning brass and tin.

Washing-up cloths were boiled in water to which a little vinegar had been added. Drains were disinfected with chloride of lime.

Check out