Alnwick District in the Great War

Home Sweet Home

Living Room


Most houses had coal fires in their living room, which was the only room that was really warm because there was no central heating.

This is where the family would sit in the evenings and have their meals.

The fire had to be ‘laid’ every day. The ashes from the fire were cleaned out and sticks, paper and coal placed in the metal grate. Coal was usually kept in a coal scuttle or bucket beside the fire. A coal man would deliver coal to the houses from a cart. Most houses had a coal shed in their backyard or a metal manhole cover that could be removed and the coal tipped into the cellar below.

The wooden table had a thick tablecloth on it. At meal times, people sat around the table. Children were told 'sit up straight' and 'don't talk with your mouth full'!


What did the family do in the Evening?

There was no television, computers or radios. There were armchairs, but the children often played on the floor. They entertained themselves with books, games, and playing music on an early type of record player called a gramophone. Some families with pianos enjoyed a 'sing-song' together.



Most kitchens were small, except in rich people's houses.


In a typical kitchen there was a gas cooker, sink, and cupboards. Some kitchens had electric light, but most only had gas.  There were no electric kettles, coffee makers, electric toasters, food mixers or microwaves.


The larder or pantry was where the family stored most of its food. Meat was kept in a metal box or 'meat safe', away from flies. The house had no refrigerator or freezer. In hot weather, milk was kept cool in a bucket of water. On the shelves were tins, bottles, paper bags of flour and sugar, and other groceries such as jars of jam.


• Ironing was hard work - a metal flat iron weighed 4lb (1.8 kg).

• People cut up old blankets to make ironing board covers.


For breakfast, most families had porridge, and if they were better-off, eggs and bacon. Poorer families made do with bread and dripping, which was the fat drained from cooked meat. Popular meals were stews, meat puddings and pies, ham, fish and chips, and Sunday roasts and only vegetables when they were in season.




There were no supermarkets and women had to walk to the local shops or the market to buy food. They shopped at the baker, grocer, greengrocer, fishmonger and butcher. The milkman called every day.



Keeping the flies off

People covered food plates and milk jugs with wire covers or muslin cloth to keep off flies. They swatted insects with fly-swatters, and hung up sticky flypapers to trap them. They used a jam jar covered with a paper cone, wide end at the top. A spot of jam inside attracted flies. A fly could walk in, but not out again.




Washday was hard work. People washed clothes by hand, using bars of soap or soap flakes.  For an extra-hot wash, people put washing in a coal-fired copper or boiler. To dry the washing, they squeezed the water out through the rollers of a contraption called a mangle then hung it on the washing line to dry.



A Child’s Bedroom


Families were usually larger and it was not unusual for there to be 4 or 5 children, sometimes as many as ten! As there were few bedrooms in most houses, children had to share bedrooms. Hot water bottles made of pottery were usually wrapped in a towel because they would be so hot. Rubber hot water bottles were beginning to become popular and were the latest thing.

Homes were gradually changing to electric lighting but most had gas lighting or even paraffin lamps.



Children’s clothes

Children wore smaller versions of grown-up clothes. Boys would wear shorts until they were 11 or 12, sometimes older and then they would be allowed to wear long trousers, jackets, collars and ties. For shoes, they would wear lace-up boots, but poor children would have no shoes at all.   Girls wore long skirts and stockings.




Popular toys were dolls, teddies, zoo and farm animals, toy soldiers (metal not plastic), and wind-up toy trains and cars. War toys included toy guns and battleships. There were plenty of wooden toys too, such as pull-along carts.



Most bathrooms had a metal wash basin and a metal bath. Sometimes the homes did not have a separate bathroom. Instead they had a bath in the ‘scullery’ or kitchen covered by a board, which was taken off when it was bath-time.

Many bathrooms and kitchens (wet and steamy) had curtains made from oiled or rubberised cloth.

In some bathrooms, there were clothes-dryers on ropes that could be pulled up to the ceiling so wet clothes dripped into the bath.

Hot water for the bath gushed from a gas heater. The toilet was often separate, but sometimes in the bathroom.


Pull the chain

The toilet was called the lavatory or water closet (WC). It had a wooden seat. It was flushed by 'pulling the chain' fixed to a lever on the cistern, or water tank. It was basically the same as a modern toilet, but without any plastic fittings - and with a chain.



Outside toilet

An indoor toilet was quite a luxury. Many poor families had an outside toilet, or a privy - a toilet in a shed. Town houses had water on tap, and drains connected to sewers. Most country homes got drinking water from a pump, and their toilets emptied into holes in the ground called cesspits.



Cleaning your teeth

Toothbrushes had natural bristles made from animal hair. Nylon bristles were not invented until the 1930s. There was toothpaste in tubes and solid toothpaste in tins.

Many sailors had beards and some men grew beards to copy King George V. Most men shaved every morning. A man kept his shaving brush and shaving soap in the bathroom. Some men liked old-fashioned 'cut-throat 'razors, which they sharpened or 'stropped' by rubbing them on a leather strap. Others chose new 'safety razors' with disposable razor blades.