So I’ve been on-and-off reading the book What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew in conjunction with a hefty text entitled Inside the Victorian Home for a couple of reasons. I’ve always been a sucker for Victorian literature and period films, even though I am by no means under the common illusion that this era was a more enchanted way of life than what we know in modern times. The Victorians had it hard, which I think about each time I climb the 4 flights of stairs to my flat…I might be compelled to whine about the extra weight added by my Marks & Spencer bags, but then I try to imagine what it must have been like for the servant of the house to haul a basin of water up and down all these steps every day if not multiple times a day.
Which brings me to my second reason for delving into these books–on moving to London from the US, my husband and I rented (and are still living in) one of the many flats to be found here inside Victorian terraced houses. Terraced houses are the classic residential buildings you envision when you think of London, with their walk-up entrances, uniformly columned doorways, mansard rooftops, and brick and/or stucco siding. Living in one (as you very likely may when you move to London) has thus inspired me to want to know more about the functionality of the building itself and how family lives transpired there. I think it all started with the gorgeous wooden double-door entrance to the 1st floor unit below us. As I climb the steps holding on to the exquisite period banister still affixed beside them, I gawk at these doors on my way up to my flat and envision them opening to a little ballroom where high society would gather. Okay, it probably was not anything nearly elaborate as all that, but that’s what I wanted to find out…
What I did find out was this. The typical Victorian terraced house comprised 4-5 floors. With respect to a 5-storied house, the lower floor (today’s “garden” apartment) would house the kitchen, the ground floor would be the morning room with the dining room in the back, and the 1st floor (or, in America, the 2nd floor) would have been the drawing room where the master and lady of the house would receive guests–okay, so maybe not a ballroom, but it was important to social gatherings. Moving upward from there, the 2nd floor (the American 3rd floor) was for the master bedroom and perhaps one other smaller bedroom and/or dressing room, and the top floor was for the children’s rooms (perhaps servants’ quarters as well, though some slept on the lower level by the kitchen). This would mean, then, that the entirety of my London living space–my kitchen, my living area, my bedrooms, and my bathroom–would have been merely for the master bedroom. Our living room would have been the master room, and what we consider our master bedroom would have been a secondary bedroom, perhaps for a child, and then the room where our guests sleep that we otherwise use for an office was, well, not necessarily a real room at all, but more of a walk-in closet. Yeesh! And this was just a middle-class house…maybe the Victorians didn’t have it so bad after all…well, the servants sure did. Can you even imagine keeping an entire household like that clean and dusted and laundered all by hand? I’ll think of this next time I’m feeling too lazy to vacuum, empty the dishwasher, or load up the washing machine.
In any case, I’d like to begin a new series of intermittent blog posts on Victorian housing and life as I learn it myself, if I may, just to introduce you to a period in history very readily prevalent to the eye on these streets. London is certainly layered in history, so I don’t want to neglect its other key episodes throughout time–however, this is a little kick I’m on, so I’ll indulge it. In the meantime, if you’re keen to live in a quaint Victorian terraced house, let London Relocation Ltd. find one for you!