Using and Cleaning the Kitchen Range

Continuing my Mum’s recollections of how life used to be for her, here are her thoughts on cleaning in the kitchen.

In the summer of my 5th year we moved from a small bungalow where we lived in Peel Common, just outside Fareham, Hampshire. It was very exciting because we moved by horse and cart. It was a huge shire horse and an open cart belonging to people who had befriended my Dad and Mum. The owner wanted to place me on the horse to have a ride but I recoiled from this huge animal. So, life started for us at 21 Beaconsfield Rd, Fareham.

Beaconsfield Road, Fareham
Beaconsfield Road, Fareham c.1959

It was huge after the small bungalow. No more bathing in the tin bath in front of the fire; Mum washing us and Dad drying us and helping us into our nightclothes. Instead, we now had a bathroom upstairs with a washbasin and a toilet. Hot water for the bath was obtained by lighting a gas water heater. Still only a cold water tap for the wash basin which meant we had to carry a kettle of hot water up the stairs to put in the basin when we just had washes. We had three bedrooms too, two large and one small.

Downstairs was the kitchen where we had a gas boiler for washing the clothes and a gas cooker but still only the cold water tap for the sink. There were fireplaces in the two bedrooms and the two rooms downstairs. It was a luxury after the bungalow. Dad always dug the garden to produce carrots, lettuce, potatoes, cabbages etc. There were rhubarb, raspberry, gooseberry and blackcurrant bushes. He also kept 2 ferrets to go rabbiting to eke out his money. Such a different life to when I married. I had never seen a black kitchen range till I saw one in the kitchen of my future mother-in-law, Mrs Clark.

An example of a kitchen range. (Photo from Join Me In The 1900s).

For us in the old thatched house, the toilet was a bucket in the outhouse. There was a tiny kitchen with the usual cold water tap at the sink and no cupboards to put things in. All hot water had to be got by boiling it on the black kitchen range. Some days it was so hard to light. If there was a damp wind that blew downwards it blew the smoke back down the chimney and into the room. Very often I ended up with a sooty face in trying to “draw” the fire to make it burn. Once a week the range had to be cleaned of all ashes and the soot scraped out from between the space between the top of the oven and the top of the range. A long narrow brush cleaned out the pipe which led from the range to up the chimney. I always got so dirty with the soot. I had to wash my hair (with Sunlight soap) have a wash from top to toe and change my clothes. I soon learned that it was easier to don one of your Dad’s all in one, boiler suits that he had for work in the winter, pile my hair on top of my head and pull one of his caps on over my hair. I still got a sooty face and even dirtier hands. By cleaning out the soot it was better when lighting the fire as it heated up the oven better and the top got hot more quickly for cooking with saucepans and heating the irons for ironing. When the cleaning out of the soot was finished the whole of the cold range was polished with Zebo. It was a special polish for ranges, which meant that after I rubbed the black liquid all over it, I had to use a lot of elbow grease in brushing the whole range using a special brush till it gleamed. I would stand back and admire my handiwork. The gleam only lasted for about two days as the heat from the fire soon dulled it all.

An example of a copper. (Photo from Join Me In The 1900s).

In the outhouse, as I explained before, was the copper to do the hot water for washing the clothes. When we wanted a bath, that copper had to be lit to get hot water for the tin bath that could be put in front of the warm range. It was quite something to empty out the bath afterwards. The empty tin bath was then carried outside and hung back up in the outhouse. Getting the hot water from the copper was a little easier for my mother-in-law as their copper was in an alcove in the kitchen near the range in their house (that was a modern arrangement). They also had a bath in the kitchen. It was still a lot of work for her as her family was much larger than ours. Then there was all the hot water she needed to do her large wash, get it dry and then iron it with irons heated on a Primus stove. On a good drying day, she would fill up her long line and then as it dried, put up more washing to dry. This she kept up all day till she got to the end of the pile of wet washing and then it was time to go and fetch the children from school in the village.

This is just a bit more of past life that was once mine too. How things have changed in our time to make life less of a drudgery.