EVERY DAY LIFE IN A COTTAGE
There are many small cottages still standing in Alstone but what were they like to live in many, many years ago? Mostly there would have been two rooms downstairs and two rooms upstairs. No hallway, no, bathroom in fact, none of the modern amenities we take for granted these days.
The floors in living room and kitchen may have been earthen and very damp in winter - the better-off might have had brick or tile floors. The kitchen - the main focal point of families in those days, if only because it was the only room which had a fire. There would have been an iron grate with perhaps a pot-hook suspended from the chimney and a small oven. Few, if any, in those far-off days, would have had a back-boiler to heat the water: in fact, there would have been no water on tap, it being obtained from an outside pump or well, and any large quantities of water needed, say for wash-day or baths, would have to be laboriously carried bucket by bucketful and heated over the fire. Needless to say, baths were a luxury seldom indulged in.
Over the fireplace would be a high mantel shelf on which might have reposed two Staffordshire Dogs (very popular ornaments in the 19th C) and perhaps a couple of candlesticks. There was, of course, no electricity or gas laid on, and lighting would have been provided by candles, rush-lights or oil lamps.
Fuel would have been wood or coal and at least, in the 19th C there was an abundance of coal wharves in Alstone. Windows were small so the interiors of those cottages would have been dark, but the rooms were cosy. There would have been a well-scrubbed table with stools or chairs which were hardly enough to accommodate the very large families which crammed into some of the cottages.
Indeed, so small were the rooms, there wasn't space for much else. A cupboard would have contained the family's food which would have been simple, but fresh. Vegetables and fruit from the garden, maybe eggs if they kept chickens and of course, the bacon joints from their home-reared pigs. All in all, whilst they did not eat luxuriously, they ate good fresh food full of vitamins and unpolluted by additives.
In front of he hearth would have been a gaily coloured rag rug, made by the females of the family in their leisure moments but as to other luxuries - there were few.
The better-off families might have a clock - even a grandfather clock which would have been a family heirloom and it is only by the Wills of these early Alstone families, that we gain any insight as to their possessions, which often passed down through several generations.
The living room, like so many houses in the 19th C were kept for high days and holidays and life took place in the crammed kitchen. Fuel was expensive so the fire in the living room was rarely lit. There may have been a horse-hair sofa - perhaps an arm-chair for the head of the family, even a picture or religious text on the wall, but certainly no radio or TV. Even gramophones were not generally known of till the very late 19th C though pianos had been around for years but it is doubtful if there would have been room to accommodate one. Not that there was much time for leisure and as for relaxing and reading the Daily Paper or Sunday Paper, it would have been a rare sight, for most of the early 19th C inhabitants could not read or write.
A few literate people could read and mostly it was the bible they read. Many families had, and some still have, a Family Bible, in which were recorded the births, marriages and deaths of several generations.
Upstairs, via an uncarpeted stair would have been two sparsely furnished bedrooms A better-off family might have possessed a brass bedstead or, more likely, an iron one, but space was ever a problem and the children may have slept on straw palliases on the floor. Not for them the four-posters enjoyed by the rich, and inevitably, there would be the 'gozunder' under the bed which would have been emptied on the midden awaiting the call of the scavenger, though often it was used to fertilise the garden. This living in close proximity made for cosier living, if somewhat cramped.
None of tem possessed much clothing and it would have hung from nails knocked into the wall, though space might have provided by a chest of drawers - possessions, being few, were precious, and so one often reads of clothing being left to relatives, in wills.
In one or two old cottages, where wise women lived, there may have been a medicine cupboard containing remedies handed down through generations, for they could not afford doctors and most people cured themselves. No health service then or handy chemists but if there were serious illnesses, like typhoid, then this was due to faulty drainage and ever a source of worry, for this disease struck rich and poor alike until towns installed proper water and sewage services. There were, of course, no flush toilets and the Privy was always down the bottom of the garden, so with the advent of a proper sewage system and water supply, in the late 19th C , the cottagers must have welcomed this 'modern' amenity with delight and perhaps, some apprehension.One strange anomaly, if one reads through old Parish Registers in Cities, was the number of deaths of children in more well-do-do families, compared with the teeming hordes which crammed into shabby rural cottages. This can only be explained, by the fact, that the diet, though meagre, of these county dwellers, was considerably healthier then those living in the crowded cities.
They got plenty of exercise, for most worked hard and had to walk everywhere - a tramp of 10 miles to work was not uncommon. If they had to travel for very long distances, they may have hitched a ride with a waggoner. Probably they were all healthier for this exercise which, in this day and age of cars at nearly every door, is now being advised if we want to live longer.
All-in-all the cottagers of Alstone probably led more fulfilling lives than the inhabitants of the grand houses in Upper Alstone.