Elbow Grease: How our Grandmothers and Great-Grandmothers Kept House by Jacqueline Percival

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Elbow Grease: How our Grandmothers and Great-Grandmothers Kept House by Jacqueline Percival

Category: History
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A rigorously-researched but very readable look at the appliances and methods used by the women who went before us.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 160 Date: September 2011
Publisher: Chaplin Books
ISBN: 978-0956559531

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Sometimes I look at the housework that needs to be done and it seems like a mountain that has to be climbed. It's not until I look back at the work that my mother, her mother and even my great grandmother had to do to keep the house clean and free of pests as well as doing all the laundry that I realise that my problems are more of a molehill and a lot less strenuous than their daily grind ever was. Jacqueline Percival has taken a look back at the way that things really were for the women who went before us – and in those days housework generally was down to the woman in the house.

The book has been rigorously researched from household advice books of the time and there's a complete bibliography should you want to read further yourself, but don't be put off by the thought that this is an academic work which you'll find worthy, but dry and rather dull. That couldn't be further from the truth. I read the book in a couple of sittings and found that the style was factual but engaging and very readable (although stricter editing would have eliminated a couple of annoying errors).

Black and white drawings and photographs have been taken from the advice books and I've wandered through the book a couple of times since I finished reading just for the pleasure of looking at some of these very detailed drawings, a few of the subjects of which are just at the edge of my memory. I certainly remember the tub and posser which my mother used for the washing (and her temper if all was not going according to plan). I occasionally helped by turning the wringer as she fed the washing through – and smiled when I read about putting pillowcases through closed end first. After you've been drenched in very hot water it's not a mistake that you're likely to make again.

I was slightly annoyed by the assumption that the only reason a woman would be using a carpet sweeper would be because the house was not yet wired for electricity. Even forty plus years ago when I first became a housewife I had a vacuum cleaner and a carpet sweeper – they were thought to be easier on carpets – and you wouldn't get the vacuum out just for a quick whip round the dining room after breakfast, would you? Nowadays I'm more likely not to bother with the quick whip round at all… I was cross too about the prices quoted for washing machines and their relationship to the average weekly wage – but I suspect that's down to the editing I mentioned before.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

For a look at some more modern methods we can recommend How Clean is Your House? by Kim Woodburn and Aggie MacKenzie.

Buy Elbow Grease: How our Grandmothers and Great-Grandmothers Kept House by Jacqueline Percival at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Elbow Grease: How our Grandmothers and Great-Grandmothers Kept House by Jacqueline Percival at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Elbow Grease: How our Grandmothers and Great-Grandmothers Kept House by Jacqueline Percival at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Elbow Grease: How our Grandmothers and Great-Grandmothers Kept House by Jacqueline Percival at Amazon.com.


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