I told client of mine recently that I was always on the look-out for architectural books of almost any sort. I am gradually amassing quite a collection, all of which give me a great deal of inspiration when it comes to design and layout for my Archistories as well as practical help when I need to describe some obscure part of a building’s structure or decoration in the narrative. I was pointed towards a very interesting bookshop called “Books and Music” in Streatham High Road run by the British Heart Foundation. The shop is packed with the most amazing collection of second-hand books. I soon found a rare copy of “Architectural drawing studies” from 1874, mostly ecclesiastical buildings, but all beautifully illustrated. I then stared browsing in the rare books section and this fascinating book caught my eye:

“The Woman’s Book, contains everything a woman ought to know” Edited by Florence B. Jack 1911

The Woman’s Book

Not at all what I was looking for but I’m so glad I happened to find it. The book contains over 700 pages of invaluable information for any middle class Edwardian woman. Although I tend not to consider myself in that particular demographic, the book is nothing short of thrilling; endless minute detail on subjects as diverse as ‘care of household brushes’, to ‘how to cancel a telegram’. There are sections on money management and legal matters: “Every person who employs a male servant must pay an annual licence fee of 15s…. A person who drives a motor car is a male servant and the employer is liable to an annual duty of 10s in respect of such a driver. The duty due on motor cars up to 61/2 h.p. is £2. 2s. 0d.”

There is a huge section on the subject of ‘Mistress and servants’ detailing the treatment of servants, their roles, duties, and dress, another chapter on poultry-keeping and another on first aid. I have yet to tackle ‘Household linen’ or ‘Literary and Secretarial work’, but so far the most interesting aspect of the book is how much was changing right before the eyes of the authors. The dawn of the 20th century seems to have brought so many social contradictions. As the following two excerpts illustrate:

The Women’s Suffrage Movement- …..One notable and most desirable effect of this demand for the elevation of women which is already perceptible, is the drawing together of women of all classes of society and politics in one common bond. In the suffragist processions are to be seen walking together the peeress and the laundry girl, the mistress and the maid. There is nothing of condescension or servility on either side, and this condition is characteristic of the whole movement”

How a lady should behave out of doors– In her behaviour out of doors the gentlewoman is quiet an unassuming. She shuns exaggeration of dress and fashion which would make her conspicuous; it is not her aim to attract the eye of the crowd, but to escape its notice. She does not sweep the pavement with trailing skirts or address her friends in loud tones. The aim of the gentlewoman is to escape notice out of doors: that of the ill-bred woman to attract it. Therein lies the difference…. It is the lady’s privilege to bow first, if she should meet a gentleman of her acquaintance. A lady should also be the first to offer to shake hands. It is no longer fashionable to raise the arm in an exaggerated manner when shaking hands”

This book was a lucky find and has given me a tantalising glimpse into life a century ago. If you can find a copy, I recommend you read it!

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