Housework in the nineteenth century was no easy task. Preparing even a simple meal was time consuming and quite hard physical labour. Before the innovations of the twentieth century, cooking for most people was still carried out on a coal or wood burning stove. Unlike later gas ranges or electric cookers which could simply be switched on, these needed fuel to be collected and carried and needed constant attention as there was no way of regulating temperature other than adding more coal or wood. Women would have spent about four hours a day just carrying coal, setting fires, raking and dumping ashes and blacking (similar to waxing) and cleaning the stove!

If that was not enough food preparation was also labour intensive. All foods were unprocessed and had to be prepared, there were no such things as pre-plucked chickens or factory processed ready meals, even bread had to be made daily. Neither were there any one stop shops where a weekly trip could get you all you needed. Shopping was a daily task and often meant visiting dozens of types of shops; butchers, bakers, ironmongers, grocers etc. Although some fresh foods like fish could be salted, most fresh food had to be acquired on a daily basis as there was no way to preserve it for any length of time until refrigerators were introduced in the twentieth century. 

Cleaning was an even more time consuming chore. It wasn't just because scrubbing, dusting and polishing had to be done by hand, it was also made more difficult by the type of dirt. Soot from gas lighting and smoke from cooking ranges blackened the walls and left grimy deposits on floors, furniture and curtains. Whereas nowadays we do not need to give our homes a really thorough clean as regularly, then walls and floors had to scrubbed, windows had to be washed and rugs needed to be beaten on a day to day basis. 

Before the introduction by Parliament of the  welfare state in 1947, people tended to have large families so that there was an increased earning potential per household which would allow the elderly or infirm members of the family to be looked after. Imagine though the task of washing nine children or so and all their clothes. In the 19th century only the rich had indoor plumbing, and so water was not available to most by the turning on of a tap. All the water for washing, cooking, laundry, and cleaning had to be collected from a common pump some distance from the house and carried by hand several times a day which must have been exhausting. 

Laundry was done by first soaking garments in tubs of warm water and then scrubbing them on a washboard while rubbing with soap. Then the clothes would be transferred to another tub, this time of boiling water and stirred with a pole or 'plunged' with a 'washing dolly'. Finally the clothes would be rinsed and wrung out through a wringer or mangle before being hung out to dry. The clothes also had to be pressed with heavy (and very hot!) flat-irons and collars needed to be stiffened with starch. 

The 1880's heralded a new era in housework evolution with the invention of the  carpet sweeper. It was the first in a long line of labour saving innovations around the home which helped, along with the introduction of canned food, to reduce the drudgery involved in maintaining a household. Electricity soon replaced gas which led to cleaner homes and by the 1920's many people were benefiting from both cold and hot running water in their homes. 

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