Everything within: the business of the bitchy letter

Just as some of the earlier “business of the home” considerations remind us of the rarity of electricity at the time of publication, so does this next section remind us that a telephone was also an infrequent sight. Need to ask your landlord a question? Want to let you maid know you’ll be back early from a holiday? Want to complain about slime in your milk? Well, what you need my son is to write a letter.

Hang on. Slime in milk? *shudder*
But yes. As well as that Sunday afternoon call to your mum, the swift text message telling hubby what train you’re catching, and the Facebook update to all your family about your newborn son- you would have done everything by letter. Even slag off the milkman. Or the green grocer, or that terrible maid who was always coming in an hour after curfew smelling of sherry.

I do quite like this one though, you see a dodgy type loitering in the back alley somewhere, up to no good. What do you do? Run out and tell them to jog on? Stand somewhere well lit and make it clear you see them? Or go to your desk and carefully write out a letter to the police, send it, and, presumably wait for a reply. Reminds me of the time I saw a letter in the agony column of the Pink Paper about a gentleman who had come a cropper while “misusing” the hosepipe of a Hoover. We were supposed to believe he had similarly calmly penned and posted (somehow) his missive while still attached to his peculiar partner. Agony column is probably about right 😉

quotes from “Everything Within: A Library of Information for the Home. Ed. A.C. Marshall, London, George Newnes Limited, [1931?]

Everything within: The business of the home

Well ladies. What a treasure trove we have here. Right from the get-go

“To the average wife, home is the pivot round which all her main interests revolve. Her own happiness, and that of those who are nearest and dearest to her, depend very largely upon the home”

Granted. I am much more interested in being at home than at work. Work has a way of demanding my attention though. And damn it of it doesn’t get in the way of housework, writing, drinking, and, well, life you know?

The two main considerations when buying a house:
“1. Nearness to husband’s employment. 2. Conveniences for his journey to and from his work, and cost of travelling.”

Apparently “statistics prove London to be one of the healthiest cities in the world.” really? Is that still true? Was it even true then?

“One quarter of the family income is a fair proportion to fix for rent or repayment instalments on a mortgage; rates and taxes; water and such household services.” – Asking the oracle that is the Internet leads these days to advice that isnt too dissimilar, though stretches a bit more to around a third of income.

“at the present time the assets of all our building societies collectively exceed £419,000,000” not that different from now eh?

This really is a helpful tome. I’m only on page four and I know how to decide which house my husband should buy for us (based on the soil), and I am appraised of the key procedures in getting a mortgage. Which alarmingly do not seem to have changed in eighty odd years. And they were very odd years. Though one interesting difference is a bit on “borrowing from the council”. Mortgages from the council? Higher percentage LTV, longer loan periods, cheaper interest. Now what happened to that? Anyway. After buying this house with council money, we have to keep it trim. White paint requires too many expensive recoats, green will fade in the sun, so “a warm brown is probably the most lasting colour”

Now we are living in our nice brown houses, our helpful guide turns to matters of insurance and taxes.
“Seen through the eyes of a young husband or a fellow who has just become engaged to be married, life insurance is of the utmost importance…. In the provision of a nest-egg for old age there is nothing safer or better than life insurance, and one can equally well provide for a boy’s education or start in life or for a girl’s dowry on her marriage.”
Well. I am glad the boys got a start in life, aren’t you?

However this is only one aspect of a concept which the authors are keen to recommend to the reader. Thrift. Life, it is clear, is a difficult and expensive business, and one should make every effort to insure and save against unexpected occurrences. Not surprising when you think of the generation of “young husbands” who died only not much more than a decade before. Or those who succumbed to illness. The concept of an old age pension was still new, and free healthcare would take a another round of bloody sacrifice to bring into effect. Perhaps, in these tragic days where our leaders (who wouldn’t understand thrift if it bit their pampered behinds) are quick to sacrifice these hard won salvations for the poor, this book will be more useful than I thought.


quotes from “Everything Within: A Library of Information for the Home. Ed. A.C. Marshall, London, George Newnes Limited, [1931?]

Everything Within

Sometime last year I was mooching around the Todmorden antique / bric-a-brac market, and I happened upon a book.  I picked it up and flicked through it, and couldn’t quite believe my eyes.

Everything withinThe title is “Everything Within”. They weren’t kidding. Ronseal titles FTW. The intrepid editors have put a little bit for everyone in here, from bringing up baby to funeral etiquette, passing through cookery, DIY and Empire geography on the way.  After standing and gawping for way too long, flicking from random section to random section – I figured I ought to ask how much and was chuffed when the stallholder only wanted a solitary single squid for it. A pound! Bargain.

When I got home, I looked it up – and suddenly it all became clear. Apparently, Tim Berners-Lee (yes, him) named the forerunner to the WWW “ENQUIRE” – after the earlier title of this book, “Enquire Within Upon Everything”.  That’s where I knew that time devouring sensation of fascination, flicking from one interesting but largely trivial thing to the next, suddenly looking up, pink eyed and hungry, at 3 in the morning. The Interwebs! Wow. The Net in book form.

This is no simple encyclopaedia. They have sense and structure. This is an information goldmine.  It calls itself “A library of information for the home”. – and really, I can’t see anyone needing any other reference books with this on hand. (when it was published. Obviously. There’s not much in the way of commentary on trends in Hip-Hop or space travel.)

I’m not sure exactly which edition this is – the first edition was in 1856, but this is definitely 20th century – 1932-33 at a guess (1932 is mentioned in some general knowledge entries – and there is an entry for President Field-Marshall Paul von Hindenburg of Germany, but no nasty Mr Hitler.)

As well as the sheer randomness of some of the sections, there’s some really useful stuff in here – and it is a magical insight into the world of the inter-war years. Where motor cars, telephones and electricity even were still relatively new innovations, enjoyed by the wealthy in society. The several sections on letter writing go to show that it was still the main medium for communication. Where today we’d pick up the phone, send a text, a tweet, a status update or an email – notes, letters and telegrams were still de rigueur even then. Maybe even right up to the sixties?  As someone who enjoys reading the letters and diaries of the people I am interested in (published, – i’m not sneaking into my friend’s desk drawers for a nosey) – I worry what legacy will be left for generations to come when all of our communication is done electronically, and not always archived or kept at all.  But that’s a tangent.

I thought it might be fun to share some of the gems in this book with you, maybe one a week, see just how Internet-like it is. While there are definitely cute animals:

Pekinese / angora rabbit

I couldn’t find a picture of a cat – (thought my Poppy obliged with this one for you)

Poppy Cat on the book

Nor do I think there is any of the less savoury content of the Internet. Though there is a section called “Too much fondling” – I think this is considered a bad thing. Anyway. Who knows what we’ll find.