Old & Interesting?

This site is about . . .

jug, pot, book on dresser in 17th century German painting . . . how people equipped their homes in previous centuries, and how they handled household tasks. I add more articles from time to time, and I use another site at HomeThingsPast.com for shorter pieces. Please email if you want to suggest a topic connected with the history of everyday home life, housekeeping, domestic objects, or any related bits of social history.

For anyone who wonders what led to a website on the history of household things and practices, here's a short answer.

I've had various jobs in education and publishing. My academic qualifications are in literature, especially English lit., but I also know French well and can read some other European languages with a dictionary to hand. Reading a lot over the years, and developing research skills, combined with many visits to historic houses and museums, has helped me learn plenty about how homes were run. I've enjoyed finding answers to questions that occurred to me about people's daily lives and the "lesser" domestic details of grand architecture or great literature. (As I stared at a tin boot with handle, or read about Silas Marner's lost gold: a loss caused partly by his inadequate meat-cooking equipment....)

I was beginning to know my way round the internet when Google Answers started in 2002. The experience I had as one of their freelance researchers really sharpened up my online research skills, though of course I will always use books too. It also tuned me into the huge, collective, Zeitgeisty experience that is the web. Some of the questions I saw at GA made me realise how many people wanted to know more about things that I could help them with. Some topics were already well covered on other sites; some weren't. Choosing a name for the website wasn't easy. Maybe I could have called it Mostly Domestic Material Culture and Social History Stuff dot com, but the name I did pick (c2007) has worked OK. People can remember it. And of course it's given me a reason to go on learning more. Thank you to all my visitors and correspondents.

~ Lel Gretton ~


  • Which countries are you talking about?
    Mostly the English-speaking world and Western Europe, with some references to Eastern Europe and the rest of the world. I live in the UK, and have also lived in the USA.
  • What timespan?
    The last 3 or 4 centuries are easiest to find out about, though many articles cover medieval life too. We know most about the way our recent ancestors managed their home lives. Lots of Victorian writers had very definite opinions on how housewives and servants should arrange domestic matters. It's also interesting to pick out what we can from earlier writing - and painting too.
  • Why no comments from readers?
    I'd like to set that up some time - but getting to this stage was enough of a technical challenge for the moment.
  • Are you going to discuss the value of antiques?
    Not usually. Please note the disclaimer at the bottom of the page. I have no expertise in appraisal or valuing.
  • Where do you get your information?
    There's a bibliography on the books page, though it is short and I must apologise for being negligent about maintaining it, as I find it tedious compared to actually creating original articles. (This is a hobby not a job!) Do please email if you are trying to track down a particular point. There are references under the quotes used. As well as researching and fact-checking thoroughly, I'm building on general reading over the years and many hours spent in museums and historic homes. Lots of the embedded links lead to authoritative sites, like museum sites.

Some questions and answers from 2002-2005

19th century sitting room by Swedish painter Carl Larsson Google Answers' questions were shared amongst many researchers. Here are some of mine which overlap with the antique household objects and domestic life theme of this website.

By the way, you can still put questions to ex-researchers from Google Answers here at uclue, or just browse past answers. This carefully researched answer about the history of Japanese wallpaper is worth a look.

You may like our new sister site Home Things Past where you'll find articles about antiques, vintage kitchen stuff, crafts, and other things to do with home life in the past. There's space for comments and discussion too. Please do take a look and add your thoughts.  (Comments don't appear instantly.)

For sources please refer to the books page, and/or the excerpts quoted on the pages of this website, and note that many links lead to museum sites. Feel free to ask if you're looking for a specific reference - feedback is always welcome anyway. Unfortunately, it's not possible to help you with queries about prices or valuation.