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Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Mistress of Skeldale House: Part 3

This clearly does something.  A mixer of some kind?

In the books by James Herriot (the pseudonym Alf Wight used, as veterinarians at that time were not allowed to advertise their work in any way), as well as in the TV show “All Creatures Great and Small, Mrs. Hall runs Skeldale House and cares for Sigfried, James, and Tristan without assistance.  When James got married, Helen was able to help her out.  For a time, the couple had their own apartment on an upper floor, and Helen prepared their meals in her smaller kitchen.

We don’t get a chance to see that smaller kitchen in The World of James Herriot.  The museum has reorganized and modernized the building.  There’s an area showing a film on Alf Wight hosted by Christopher Timothy, who played James Herriot in the TV series, an elevator for the handicapped, and an upper floor split between a children’s educational area and a museum space displaying numerous tools the veterinarians would have used.  There’s even a reproduction of the studio sets that gives you an idea of the spaces the actors would have moved around in when the production crew filmed the interior scenes.  Still, there’s much to see in the kitchen, including an array of foods and household products that derive from an earlier era.

Doing laundry the hard way.

Mrs. Hall was responsible for not only feeding the men, but also for cleaning the house and doing their laundry.  As my wife and I studied the kitchen, a spritely older lady and her grandson entered, and we listened as she reminisced about how her family had done this or that in their own kitchen before World War Two.  I asked her the purpose of one particular item, and she gave me insight on that object, as well as on a host of others.  For example, in addition to feeding the cream-colored stove, the wood Tristan chopped would have gone into the bottom of this brick-lined heater.  Water would have been poured into it.  Once the water reached the appropriate temperature, it would be poured, via buckets, into the device below.

Your 1930s washing machine.

While you would have scrubbed out hard-to-remove stains using the board set above the brick-lined warmer, you could have removed less-resistant stains with this washing machine.  The only problem: it didn’t agitate your load of clothes automatically.  So you poured in the hot water, and dumped in your clothes and the detergent.  Then you grasped the handles and moved them back and forth (and back and forth, and back and forth) for ten minutes, or fifteen minutes, or until they were clean.  Then you wrung the excess soap and water out of each item with the rollers.  After that, you took them over to the kitchen sink, where you rinsed each article of clothing in cold water (unless you wanted to heat up more water) to remove any remaining soap.  Then, it’s back to the rollers to remove as much water as possible.  When all that was done, you hung them up to dry: outside if the weather was nice, inside if it wasn’t. 

No wonder Roy Clarke, like James Herriot (or, if you prefer, Alf Wight), was in awe of these tough Yorkshire women.  Running a kitchen in the 1930s would have required strength and endurance.  Sigfried, James, and Tristan might have had to rush off at a moment’s notice to attend animals.  The men worked long, hard hours.  They endured freezing temperatures, howling winds, driving rain and snow.  They risked constant injury from working with such large and powerful animals.  Mrs. Hall’s tasks took her to the shops in Darrowby (or, if you prefer, real-life Thirsk).  Her duties kept her busy inside Skeldale House.  Her job offered less chance of injury, or contracting a life-threatening illness from exposure to the elements.  Yet, from touring her kitchen, I’ve gained new respect for the real woman who so devotedly cared for her three veterinarians.

And I’ve gained new appreciation for my fridge, microwave, washer, dryer, and yes, even frozen dinners.

Thanks for following my historical musings,
Dragon Dave

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