At Home: A Short History of Private Life (book #80)

Bill Bryson, 2010.

Mentions the Anglo-Saxon door at Westminster Abbey – tree-ring-dated to the 10th/11th century. I can’t find a good picture of it online. Here ia a sermon about it. There is a not great picture here, complete with over-excitement. There’s an interesting series of dates for the wood in the room at the Oxford Dendrochronology Laboratory (search for Pyx).

Talks about average food consumption in 1851, compared with now:
almost 8 pounds of pears per person [must be per year I think], compared to three pounds now;
almost nine pounds of soft fruits, around double the current amount;
just under 18 pounds of dried fruit, compared to 3.5 pounds now;
31.8 pounds of onions, compared to 13.2 now;
over 40 pounds of turnips and swedes, compared to 2.3 now;
almost 70 pounds of cabbages, compared to 21 pounds now;
30 pounds of sugar, less than a third of the current amount

(He doesn’t reference the data so no way of knowing how reliable it is.)

He’s sent me on a hunt about John Harden, amateur artist and friend of Constable, wch I’ll post about separately.

I like the sound of the eighteenth century architect James Wyatt. Bryson says

Wyatt was an architect of talent and distinction – under George II he was appointed Surveyor of the Office of Works, in effect official surveyor to the nation – but a perennial shambles as a human being. He was disorganised, forgetful and perpetually dissolute. He was famously bibulous, and sometimes went on tremendous benders. One year he missed fifty straight weekly meetings at the Office of Works. His supervision of the office was so poor that one man was discovered to have been on holiday for three years.

Some lavatorial stuff. A French visitor to America in the late eighteenth / early nineteenth century (Bryson doesn’t give a clear date) “reported asking for a chamber pot for his bedroom and being told just to go out the window like everyone else. When he insisted on being provided with something in which to do his business, his bemused host brought him a kettle, but firmly reminded him that she would need it back in the morning in time for breakfast”.


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