View Full Version : Books with historical lifestyle facts

02-29-2008, 07:12 PM
Can anybody recommend any non-fiction books that contain practical facts about the lifestyle of the working classes around 1750 in England?

I'm trying to get hold of Boswells London Journal because I think that may help, but I'm sure there must be a few others.

I mean, what did the urban working classes wipe their backsides on ... or didn't they?

03-01-2008, 04:28 AM
Samuel Pepys Diary is about a century earlier than you want but some of the everyday details of life might help, i.e. if they had it then, they would be likely to have the same a hundred years later. Check this link:


Life in Colonial America (not what you want but most of their things came from England so it might help) is covered in detail in Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Colonial America: From 1607-1783 (Writer's Guide to Everyday Life Series) by Dale Taylor.

Maybe these will help!

03-01-2008, 08:02 AM
I mean, what did the urban working classes wipe their backsides on ... or didn't they?
Newspaper? That's just a wild guess, but I know newspapers were used for that purpose in Soviet Russia when toilet paper wasn't readily available.

03-01-2008, 08:24 AM
The Conditions of the Working Class in England by Friedrich Engels is one that may be interesting for you, but I don't recall that it has a lot of domestic detail.

03-01-2008, 09:25 AM
Newspaper was used in England in the mid 1900's Ravenlocks! I know, because I remember even in the early 1960's, having squares of it hanging on a string in the loo!
I think leaves, hay and grass would have been used in the countryside (not in the 1950's) but can't think of urban substitutes.

I'm thinking more of poor to working class, rather than middle to upper. People who wouldn't have been able to afford 'modern' commodities. I seem to be able to drag details regarding how the upper class lived, but there isn't much available on the lower ones.

I'll check out the suggestions you made and see how far I get.

Many thanks!

Sandi LeFaucheur
03-01-2008, 04:57 PM
I have a book called "Women in England 1760 - 1914 A Social History" by susie Steinbach, Phoenix Books 0-75381-989-9. Here is the link to it on amazon.co.uk:


Don't think it discusses toilet paper (or the lack thereof). Very interesting question! I'll be thinking about that all day.

Sandi LeFaucheur
03-01-2008, 05:09 PM
One source I found said that in medieval times, they used the leaves of the mullein plant. In an urban area, I'm not sure how many would be around.

03-01-2008, 05:23 PM
In this day and age, you can't Google it?

AND ...er...um...just what kinda scene are you writing that we'de need such a specific detail???


Oh, like you didn't wanna ask!!!

03-01-2008, 05:28 PM

03-01-2008, 06:31 PM
Inky, that was a great link!

Dollywagon, I've often had that very same question. In fact, I've been considering proposing a coffee-table book on just that subject--with pictures and dry, factual writing.

I mean, it's one thing to read that people used old corn-cobs, but it's quite something else to see it. (The would photos of the un-used devices.)

Among other reasons for wanting to see this book: I've often wondered, not being an outdoorsman myself, which leaves are considered "the best" for such a practice.

It would be the perfect gift for the person who has everything, no?

From Inky's link:

What did people use before toilet paper was invented? <<

*Newsprint, paper catalogue pages in early US
*Hayballs, Scraper/gompf stick kept in container by the privy in the Middle Ages
*Discarded sheep's wool in the Viking Age, England
*Frayed end of an old anchor cable was used by sailing crews from Spain and Portugal *Medieval Europe- Straw, hay, grass, gompf stick
*Corn cobs, Sears Roebuck catalog, mussel shell, newspaper, leaves, sand- United States
*Water and your left hand, India
*Pages from a book, British Lords
*Coconut shells in early Hawaii
*Lace was used by French Royalty
*Public Restrooms in Ancient Rome- A sponge soaked in salt water, on the end of a stick
*The Wealthy in Ancient Rome-Wool and Rosewater
*French Royalty-lace, hemp
*Hemp & wool were used by the elite citizens of the world
*Defecating in the river was very common internationally
*Bidet, France
*Snow and Tundra Moss were used by early Eskimos

03-01-2008, 07:02 PM
Hee Hee.
Sorry our electricity has been out so I've missed the last few posts.

I'll check on that link a little later when I have time to inwardly digest!

I've actually found a book called 1700, Scenes from London Life, which I think may give lots of detail of the era.

Erm, it's not just the toilet stuff, Inky. Although I admit I suppose it was the best example of everyday life I could think of. I'm actually putting together a children's story about a girl going back in time to that era. But I also really want to tie in the realities of life then, and hopefully they are ones that will be both informative and funny. Now wiping your bum with sheep's wool would surely bring a tear to the eye??

I can't wait to see your coffee table edition, Ziljon! In fact I think it is quite suitable conversation. I mentioned it to a friend this morning and it was nearly driving her nuts trying to think of possible alternatives. I'm out on a small island off the top of Scotland, my best bet would be that sheep's wool would have been the preferred alternative here as well. I'll ask around for you to see if anybody has any 'action' photos:tongue

03-01-2008, 07:59 PM
Yerknow, I could do myself a damage with some of the ones listed - especially the sponge on a stick jobbie ... !

03-01-2008, 08:24 PM
I read somewhere else that old mussel shells where use somewhere (in Boston I think it was)!

I wonder if any other species on earth ever . . . can i say it . . . wipes their ass?

03-02-2008, 03:34 AM
Um... I really want to know if they ever cleaned this scraper/gompf stick thing they kept in the privy.

On second thought, maybe I don't want to know.

03-02-2008, 02:58 PM
the Historical Resources sticky down in Genres, DW? There should be a book or link there for you.

03-02-2008, 11:01 PM
Duh, nope. Guess I'd better take a peek!

The good news though is that I managed to buy both books that I think may be of help, so when they arrive and if I find out how poor 18thC people wiped their bums, I will be sure to let you all know:D