Friday, 27 September 2013

4 October 1884 - 'How I Keep House on £250 A Year' by Mary Pocock - Chapter 1

 Vol.6 of The Girl's Own Annual contains a series of essays by Mary Pocock, a regular contributor to the paper during this time, outlining in careful detail how she runs her small middle class household, consisting of "two ladies and one gentleman, all young, and all water drinkers" (remember the GOP was published by the Religious Tracts Society and was therefore fairly pro-temperance) and two servants both under the age of twenty. In this first installment of a twelve-part series Mary Pocock outlines her annual expenditures and sensibly opines that yes indeed women should worry their pretty heads about financial matters, and gives a brief breakdown of inland revenue. She explains that as far as her household is concerned, the convenience of two servants - there's always someone there to answer the door, for example - is worth the expense, she prefers having young servants - the "girl" is fifteen years old and earns £5 a year - and they get meat or at least eggs on Sundays. She concludes with a sample of a typical weekly menu (I can't decide what breakfast option horrifies me more, cold bacon or stewed eels) and a rundown of the weekly grocery bill.

Seriously, anything you could want to know about the day-to-day running of a small urban middle-class household in this era is here in twelve chapters, pretty much. 

To see all chapters of this essay, click the 'How I Keep House on 250 A Year' tag.

When I commenced housekeeping it was not with the idea that to be a housekeeper it was only necessary to know something of cooking, and be able to order a dinner. I had definite notions of what it was most profitable to buy, etc., but as much of my knowledge was theoretical, I had a great deal to learn practically and though, of course, no one person's housekeeping could exactly suit another, I hope that my experience may be of use to those who, like ourselves, have but limited means, but who do not mind taking a little thought and trouble about their arrangements in order to have a really well-regulated house.

I must premise that we are three in a family, two ladies and one gentleman, all young, and all water drinkers; we rent a small house (of which the landlord does the repairs) in a suburb of London within four miles of Charing Cross.

We keep two servants, the elder is twenty, the younger fourteen or fifteen years of age. When I began housekeeping I debated with myself as to whether we should have one or two. One would be more economical, but then we like to dine late, to have our dinners nicely sent up, and to be waited on at table, and we should neither of us cared to have stayed in or answered the door when our domestic went out; so I decided that my economy should be exercised in some other direction, where it would interfere less with our comfort, especially as I calculated that with two servants I could have all the small things and the table napkins, kitchen cloths, etc., washed at home and so reduce the laundress's bill considerably besides saving the linen. How we do the washing I will tell my readers in a future article.

The question of servants decided, I took a pencil and paper to make an estimate of our probable expenditure, doing my best that the items should be commensurate; but there were so many things to put down, that the task was not an easy one, and I am sure that many will be surprised at the number of things that have to be paid for besides food. The following is a copy of my estimate:-

Rent, per annum - £40 / 0 / 0
Inhabited house duty - £1 / 10 / 0
Parish rates (rated at £35) - £7 / 10 / 0
Water rate - £1 / 16 / 0
Pew rent - £3 / 0 / 0
Fire insurance on furniture, etc. - £0 / 10 / 0
Gas - £4 / 0 / 0
Coals - £9 / 0 / 0
Wages, cook - £14 / 0 / 0
Wages, girl - £5 / 0 /0
Entertainments - £12 / 0 /0
Extra expenses during the summer holiday - £12 / 0 /0
Wear and tear on house linen and crockery - £3 / 0 /0
Charities and subscriptions - £5 / 0 0
Newspapers, periodicals, stationery, etc - £2 / 14 / 0
Chemist - £2 / 0 / 0
Fifty-two weeks' board and washing at £2 8s. a week - £124 / 16 / 0

Total: £247 / 16 / 0
Balance for sundries - £2 / 4 / 0
TOTAL - £250 / 0 / 0

It will be seen that clothes have not to come out of the £250, which, however, covers all other expenses. There is nothing put down for medical attendance; all I can say is that should we be unfortunate enough to have illness in the house we must that year do without entertainments; and perhaps it even might happen that we could not all take a summer holiday.

It would appear from my figures that scarcely any margin is left; this is not quite the fact, for there is a sum put down for entertaining, but there is no reduction made for our being out sometimes, so that, in truth, I always have at the end of the year a small balance from the £2 8s. put down for board and laundress.

With regard to the second, third and fourth items in my list, I often hear ladies say, "Oh, I know nothing about rates and taxes". But why know nothing about them? A housekeeper should know everything connected with her house, and be able to tell whether the charges are right or not; they are, too, like most things, very easy to understand when once explained.

The inland revenue, generally called "Queen's" taxes, are collected once a year. They are: - the income-tax, which is so much (variable from year to year) in the pound on the rent, and has to be paid by the tenant, but the rent being the landlord's income, he is bound to allow the tenant, on the production of the receipt, the amount back out of the following quarter's rent. The inhabited house duty, which is always ninepence in the pound on the rent, is the the tenant's tax.

These two are paid by every householder; the others are special, such as a horse, carriage, using armorial bearings, under which head comes crested notepaper, or wearing a ring with a crest on it, licence to keep a dog, etc.

The next are the parish rates. Houses are generally rated somewhat below the rental, except in cases where the rent is below the value of the house; this frequently happens where have been for a long time in a house and the neighbourhood has improved; the house is then assessed at the fair value. The parish rates are collected twice a year, and vary a little; all particulars are given plainly on the papers themselves with the rateable value, and anyone who will read them through will find no difficulty in understanding them.

The rates vary very much in amount in different towns and parishes, being much higher where there are many poor; then, too, some country towns and parishes have special tithes and rates. The water rate is collected twice a year, and is four per cent, on the rateable value, with an extra charge for special services.

Some of the water companies know give particulars on the back of their accounts, from which one may easily calculate what the bill should be.

My readers must now see that they will altogether have five tax or rate papers sent them every year.

I always have young servants. I do not at all mind having to teach them; when I engage a fresh servant for the kitchen I inquire if she likes cooking, which is of far more importance than the little she may chance to know; the same with the younger servant. I would not take one who did not like waiting at table, for I find it is almost impossible to teach them things they do not care for. With young cooks I find it answers best to tell them how to do things, making them repeat to me the instructions, so as to find out if they have really understood me; then in a week or two, when they may be supposed to have mastered some of the rudiments of cooking, I lend them recipes and I must say that I very rarely have anything spoilt.

As account book I use Letts's "Housekeeper enlarged". This contains a tradesmen's summary, by which I am able to see how much each article of consumption has cost during the year, and to know on what I may spend a little more or must spend a little less the next year. It also contains a register for gas, taxes, etc. I enter my receipts and expenditure daily, and have no sundries; everything is put down separately.

I go down into the larder every morning directly after breakfast and see what is required, but I do not then say what will be for dinner, for I always go to the shops, see the meat and other things weighed, and pay for them. By doing this I am sure that I am better served. I do not say that the butcher actually charges me less, but that he trims the meat better, so I have not so much skin and bone to pay elevenpence a pound for. The reason for not ordering dinner before going out is that prices vary very much from day to day, and though one might like to have chickens or salmon, either would do as well on a day when it was plentiful as when it was scarce and consequently dear.

I have no bills except the milkman's and the baker's, and these I pay weekly. There is a basket hung by the back door, in which are two books, one for the baker, the other for the milkman. In these they write down daily the bread and milk taken. I look through them every week and by them check the weekly books. On my return from marketing I go to my store cupboard (in which I always keep a white bib-apron and a pair of gloves) and give out what is needed for the day.

Though I have a store cupboard with a great variety of things in it, so as never to have to send out for anything, I do not keep large stores. Storerooms sometimes lead to a great deal of extravagance - people are so apt to forget the cost of what is in the house. I know a housekeeper who, to be economical, orders her grocery in large quantities once a quarter from stores. I think she would be astonished if she calculated how much it cost her a week. She is careful in most things, but, having it in the house, she does not think whether it is better to give sago at 2 1/2 d. a pound for kitchen puddings, or Rio tapioca that cost 6 1/2 d. a pound; and so with many other things.

I am frequently asked what I "allow".  I order in certain quantities of things, and I expect them to last; but I do not ever say to a servant that I "allow" so much, and if they asked me for a little more of anything, if they were on the whole careful, I should give it. I neither allow beer nor beer money, but sometimes I have been asked for a little coffee. I give out every Saturday, for the two servants, two pounds of moist sugar and half a pound of tea; out of this they often bring us up two cups in the afternoon. They have a pound of butter a week, as much treacle as they like, and usually we all eat from the same cheese; soap, soda, matches, wood, etc., are also given out each week. We use about a third of a pound of yellow soap (exclusive of washing) a week, and a bundle of wood has to light two fires.

I neither allow meat breakfasts nor suppers in the kitchen, excepting Sunday, when they have eggs for breakfast, or at any time that I want something finished. They frequently have soup or such vegetables as marrow or haricot beans for supper. I find they like it, and it costs no more than cheese. Baked potatoes and stewed onions also make good suppers for them.

The following list of our meals for a week will give an idea of how we live. There is no gentleman at home to lunch; we are not great meat eaters, and often prefer soup of pudding to meat in the middle of the day. It is the rule that whatever soup or pudding is made for the kitchen dinner comes upstairs first, whether we want it or not. This is done to insure its being made, and being properly made, for sometimes cooks are negligent over kitchen cooking, and badly made things are probably wasted.

On Sundays we always have a joint and dine early. The servants dine after us.

SUNDAYS:- Breakfast: Fried cod and boiled eggs. Dinner: White onion soup, roast leg of mutton, cabbage and potatoes, baked apple dumpling, small water melon. Supper: Sardines, stewed spinach, and home-made tartlet.

MONDAY:- Breakfast: Sardines and curried eggs.  Midday dinner: Cold mutton, potatoes, treacle pudding. Late Dinner: Whiting, pudding, some slices of underdone mutton fried in paste and breadcrumbs and served with tomato sauce and mashed potatoes, boiled lemon pudding.

TUESDAY:- Breakfast: Fried bacon and remainder of sardines served on toast. Midday Dinner: Pea soup, cold mutton and potatoes. Late Dinner: Haricot beans stewed in gravy, roast fowl, boiled bacon (piece of flank) and cabbage, ground rice souffle.

WEDNESDAY:- Breakfast: cold bacon. Midday Dinner: Baked haddocks and potato pie made with the remains of the cold mutton. Late Dinner: Palestine soup, chicken croquettes (made of the pickings off the fowl bones), beef olives, potatoes rubbed through a sieve, macaroni cheese.

THURSDAY:- Breakfast: Cold bacon and remainder of croquettes or beef olives made hot. Midday Dinner: Pudding made of neck of beef, ox kidney, and Jerusalem artichokes. Late Dinner: Soles au gratin (with mushrooms), roast ribs of beef, stewed carrots and potatoes, fried jam puffs.

FRIDAY:- Breakfast: Stewed eels. Midday Dinner: Potato soup, cold beef, and baked potatoes. Late Dinner: Boiled haddock and egg sauce, cold beef, salad, and potato balls, baked currant pudding.

SATURDAY:- Breakfast: Fishcakes (made of the remains of the haddock and egg sauce), and eggs au plat. Midday Dinner: Remains of the beef stewed with carrots, potatoes and onions, bread pudding with plums in it. Late Dinner: Macaroni soup (made from the beef bone, etc.), scrag of mutton, haricot, pancakes.

I must append the result at the end of the week. I regret that space does not allow me to give the copies of my bills in detail, so I must give the totals.

Butcher (and fowl) - 17s. 6d.
Fishmonger - 14s. 2d.
Eggs - 1s. 6.
3/4 lb. fresh butter - 1s. 1 1/2d. 
1/2 lb. cooking do. - 0s. 7d. 
1 lb kitchen do - 1s. 2d.
1/2 lb. kitchen tea - 0s. 9d.
2 lbs. kitchen sugar - 0s. 5d.
1/2 lb. tea - 1s. 0.
3/4 lb. coffee, 9d., 2 oz. chicory, 1d. - 0 10d.
Milk bill - 2s. 3d.
Bread - 3s. 6d. 
Flour - 0s. 7d.
Bacon and cheese - 3s. 0d.
Greengrocer - 3s. 6d.
Used from stores, grocery, etc. - 2s. 8d.
TOTAL - £2 4s. 6 1/2d. 

Add to this three shillings to be paid the laundress for things sent out, and the readers of THE GIRL'S OWN PAPER will perceive that at the end of my first week I had 5 1/2 d. in hand out of the £2s. 8s. allowed for housekeeping.

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