Victorians Secrets

JILL CAMPBELL MACKAY unearths a Victorian book with tips for the home. Some of them are still useful today…

IN 1857 a book titled Enquire Within upon Everything was published which went on to sell a staggering 75,000 copies in one year. It was promoted by publishers as being the answer to everyone’s questions, such as ‘how to instruct servants to lay a dinner table correctly’, ‘the best solvents to clean calico’, ‘the manner in which one establishes acquaintances according to the rules of etiquette,’ ‘the correct use of leeches in the home’, ‘the procedure regarding the burial of a relative,’ ‘how to make a perfect pigs head pie’ plus some seriously handy tips on the care and cleaning of a whalebone corset.

In addition there is a section on how to use opiates in the home, with the recommended dosage for drugging unruly children also being given. Or, for the brave or just plain desperate souls, are detailed instructions on how to perform home dentistry, and the making of fillings for the teeth. Talking of teeth, and back to opiates, the book suggests that for toothache the patient should ‘stuff a lump of solid opium into the hollow tooth, to relieve the pain’ (surprise surprise!).
Many of the concoctions used required liberal amounts of red arsenic, sulphuric acid, brimstone, liquid ammonia, quick lime, and ether, for no respectable household store cupboard would be complete without row upon row of bottles containing these rather dodgy home remedies.

This 400-page book rapidly became the Household Bible of the time. No respectable Victorian lady would be without a copy and many of the tips contained within are as relevant today as they were then, although we have adapted a few to encompass our more modern style of living. Here are some of those effective, money saving tips:

1 Make your roses bloom by dropping a tea bag into the soil
2 Use furniture polish to remove scratches on spectacles
3 Eradicate ants by placing bay leaves on the shelves of your store cupboard
4 A dollop of tomato sauce rubbed in with a cloth makes copper items shine like new
5 A dab of toothpaste applied to spots and blemishes makes them dry up and disappear
6 To get the sheen back on dull looking black clothes, wash them with two cups of coffee (minus the sugar and milk)
7 Keep bread soft and fresh longer by popping a stick of celery into the bread bin
8 Redecorating? Hate the smell of paint? Then get a bowl of water and place a raw onion in it and voila! The smell is gone
9 Over salted the soup? Then dump a peeled potato in to the pot, the potato will absorb the excess salt
10 Oil stains on your drive way? Lay down some cat litter and watch it disappear
11 Car wax rubbed into the mildew stains on your bath really works
12 Sqeaky hinges become silent if you squirt them with shaving cream
13 Give extra bounce to your hair by using a rinse of flat beer
14 Children with itchy uncomfortable Chickenpox can get relief if the area is rubbed with oat meal
15 Toothpaste also works on CDs it clears away scratches
16 Stale bread removes pencil stains from walls
17 Use cigarette ash to clean pewter pots
18 Frying bacon without the noisy grease popping is easy if you drop in a pinch of salt
19 Always wash glasses in cold water to give a good shine
20 Cold green tea when set in a saucer attracts flies and destroys them
21 Keep candles longer by rubbing them over with a clean cloth slightly dipped in white wine
22 This one may well work, but would advise a certain amount of discretion – How to tell if a mushroom is edible? Sprinkle a little salt on the spongy part or gills. If they turn yellow then the mushroom is poisonous, if they turn black then they are edible
23 Rid the garden of slugs by boiling up some cabbage leaves, then rub them with unsalted butter or fresh dripping, and lay them out on the garden. A few hours later the leaves will be covered with slugs and you can then dispose of them
24 Tip to prevent dust rising when cleaning carpets, first sprinkle them with fresh cut grass
25 Finally, I couldn’t resist sharing the vital leech tip. To cure abscesses in the mouth, first get your leech, preferably a French bred species, roll it in some beer, then apply to the gums. Care should be taken however to use a special leech glass as they are apt to creep down the patients throat. When gorged with blood the Leeches will drop off the infected spot. Never tear them off, just remove them with a finger dipped in salt