OUR BELONGINGS CAN REVEAL MUCH ABOUT OUR LIVES. THESE HOUSEHOLD ITEMS, AMASSED OVER A LIFETIME BY JENNIFER ALEXANDER AT HER SURREY HOME, ARE HERE CURATED BY HER SON
Ironing was once hot stuff, figuratively as well as literally. In the 1930s metal heating appliances, such as irons, were new and highly desirable – but prohibitively expensive. Seeing an opportunity, engineer Donal Morphy and salesman Charles Richards registered a private company and set about making and selling these home appliances, with irons first coming off the production line in 1937. This Morphy-Richards Atlantic Iron, from 1951, arrived with a new, more ergonomic handle.
TOILETRIES & GROOMING
During the mid- to late-20th century, grooming products were fairly minimal. Most households had a styptic pencil – a medicated stick made of powdered alum crystal. An essential part of most men’s shaving kits, they were used to seal small shaving cuts and nicks. In the 1860s, engineer and inventor Mason Pearson joined a partnership that made brushes by hand. Pearson invented a mechanical brush-boring machine, and soon after also designed the innovative rubbercushion hairbrush, still used today.
In around 1800, two cousins, Jonathan and William Harris, opened a weaving shop in Cumbria, where flax had been grown for centuries. The shop was a success and they bought two local mills, soon upgrading them from water- to steampowered. By the 1850s, the Harris family expanded into producing linen sewing threads. After a long, successful history, the firm sadly closed in 1934 during the depression.
The 20th century was not a throwaway period; if socks or stockings were damaged, they were repaired. Buttons, hooks and eyes and press studs were replaced when missing or broken, and sewing was usually undertaken by women, who kept a fully stocked needlework basket. During the Second World War, the Make Do and Mend campaign encouraged the repair of clothes and soft furnishings. Sewing and knitting circles became common, either for friends and family, or to send to the armed forces.
From the early 19th century, patented medicines and related products were often packaged in tins. And in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, these were quite wordy and flowery. Curly banners, serif fonts and overenthusiastic claims all gradually became replaced by greater clarity and integrity. Many of these tins date from the 1950s, 60s and 70s, so they reflect the later 20th century’s aim to appear honest, dependable and eye-catching.
This Salter kitchen scale was made in 1957. Salter began in 1760, when brothers Richard and William started making spring balances in a cottage in Staffordshire, going on to produce Britain’s first spring scales. In 1825, nephew George took over, and the business thrived, by 1950 employing more than 2,000 people.
Invented in 1892 by Sir James Dewar, the vacuum flask only came into commercial use in 1904 when two German glass blowers formed Thermos GmbH. The trademark was sold to companies including Thermos Ltd in the UK, who produced the first machine-made glass filler in 1911. In 1923, this new insulated food jar, the Thermos Jumbo Jug, was introduced and became an instant hit.
In the early 1960s, Greensleeves produced ‘quality garden tools.’ These secateurs were made in 1961. The small blue plastic policeman-shaped Ingersoll Lok-eeze bottle contains powdered graphite, which was squeezed into locks that needed easing. In the 1950s, before central heating was widespread, the Tombac Draught Sealing Strip was helpful for draughty homes.
Adapted from Granny’s Kitchen Cupboard by John Alexander (Pavilion).