Cot­tage in­dus­try built up in bid to keep air fresh

Gloucestershire Echo - - NOSTALGIA -

NO­BODY likes a nasty niff, do they? We are used to eas­ily be­ing able to clear away the bad aro­mas of daily life with de­odor­ants and deter­gents, all read­ily avail­able on shop shelves.

Some­times, though, not to be in­del­i­cate, an air fresh­ener is re­quired.

It was more dif­fi­cult in the days be­fore wash­ing ma­chines, fridges, flush­ing toi­lets, shop-bought readymixed wash­ing liq­uids and clean­ers and so forth to ex­punge all the nor­mal smells of daily liv­ing – so no sur­prise peo­ple were us­ing air fresh­en­ers back then.

The Wil­son holds a large col­lec­tion of air fresh­en­ers from the 19th cen­tury which was amassed by Mrs Kingsnorth-nye of Charl­ton Kings and do­nated in two batches in 1954 and 1972.

These lit­tle ce­ramic pieces are called pastille burn­ers be­cause they would have held a pastille, made up of char­coal bound to­gether with a kind of gum, with a fra­grance such laven­der, rose or san­dal­wood added for a nice smell, and often salt­pe­tre to make it burn longer (salt­pe­tre was also used in fire­works and gun­pow­der), all com­bined to make a lit­tle tablet very dis­sim­i­lar to the in­cense cones we still use to­day.

A whole range of items were pro­duced in which to burn the pastilles.

At first the con­tain­ers were made of metal, but as porce­lain be­came more com­mon it Bri­tain, that was used as well.

In large houses, in their pub­lic spa­ces such as the draw­ing room, this might be a set of highly dec­o­rated cov­ered pots with holes in the lids through which the scented smoke could es­cape, but in their pri­vate rooms there was a fash­ion for the pastille burner to be shaped like a lit­tle house.

These lit­tle houses went on to be­come fash­ion­able in all kinds of homes – often made of bone china from fac­to­ries like Rock­ing­ham or from glazed earth­en­ware by the Stafford­shire pot­ter­ies. The house shape was prac­ti­cal. The pastille was placed in­side the house and the smoke could es­cape through the win­dows or chim­ney of the house.

These lit­tle houses were often very dec­o­ra­tive. Many were cot­tages.

From the 18th cen­tury the cot­tage was con­sid­ered a pic­turesque and healthy place to live – mostly by those who didn’t have to live in them.

It’s a be­lief that goes on to­day with peo­ple’s de­sire to es­cape to the coun­try and live a sim­pler, health­ier life close to the out­doors.

So if you thought coun­try air was health­ier than town air, it was ob­vi­ous to shape an air fresh­ener like a coun­try cot­tage.

But these cot­tages are often un­like any real cot­tage.

They are ide­alised, with thatched roofs, ve­ran­dahs made with rus­tic col­umns of wood (rather im­prac­ti­cal in the British weather) and, of course, flow­ers around the door – and every­where else.

It’s not just cot­tages, but man­sions, cas­tles and churches – and oc­ca­sion­ally some­thing more sin­is­ter.

Among our col­lec­tion of pastille burn­ers and other model houses, there are one or two pieces that show the houses where no­to­ri­ous mur­ders took place.

Mostly, though, they are more whim­si­cal, show­ing swans swim­ming in a brook un­der a cot­tage, a young girl sit­ting by her front door, lovers sneak­ing a kiss, and, my per­sonal favourite, an ele­phant hand­ing wood up to man high up on a build­ing.

You can see some of col­lec­tion in our WOW Gallery, our in­clu­sive, au­di­ence-led gallery that uses the col­lec­tion as a start­ing point for new ideas and re­sponses.

The ele­phant is to be found else­where in our gal­leries – why not come and see if you can find him or her?

You can visit the gallery Tues­day to Satur­day 9.30am to 5.15pm, with late night open­ing on Thurs­day evening, and on Sun­days 11am to 4pm.

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