The Living Museum of the North at Beamish, County Durham, is a wonderful place. A spacious estate is divided into various areas, where the activities and buildings reflect different eras. So you can choose to explore a Victorian coal-mining village, or a small Edwardian town, or a Georgian landscape, take a ride on a tram or be hauled in an open carriage behind a replica of an early steam locomotive. I never cease to be amazed at the diversity of exhibits at Beamish.
Here we can see some of the objects on display inside the Edwardian Co-operative hardware store, one of three Co-operative stores on site (the others are a grocer’s and a drapery). They reflect the growth of the Co-operative movement, which started in the town of Rochdale, Lancashire, in the North of England, in 1844. Owned by the membership, any profits are either plowed back into the movement, or distributed as a ‘dividend’ to the members, they were extremely popular in the North, although they did spread to most parts of the country.
To show that the ‘It slices, dices, chops, blends and juices’ type of kitchen aid was not confined to modern TV infomercials, here are a selection of Victorian/Edwardian chopping machines. The one in the centre is made by Follows & Bates Ltd of Gorton, Manchester, and is described in the colourful advertisement as the ‘Magic Food Chopper – It Chops Everything’; the card shows fish, a chicken, a lamb, a pig, a lobster, carrots, potatoes, apples and celery all heading towards the flared opening of the hand-turned machine – lurking in the background is an ox, which is rather ambitious, I feel! Either side of this are examples of other chopping/grinding machines, a ‘Kenrick No. 7′ selling for 4 shillings and 8 pence (4/8, about one quarter of £1, at a time when a working man-made around £2 a week), and a ‘Duplex Record’. Most of these appliances have wooden plungers, used to force the food items into the chopper head. In the glass case to the right you can see another ‘kitchen aid’ – a ‘Lightning Egg Beater, Size 1′. This is a ceramic cylinder, in which you probably shook the raw egg; modern plastic equivalents are in most modern kitchens.
There are many paraffin lamps for sale (kerosene to my North American reader), mostly of green glass, some decorated. The largest of these with a white globular shade, surrounding a clear glass funnel, has two wicks, controlled by separate, knurled, brass knobs. My Mother had one of these lamps (made in Germany) which she had been given. Sometimes this would be lit on winter evenings – it came in handy during electricity supply failures!
On the extreme right you can see a selection of glass tableware such as nut and sweetmeat dishes, dessert serving dishes, etc. These will be soda-lime glass (sometimes refered to as soda-lime-silica glass). Glass is an interesting material, as it is not crystalline, but technically, has some properties of a super-cooled liquid. However, it might be better described as a non-crystalline, disordered solid. In this case, these objects will have almost no lead content, and therefore none of the ‘sparkle’ of lead crystal.
The selection of hardware, and the associated printed ephemera, in this store at Beamish demonstrates that the range of goods available to the Victorian and Edwardian housewife was broad, if somewhat strange to the modern eye!