A Year in the 18th Century

August 1, 2013 in Living history, Resources and Research, Uncategorized by M C

I love this woman’s sense of adventure, and her honesty in her published diary, right down to molding bedding and sneaking into the main house to do laundry.  I particularly like that this woman is not some young person, seized by the “Tiny House” or “consume nothing” movement.  Yes, she’s frustrated with modern life, but she takes this on as a work of experimental archeology and shares with us some of her discoveries.  One of which is that life wasn’t as wonderfully simple in mid-1700s Scotland as she thought it was.

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For one thing.. it gets dark at night.  Through pictures and text she gives us an idea of just what it would have meant to go through winter after winter with nothing but a single candle to light an evening.  Everything, even the simplest tasks, are complicated by a lack of illumination.

And Fiona Houston explodes one of the most pernicious and pet myths of the period, and my pet peeve: the home manufacture of soap.  Yes, it was possible at the time to make soap at home using lye collected by filtering water through hardwood ashes and blending the result with rendered fats to produce a soft brown soap-like substance.  No, most people did not make soap at home.  By the 8th century Italy and Spain had factories producing soap.  By the 13th and 14th century France and England did as well.  While the average Highland household probably ate foods (such as pork) higher in fat than we see today, the fact is.. they ate the fat.  Fat is calorie dense.  If they didn’t eat it, they needed it as a lubricant or waterproofer.  By the 1700s soap was readily available for sale, and certainly by the 1760s even colonial American households could enjoy the benefits of French milled soap brought in on the great trading clippers.

The Garden Cottage Diaries: My Year in the Eighteenth Century is an engaging romp through a year of living in the modern world as an 18th century woman. From bed to baths to cooking, gardening, and traveling to visit distant relatives as authentically as possible (a good deal of hill walking is involved).  It might inspire you to do your own experiment in 18th century living.

Or.. it might not.  There’s something to be said for living vicariously.

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