By far the most interesting section of a housekeeping manual is that devoted to hints and tips: readers were bombarded with advice on cleaning, eradicating and preserving, and the advice ranged from the eminently sensible, via the mildly eccentric, to the seriously weird.

We are still bombarded with advice, but the emphasis today has shifted to acquiring and embellishing. But there seems to be little spark to housekeeping these days, compared to the 1930s when housework could be bracingly described as "a mixture of scientific skill and great fun" (Home of Today, published by the Daily Express in the 1930s).

Obviously a return to the days of lead paint, blackbeetles and butler sinks is not advisable, but a glance through a pre-war housekeeping manual should be mandatory for homeowners today who want to adopt Edwardian or 30s styles of interior decoration.

For them, and for other interested readers, here's my list of ten favourite tips from my collection, dating from the 1870s through to the 1970s:

However bad it may be to be poor, it is much worse to look poor.

Nelson's Home Comforts, 1893

To make a novel oven: a biscuit tin, with three holes punched in the top, and a meat-stand for a shelf, can be used on any gas ring. "Very useful if living in rooms".

You and I Cookery Book

Cheap furniture polish: roots, flowers and leaves of dandelions, covered with water and boiled for half an hour.


Soft soap: 8 quarts water, 3lb dripping, 2lb black ash, 1/2lb resin. Boil to a jelly, and cut into cakes when nearly cold.

Best Way

Housekeeping without a maid: do not commence by doing too much before breakfast. Unless one has been accustomed to early rising, it is apt to knock one up for the rest of the day.

The Woman's Book (1911)

For home made washing powder: mix together 1/4lb powered soap, 1lb soda crystals (which have been dried in the oven) and 1/4lb sal ammoniac.

Cookery Illustrated

Weakness of the knees: paint them very lightly every night with iodine liniment.

Star Prize Recipes

Transporting a piano upcountry: if the road is only a camel-road, the piano must be carried by coolies, of whom 14 or 16 will be needed.

Complete Indian Housekeeper

and Cook (1893)

To make a lifebelt - take 13/4 yards of strong jean, double and divide into nine compartments. Fill with fine cork cuttings, work eyelet holes into bottom of each compartment, let water drain out, and attach neckband and waiststring of stout bootweb

Star Prize Recipes.

To clean white wings: make a paste of French chalk and naphtha of the consistency of cream. Free the wings from dust and wipe with a rag dipped in spirits of wine. Spread the cream over the wings and allow it to remain for 12 hours. Then brush off.

Cookery Illustrated

(I'm afraid I have no idea what this last tip is about.)