Slate ornamentation in cottage interiors
Written accounts of working-class and peasant housing of this period give a picture of squalid hovels – dark, dirty and rudimentary. Standards of housekeeping must have varied then, as now. Wages were precarious, illness or accident to the wage-earner a nightmare, and overcrowding was widespread and accepted. However the carvings made to adorn the slates surrounding their fireplaces and on other objects within their houses are clear evidence that people cared about and appreciated beauty in their homes; otherwise, these slates would not have been carved at all.
The objects depicted in the carvings – clocks, wine glasses, plants in pots – indicate that they were familiar with good furniture and equipment. They constructed slate plinths to lift their best furniture off the earthen floor, and they carved the edges of these plinths as well as pieces of slate to stand between the feet of the dresser, clock etc., to prevent dust accumulating underneath.
A great many houses were therefore far from being dirty hovels as often described. The kitchen with its majestic carved fireplace, the dresser, the clock and the food cupboard on their plinth and the glint of china in the firelight gave the impression of a home worth coming home to, however poor by today’s standards.