21 March 2011

Huswiferie

I spent Saturday afternoon at The Geffrye Museum, and it was charming.



Despite this beautiful Museum of the Home standing slapbang in Hoxton, there were groups of visitors that reminded me of the National Heritage lot from home. As I walked through the entrance garden I saw these folk all huddled on benches, drinking from their thermoses and eating homemade sandwiches made from wholemeal bread. It was a gloriously sunny day, yet I definitely spied some anoraks. In contrast, once I made my way inside the permanent exhibition I came across a few archetypal Shoreditch hipsters. Achingly cool. Asymmetric haircuts - check. Patterned wool jumpers - check. Cut off denim shorts - check. Oversize clumpy 'workman's' boots - check. A charming place can appeal to all sorts, especially when it's a stone's throw from Hoxton station.

The walk through the rooms from the 1600s to the 1900s is a time-travel treat. It follows 'the middling sort' through all domesticity. Information boards on 'The Middling Sort and Gardening', 'The Middling Sort and Politeness', and so on. And there are pretty little watercolour paintings of gardens and rooms by women with names like Beatrice and Matilda. Most of the furniture pieces are authentic, and therefore cannot be touched. However, there is a wooden replica of one from the 17th century, which the public can sit on. It has a sign above it saying 'You might find that sitting in the chair makes you feel important, and no doubt this was the intention'. I felt important. I was also introduced to a curious fellow called Gervase Markham. He was a writer in the early 1600s, his main subject being 'the mystery and science of huswiferie'. One pearl of wisdom from this evident campaigner for women's rights was that women's clothes should be comely and not cut with toyish garnishes. Oh, and that they should always be pleasant to their menfolk, suppressing rage and frustration, and forever smiling sweetly.

The garden reading room smells of flowers. It looks over the herb garden and topiaried hedges, is lined with wicker chairs, is fringed with pot plants and gardening books, and has a blue-green mural on one wall, which looks like a scene from The Wind in the Willows but with added peacocks. This room is right behind the chapel. A whole chapel inside a house. Along with cherubs, there are skulls up above.

In the sun-shot tea room I drank hot chocolate and listened to a terribly 'proper' English dame (she looked and sounded like a loud-voiced dame, though I can't definitively claim she was) speaking impeccable French to her Gallic guest, pressing the fish cakes upon him. 'I can't recommend the fishcakes enough, they are awfully good fishcakes' etc etc. The Frenchman ordered chicken.

It turns out I visited this museum when I was three. I don't remember it. And I can safely say that I didn't learn much from Gervaise Markham, as I used a broken hoover rather ineffectively over at the beau's, and didn't leave the house at all except for tinned rice pudding and a jar of jam. Lovely Sunday.

2 comments:

Chris said...

"Toyish garnishes" will be the phrase for this week..............

are you dressing up or dressing down said...

I love your writing style, sounds like a lovely place.

Helen, X
areyoudressingupordressingdown.blogspot.com