If Walls Could Talk
An Intimate History of Your Home
... is a book and a 4-part BBC TV series, exploring the intimate history of your home. The book's published in the UK by Faber & Faber, and in the US by Walker Books. Click here to buy it.
'Has a naughty twinkle in her eye ... a pleasure to read'. - The Telegraph
'It's all terrific fun'. - The Sunday Times
'An unpretentious history of mundane things made remarkable, this amusingly straightforward treatise can't help hitting close to home'. - O: The Oprah Magazine
'Brisk and effervescent ... brings these myriad details into focus'. - The Wall Street Journal
'An intriguing pleasure'. - The Guardian
'A fascinating journey'. - Daily Mail
'A very enjoyable beginner's guide to British domestic life'. - Mail on Sunday
I’ve explored what people actually did in bed, in the bath, at the table, and at the stove. This has taken me from sauce-stirring to breast-feeding, teeth-cleaning to masturbation, getting dressed to getting married.
Along my way, I was intrigued to discover that bedrooms in the past were rather crowded, semi-public places, and that only in the nineteenth century did they become reserved purely for sleep and sex. The bathroom didn’t even exist as a separate room until late into the Victorian age, and it surprised me that people’s attitudes towards personal hygiene, rather than technological innovation, determined the pace of its development. The living room emerged once people had the leisure time and spare money to spend in and on it, and I’ve learned to think of it as a sort of stage-set where homeowners acted out an idealized version of their lives for the benefit of guests.
Meanwhile, the story of the kitchen is also the story of food safety, transport, technology and gender relations. Once I realized this, I saw my own kitchen in an entirely new light.
I’ve uncovered lots of tiny, quirky and seemingly trivial details, but through them I think we can chart great, overarching, revolutionary changes in society. A person’s home makes an excellent starting point for assessing their time, place and life. ‘I’ve a great respect forthings!’ says Madame Merle in Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady (1881). ‘We’re each of us made up of some cluster of appurtenances … one’s house, one’s furniture, one’s garments, the books one reads, the company one keeps - these things are all expressive’. That’s why, now as then, people lavish so much time, effort and money on their houses.
See part of the show below...
The photos to the left show just some of the fun we had making the series...
Mrs Stern, the cook at Shugborough Hall, shows me how to make a Victorian jelly.
Making wallpaper using William Morris's original blocks at the Sandersons factory in Loughborough. It's not as easy as it looks!
We filmed in the freezing winter of 2009-10. It was four degrees indoors the day we went to Hardwick Hall!
This was a darn sight more comfortable (apart from the stays I had to wear with that dress) - a lovely Georgian tea party with Amanda and Jane in Spitalfields.
Here Emma Hindley (our producer) and Hugo MacGregor (our director) are explaining the rules of 'bundling' to these brave young people. In rural areas courting couples might share a bed for a night to see how they got on. The board down the middle prevented any hanky-panky.
Here I'm heading down to the sea for a Georgian cold-water sea-dip. It was claimed (for men) to cure 'a general disorder of the whole Codpiece Economy'.
Here Simon, Adam, Eleanor, Sally and I are trying out the steam baths at Ironmonger Row - in order to talk about the medieval stews of Southwark and surprising fact that medieval people liked a sauna.
A beautiful day at Kedleston. That pavilion is brilliant: you can fish from the upper room, or take a dip in the plunge-pool housed in its lower storey.
Usually I was the one in the bath, but here for once the tables were turned. Hugo, Brendan, Emma and Adam are listening to me talking about the toilet.
When all the filming and editing was done, I was quite shocked to find that it finally began to look like a Proper Television Programme ... the sort of thing I might actually watch and enjoy.
In the final picture I'm toasting you from the editing suite with a tankard of ale while eating Georgian roast mutton. Cheers.
© 2013 Lucy Worsley