Secret cupboard

Before we leave the kitchen

Before I take you through to the sitting room, I must point out the interesting old doors both in the kitchen and throughout the house, of which there are nine !   In addition to the door into the kitchen from the pocket-hanky lobby, there's a hidden door under the stairs.   And there is the door to the stairs ~ a special treat which I'll save for later !!

The cupboard under the stairs is supposed to have been the smuggler's cupboard for goods salvaged from ship wrecks ~ though I'm sure the Customs and Excise men would have spotted it straight away.   It is quite spacious, with stone floor and the wall the herringbone-tooled dressed stone blocks.  It would have made a perfect hiding place from the Press Gangs who terrorised the men of Whitby in the late 1700s ~ tricking them into taking the king's shilling and then hauling them off to serve in the navy, usually for years.  Elizabeth Gaskell gives us a vivid picture of this dreadful custom in her novel, "Sylvia's Lovers" which is set here in Whitby in the 1780s ~ indeed my Sanders feature in the story, though disguised as the Foster brothers ~ more about that later.

Come to think of it, I've no idea where the coal was kept ~ and in this fairly affluent house a lot would be needed for the kitchen range and at least two other coal firesl.   It's hard to believe that any self-respecting housewife would welcome bags of coal in her clean kitchen.  Whatever, it is jolly useful now, that smuggler's cupboard, for the Vax, tins of paint, wellies, the snow shovel and so on.

So where would the coal have been kept ?   There was no room for a coal bunker that I can think of ~ it couldn't have been placed outside the kitchen windows as this would block access to the privy.   And there was only the narrow foot path going up between the facing terraces ~ no gardens, of course.   Perhaps the sacks of coal were simply dumped outside the sitting room window, where my bench is today.  Poorer families probably fetched coal from the quay in small quantities ~ maybe a bucketful at a time as they could afford it.

In her splendid little book "Whitby Yards" (1990, and sadly out of print) Cordelia Stamp tells us coal was the principal fuel : The yard houses were warm.  Built as they were in tight-packed terraces and sheltered from the biting winds of the north-east seaboard, there was not so much loss of heat from them as from modern houses today.   And in the days when a cottage would most likely be divided into tenements and each family with its own fire , much more heat would be generated . . . Whitby was an important coal port between Newcastle and London, with coal wharfes lining the river on each bank.   Coal would be a cheap, though dirty, form of heating.   The sweep would have been a regular visitor, and his visit a major event.   The room had to be cleared as far as possible, and everything covered with dust sheets.  After he'd finished, the resultant soot would have to be removed from every nook and cranny, carpets carried outside and beaten, floors scrubbed, curtains changed ~ even the very walls swept.  All this had to be done in the early morning, for unless a neighbour boiled a kettle for you, the fire was the only source of heat for cooking and heating water. 

Without the fire getting the family up, washed, dressed, fed and off to school or work must have been a nightmare.

No pictures of doors till the weather improves and Di comes over from Scarborough with her camera ~ but here's one of the kitchen table.  And at last I've found the morning glory growing outside our North View terrace in Winchester ~ do wish I could grow it again ~ maybe it's just not warm enough in Whitby ~ I do love morning glory !

 Seem to have got sidetracked ~ more doors another time !


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Latest comments

14.03 | 05:51

Hi Joy, came across your blog while researching the Sanders, thanks for the interesting read about them and your lovely house.

27.10 | 11:43

Michael ~ happily ~ and good luck ~ I'd like to know the outcome ~ joy peach

26.10 | 14:33

I am in the same position. Amazingly, your case R(IS)1/93 - CIS/270/1991 is being used against me. Clearly, it got more complicated. Can I quote your blog? Mike

28.05 | 15:41

Hello Joy. We have a new Merrywood Grammar group on Facebook if you would like to take a look -

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