A Virtual Tour of the Back to Backs – part 23
So, let’s go down now to the ground floor of the Oldfields’ house.
This is the nerve centre of Ann’s little empire – dedicated to cleaning, feeding and generally bringing up her growing brood. Just ten years after her last child was born Ann died of consumption at the age of 52 – probably bought on by exhaustion we would think. Five years later Herbert re-married. His second wife, Sarah, died just 18 months after they had tied the knot!
Unlike the Levy’s house that we’ve just seen, this one has a cooking range where Ann can cook a meal. But there is not a great deal of space for food preparation. There is a small scullery but, of course there would be no running water or drainage here at this time. The only other space for food preparation is the table where the family will also be eating.
The food that can be seen on the table is interesting. There is a metal box for storage of herbs and spices – this would not be an extravagance. In those days there was no legislation covering the storage and sale of foodstuffs, so the meat that Ann Oldfield would buy may not be of the best quality and could be turning rancid – the herbs and spices would mask the smell of unpalatable meat.
Amongst the other foods is a plate of oyster shells. Oysters? Yes, oysters. Back in Victorian times oysters were not regarded as a luxury. They were quite commonplace amongst working class families. The railways had arrived in Birmingham in the 1830s and this meant there would be a cheap and plentiful supply of all types of seafood in the landlocked town. Oysters were a good source of protein so such delights as beef and oyster stew were common fare in the Oldfield house.
So, shall we find out what did Herbert did for a living?