Thank you to Kelly and Meggy of Love Books Tours for the opportunity to read and review this book. Regular readers of my blog will know that I don’t review many non-fiction books, but as the granddaughter of a coal miner this one appealed to me.
A large black cast iron range glowing hot, the kettle steaming on top, provider of everything from bath water and clean socks to morning tea: it’s a nostalgic icon of a Victorian way of life. But it is far more than that. In this book, social historian and TV presenter Ruth Goodman tells the story of how the development of the coal-fired domestic range fundamentally changed not just our domestic comforts, but our world.
The revolution began as far back as the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, when London began the switch from wood to coal as its domestic fuel – a full 200 years before any other city. It would be this domestic demand for more coal that would lead to the expansion of mining, engineering, construction and industry: the Domestic Revolution kick-started, pushed and fuelled the Industrial Revolution.
There were other radical shifts. Coal cooking was to change not just how we cooked but what we cooked (causing major swings in diet), how we washed (first our laundry and then our bodies) and how we decorated (spurring the wallpaper industry). It also defined the nature of women’s and men’s working lives, pushing women more firmly into the domestic sphere. It transformed our landscape and environment (by the time of Elizabeth’s death in 1603, London’s air was as polluted as that of modern Beijing). Even tea drinking can be brought back to coal in the home, with all its ramifications for the shape of the empire and modern world economics.
Taken together, these shifts in our day-to-day practices started something big, something unprecedented, something that was exported across the globe and helped create the world we live in today
I’m so glad I had the opportunity to read this fascinating book. Ruth’s writing style is excellent, the book is informative but also in a friendly way, rather than a boring factual textbook style.
The book looks at what the UK used for fuel before coal, and how the changes happened, primarily in London, then across the country. As coal use increased, the design of our houses, what we ate, how we cleaned all changed – hence the title of domestic revolution.
I’ve visited the National Coal Mining museum near Wakefield and went underground to see what the conditions were like for my grandpa and his family, but this book explains why so many people were needed to mine for coal, to provide heat, hot water and hot meals.
The book also reminded me about the old Aga that my grandparents had, explaining how it would work, allowing different types of cooking could happen simultaneously. I remember being equally scared and fascinated at the age of 4 when my grandpa made my toast with an open flame and toasting fork rather than the electric toaster we had at home.
I look forward to reading more of Ruth’s books. If you enjoy history and enjoyed watching Ruth’s programmes and/or the ‘Back in time’ series with Sara Cox on BBC2, then I recommend reading this book.
For the first time, shows how the Industrial Revolution truly began in the kitchen – a revolution run by women. Told with Ruth’s inimitable wit, passion and commitment to revealing the nitty-gritty of life across three centuries of extraordinary change, from the Elizabethan to the Victorian age.
A TV regular, Ruth has appeared on some of BBC 2’s most successful shows, including: Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm, Wartime Farm, Tudor Monastery Farm, Inside the Food Factory and most recently Full Steam Ahead, as well as being a regular expert presenter on The One Show. The critically acclaimed author of How to Be a Victorian, How to be a Tudor and How to Behave Badly in Renaissance Britain.