7.2 Household and home

Writing about ‘homes’ in the past always runs the danger of becoming an act of ill-informed nostalgia for an imagined and idealised ‘stable’ home and nuclear household. Archaeologists can qualify and illuminate any such facile narrative. People have lived in different areas and in different ways across Scotland throughout this and earlier periods. They have not always lived in families, nor have they always lived ‘at home’; and it is important to distinguish these different kinds of entity. A household may include family members, servants and workers. A home may contain a temporary community united by their beliefs, purposes or circumstances, such as those living in barracks or on a ship, in a poor house or an asylum. This period sees the growth of a distinction between the places that people live and the places that they work leading, by the 19th century to a radical disjuncture for many people between working life and family/home/spiritual/social life. The spatial separation between home and manufacturing work is evident in the replacement of small workrooms or shops within homes by often large factories, to which the workers would travel. This trend was accompanied by changes in the way that the ‘person’ was conceived and the relationship between craftspeople and the goods they produced. For middle-class professionals it often meant moving one’s practice from the home to an office, particularly in the growing cities. This led to the development of the ‘suburban ideal’ as the suburbs became places of home and family. Diane diZerega Wall (1994) has documented this process in New York, pointing out that the separation of home and work also contributed to the ideology of ‘separate spheres’ in gender relations, as city centres became increasingly masculine spaces, and suburbs more feminine. This is, of course, an overstatement and a middle-class perspective: for poorer families female work outside the home was also normal, but it would be informative to investigate the degree to which a feminine home and masculine workplace was still an aspirational value across society.

The separation between home and work changed class relations between employers and employees. Those employing large numbers of people often attempted to exert some influence over their workers’ home lives. This could be in the provision of housing that encouraged its inhabitants to be industrious, sober and devout (through the provision of kirks and chapels, and control of the sale and consumption of alcohol): in the case of Owen’s New Lanark various other facilities including an Institute for the Formation of Character were also supplied.

The significance of separation of work and home needs to be qualified with the recognition that other patterns were also common. Some occupations had always required that the workers come to a particular place: mining and shipbuilding are obvious cases; and in industries such as mining and mineral extraction the separation between home and work was more a factor of change in scale than the nature of the work, as small-scale workings were replaced by large-scale ones and a larger workforce, sometimes working shifts, was more likely to be housed at least seasonally in barracks. Seasonality in work and home places should also be considered: the use of shielings and similar seasonal exploitation of land for pasture or agriculture seems to vary locally and it is interesting to see how that changes (and where it does not) with Improved forms of land exploitation.

Architectural techniques and materials – both polite and vernacular – can provide insights into custom, economy and aspiration. In the case of timber buildings of the early modern period, for example, despite palynological evidence for areas of ‘ancient’ pinewood and well-documented evidence for exploitation of native pinewoods, albeit affected by issues of quality and difficulty associated with transportation (Stewart 2003, Smout et al. 2005), the Scottish post-medieval buildings investigated to date do not contain old slow-grown pine. Where timbers are native or are thought to be native, they come from young trees which started life in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, possibly from plantations established by landowners (Mills 2008). Slow grown wood may have been destined for specialist uses such as ship-building or for export.

In rural areas the places of the rich and of the poor are interesting in their modes of contrast. Wealthy landowners lived on large estates in fine houses and gardens. While there is extensive art historical literature on the design of these houses, there is extensive opportunity for archaeological approaches to their use, especially those which reflect the long-term history of changes and adaptations in the locality. Recent work on the technology of country houses illustrates this potential (the Virtual Hamilton Palace Project (http://hamilton.rcahms.gov.uk/) is an important example of an up and running study of a major household). The creation and reproduction of the relationships of class were organised through material culture among other things and the technologies and spaces through which they were made are worthy of study.

The process by which the laird’s house of the 16th and 17th centuries changed from requiring some form of tower at the focus of the house to one that would be recognised as a house or mansion has been touched upon by various researchers, but it too has regional trajectories chronologically that need to be better understood and the influences that played upon them internally and externally.

The aristocratic house also changed in other ways. It evolved from the intimate terraced gardens of the 16th-17th centuries (currently being worked on by Marilyn Brown at RCAHMS) to the elaborate avenues and parterres of the designed landscapes of the later 17th and 18th centuries. At the same time physical changes in the environment of the great house are important. The change from the hunting parks and forests of the medieval period to the deer park as part of the polite environment of the designed landscape needs archaeological and ecological research. Deer were not the only domestic animals, however: how far and for what reasons cattle or other animals were kept in park enclosures should be addressed.

Of course, most people in rural areas were not rich. The lives of the rural poor are often under-documented, or can only be seen historically as refracted through legal or financial records. Archaeology plainly has a contribution to make here in examining the experiences and the texture of life for the rural poor through their things and places. This need not only mean that archaeology can reach the parts that history cannot reach, but that textual sources should be worked with closely to integrate all sources of evidence for the study of the past. In selecting houses and settlements for archaeological research more effort should be exerted to identify study areas with good documentation. For instance, in Islay there are abandoned 18th-19th-century townships for which there are 1850s inventories of the woodwork and data on the occupants.

It is becoming apparent from work in Bute and Aberdeenshire that there are social hierarchies in rural settlement that find expression in the pattern of settlement and in the type of buildings that were occupied by different types of tenant, from cottar to crofter or tenant. For the rural population, especially the tenant, the house was both the core of the working farm and the household. Archaeology has barely yet touched upon these differences, which regional studies of field remains and targeted excavation could address. The ubiquitous myth of the byre-dwelling as the paradigm of a pre-Improvement farmhouse needs to be tested. Some evidence from the Western Isles suggests that this was an Improvement of the 19th century, while regional studies in mainland areas such as Caithness and Aberdeenshire have not found the byre-dwelling to be the house-type there. Similarly the extent and nature of transhumance in Scotland needs looked at more closely (see see section 8 ‘People and Landscape’).

In towns and cities the places of the poor have often not survived, or their archaeological investigation presents problems given rapid changes in urban landuse and the complexity of urban stratigraphy. One of the challenges is to impress upon colleagues in planning departments that 19th-century working class housing, where it survives in inner city areas, is potentially of considerable archaeological value. Moreover, the popularity of the back-to-back houses in central Birmingham (owned and managed now by the National Trust) and the tenement house museum in Glasgow is testament to the interest of the general public in the way of life of ordinary people.

The everyday lives of ordinary people may be evident in their rubbish, even when the architectural evidence of their homes has disappeared. The rubbish pit is a ubiquitous feature of urban archaeology, and analysis of its contents can demonstrate the composition of the household as well as some of their aspirations. From the 19th century, the disposal of rubbish was more likely to be centrally organised, at least in urban areas, and to involve the removal of waste from the area of the households which produced it. Even before this time the predominance of organic materials in everyday life and construction, and habitual recycling of these materials at the end of their life (see soil management below) mean that the archaeological record is limited by preservational biases. Sediment chemistry can provide some insights into the distribution of activities within buildings and the redistribution of materials from hearth to field (Wilson et al. 2005, 2009), although unfortunately preservation conditions appear too poor to rival the sensory insights into living conditions, use of space and social hierarchy provided by insect remains in floor layers in the North Atlantic islands (Buckland et al. 1992). Cesspits and drains appear more valuable sources for revealing the range of foodstuffs, pests and hygiene. Dickson and Dickson Dickson and Dickson (2000) have dealt with the medieval period; similar syntheses for later periods are needed, though archaeological reports and grey literature are likely to provide useful snapshots, e.g. flax-retting on Lochtayside (Jennifer Miller, pers. comm.). Soils deepened by manuring, together with written sources, can provide insights into the development of urban areas (Golding and Davidson 2005), as well as an interesting point of comparison with written regulations on the disposal and value of waste at the rural-urban interface (Davidson et al. 2006).

A photograph of painted graffiti showing a man in uniform sitting at a table being served food by a waitress

WWII graffito on the wall of the Engineering Works in Leithen Cresent, Innerleithen, which was painted by Polish soldiers billeted there. Ephemera such as grafitti are often very valuable indiciations of the experiences and values of people who have left little other written (or drawn) record of their intimate and personal lives © RCAHMS

Research in housing does not and should not stop at the 19th century. The interdisciplinary study of 20th-century urban housing is an interesting area to begin pulling apart questions of the relative impact of public and private agendas on housing provision. Twentieth-century slum clearance generated new estates and new forms of housing such as the tower block. Twentieth-century slum clearance generated new estates and new forms of housing such as the tower block (see the tower block resource www.towerblock.org and Docomomo Scottish chapter: http://www.docomomoscotland.org.uk/).

Ongoing dialogue with historians, architects and sociologists is necessary to identify where archaeology can make useful contributions to an understanding of modern housing.

It would also be interesting to consider how far folk practices are evident in ‘modern’ homes: are there apotropaic deposits or artefacts?  Such folk practices are notoriously poorly identified and may be misidentified or discarded when uncovered (Hoggard 2004; Merrifield, 1987; Crossland 2010). To what extent are older conventions of domestic architecture followed even when the function of the home has changed?  The persistence of a ‘best room’, parlour or spence might be one example of this.  The need to have a room suitable for entertaining guests or for use on holiday and ceremonial occasions was often sufficiently keen even in the 20th century that the everyday indoor business of the household was all conducted in the kitchen or family room, despite the consequent crowding.

Housing needs to be understood in its social and geographical relationship with places and relationships of work. The case of miners’ rows is a good example of these relationships.

See also the ScARF Case Study: Miners Rows


Case Study: Miners Rows

Comments 2

  1. Archaeological examples?

    Are there any good archaeologicla examples of female work outside the home? Can we use archaeology to show to what degree a feminine home and masculine workplace was still an aspirational value across society as mentioned in the text?

  2. SAIR: A Social History of 19th-century Farm Workers

    “Housing needs to be understood in its social and geographical relationship with places and relationships of work.” – so why not read…

    A Social History of 19th-century Farm Workers and their Families, at Jack’s Houses, Kirkliston, Midlothianby Stuart Mitchell, Fay Oliver and Tim Neighbour with contributions by S Anderson, M Cressey, G Haggarty & R MurdochAvailable for free as a Scottish Archaeological Internet Report at http://www.sair.org.uk/sair33/

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