Bathing in a tin bath confined to history in the front room evolution

What do you call yours? Is it a front room, a sitting room, a best room, a lounge or a parlour?

By The Star Newsroom
Tuesday, 07 May, 2019, 13:01
The best china on display for a celebration in the 'front room' in the 1950s

It was when I watched a popular property auction programme on television that I realised that my terraced house no longer had a front living room and a kitchen, it now possessed reception rooms which seems to signify somewhere rather grander than mine actually is.

Traditionally I have a front room which of course was so called because it was on the front of the house, often overlooking the road and had a main entrance or front door.

However this door was never used in years gone by, nor was the room to any great extent.

The terms living room or sitting room were only coined in the early part of the twentieth century.

In Victorian times it was the parlour and was where the deceased would be laid out before exiting the house in a coffin through the front door. Hence the popular term of funeral parlour as in undertakers’ premises.

Other uses for the front parlour was for courting when a prospective suitor was welcomed into the home, again through the front door, to court the object of his affections, always chaperoned, which as the rooms were not exactly sizeable, made conversation limited.

Over the years the front room, or good room as some called it, became largely unused.

It contained the best furniture, often a china cabinet with treasures that had been passed down the generations and best tea sets that were rarely used, and sometimes a piano which no one could play, and sometimes a radiogram with a small collection of father’s records.

There was always a fireplace but the fire was rarely lit.

This was as much to do with expense as anything. The main fire was in the kitchen.

The room was only used for special family occasions, for Christmas, christenings or funerals and occasionally on Sundays.

If it was cold then, father would bring a shovel of hot cokes from the fire in the kitchen to take the chill off the air.

Even if there was a large family with many children, all daily life was conducted in the back kitchen.

This was where mother would cook meals, where she would wash every Monday. If the weather was poor the washing was placed all over the room, often on a pulley contraption at ceiling height.

On Tuesday she ironed. Children played in the kitchen, read or studied at the table.

Every Friday it was bath time, whether you needed one or not.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The tin bath was brought in from its place hanging on the wall of the outside toilet, placed in front of the fire, and filled with copious amounts of water, sometimes from a copper boiler or from the stove using kettles and saucepans.

Plain household soap was used and a jug to rinse it off. The water was never wasted and could be used afterwards for washing a few clothes or throwing on the vegetable patch.

There was a special hierarchy to bath times.

Father was first and then it went in order of age right down to the youngest child. I have heard it said that some people never felt properly clean until they grew up and left home!

The ritual of family bathing gave us the phrase ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’ as it was important to check that baby wasn’t submerged in the murky water!

Who would have thought that in years to come there would be bathrooms with locks on the doors and that you could have your own clean scented water with the chance to soak for hours in it, possibly surrounded by candles which your parents would only have used if there was a power cut?

As years went by things also changed as far as the front room, although the concept of letting the family use the best room which was starting to be called the sitting room, lounge or family room, was difficult for many housewives to come to terms with.

They didn’t always have much in their lives and took great pride in at least having a room which was special and largely untouched.

Families wanted to listen to the radio in comparative quiet, especially the younger ones who had discovered Radio Luxembourg, and certainly when courting could be conducted without a chaperone, they wanted to use the front room away from prying eyes.

The advent of television in the mid-1950s meant that the front room was the logical place for it to be placed. The days of the front room were numbered.

Today terminology in house terms has very much changed. Yards have become patios, attics are now lofts and cellars now basements.

The trend is often for large family rooms incorporating the kitchen and suitable for socialising. If a kitchen is small, it isn’t described as such. Instead it is bijou!

Father’s old shed in the back garden can be a studio or garden room and it is most desirable to have en-suite bathrooms in addition to the main family one.

The idea of bathing in a tin bath in front of the fire is confined to history books.

But, you know, old habits die hard and many people still keep their front room for best and don’t use the front door.