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Museum Blog: Wisdom of Yesteryear, a 1940’s Household Encyclopedia

Wisdom from Yesteryear: a 1940’s Household Encyclopaedia

As we all find we are spending extra time at home, in between looking after work and family, why not take some time to explore what artefacts or archives you have at home?  This may be a picture, photograph, letters or like me, a wedding present belonging to my parents: a 1940’s Household Encyclopaedia.  In the early part of the twentieth century it was common for newlyweds to receive such a book as a guide to setting up home:

The compilers, while endeavouring to include all that necessary and useful

information which the housewife will require, have yet been limited to the scope of a single

 volume, so that the reader must bear in mind that only such information has been included

as is likely to be required in the management of the average household.

Some of the information from this 80-year old book was at the time updated for ‘latest usage’ but is now out of time but some information is timeless.  In 2020, we are aware that there is no longer such a thing as an average household and that it is not only housewives who maintain the home.  Indeed some information has changed so much that it is in itself a reflection of how society has changed over time.

When my mother died this book came to me for safekeeping.  I loved to bake with the recipes when I was a young teenager- evidence of which can still be seen on the pages!  Each week, during lockdown, I will share a little piece of information from this family artefact.  Some may amuse, some may inspire you to try new ways of baking (or cleaning!).  Artefacts and treasured objects are not just for museums, we all have them in the family or at home…now would be a good time to investigate yours.  Hope you enjoy …

Thursday 2 April 2020:  The A’s

AARON’S BEARD: Popular name for St. John’s Wort, a hardy, attractive plant with yellow flowers, growing freely in sandy soil, suitable for rock gardens or for bordering on slopes.  The reptant variety flowers in July and is of trailing habit: easily cultivated and full flowered.  They are perennial and increased by division.

ABERNETHY BISCUITS, PLAIN: Named after the famous doctor, and supposed to be from his recipe, these are wholesome for any one on a strictly plain diet. Take 1lb of flour (not self-raising), 1 egg and 2 tablespoons of sugar, with1/4ILb. butter and very little milk. (2 dessertspoonfuls).  Make a stiff paste by rubbing the egg and butter into the flour, adding the sugar.  Roll out and make into thin rounds by pressing the rim of a drinking glass into the dough.  Bake for 10 minutes in a moderate oven.  According to taste, the sugar can be lessened or increased, and some prefer to add a scattering of caraway seeds.

ALLOTMENTS.  Where the Secretary of an allotment association is unknown, application should be made to the local municipal offices.  An allotment garden is usually 10 rods to an extent, or say 30 feet by 90 feet, ample space for supplying the vegetable needs of an average family.  Particulars of the most economical lay-out of an average area are issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, Whitehall, London, S.W.1., who also send free leaflets advising on the culture of allotments, seed quantities and directions for growing the most useful vegetables.  Those having an allotment are expected to keep it in good cultivation and particularly, for the common good, to keep it free from weeds and rotting leaves which foster insect pests.  Throughout this Encyclopaedia are ample directions for every cultural activity and for growing vegetables of every kind, as well as directions for destroying insects and combatting plant diseases.

Help us out during the Covid 19 Lockdown

  1. Writing was much more formal in the past anyone any ideas on what “reptant” or “moderate” means in the modern world?
  2. Does anyone know anything about this Dr Abernethy??
  3. Do you have a family artefact you would like to share on our virtual museum? For example, have you received a notification that you are in the ‘at risk’ category, or a communication from work on hygiene or how to work from home? Support for NHS  and frontline workers has resulted in many families displaying artwork in their windows.  Would you like to take a photo of it and send to us?  When this is over, we would love it if you could donate some of your personal Covid 19 information to Lisburn Museum.  Future generations will want to know all about it and how it impacted on ordinary people like you!


If you try any of the receipes – send us a picture and let us know how they turned out!


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