I’m currently preparing a series of blogs about life in a working class Coventry street just over 100 years ago. I hope that the first of these articles will make its appearance in the next week or so. In the meantime, I am absorbed in – and far too distracted by – local press advertisements and references to the running of house and home. Today, feeling more than a little lockdown glum in the gloom of a wet mid February, I came across some delightful advice included on ‘The Women’s Page’ of the Coventry Herald 110 years ago. Entitled ‘How to Be Happy’, it grabbed my attention on a page full of subjects such as how tuberculosis is infectious (and how to render sputum harmless) and why you shouldn’t overheat your house (the heated air is detrimental to the mucous membrane of the nose). There are some cures for insomnia which range from taking a hot bath, using a hot-water bottle, reading a particularly dull book to the rather more specific suggestion of covering the eyes and ears with wadding. In a similar vein there is free medical advice provided to those writing in to the column. ‘Anxious M’ is told to ‘springe out the nostrils’ with a mixture of hot water and carbolic acid every morning, and sounding even more alarming than that is the advice given to ‘Concerned’ who is told that, ‘There is no connection between the discharge and the operation. Use a warm douche containing a little Condy’s fluid twice daily’. I think it’s best we don’t know what had been asked. I feel pretty sorry for the (presumed) infant of another Anxious who faced a cotton reel being strapped to his back using tapes passing round his waist to prevent him from lying on his back.
Also on the page are recipes for Crecy soup (a thoroughly boiled and sieved concoction of carrots, turnips, celery, onion, ham slices and beef broth), boiled mince roll (sewn into a cloth), mutton and macaroni (also boiled), Scotch eggs ( using up scraps of cold or sausage meat) and apple snow, served with redcurrant jelly and thin (boiled) custard. There is a pattern for a Spring skirt and a sketch for a an Easter bride’s dress.
The adverts are well chosen for the page and include mangle rollers, chimney sweeping, ladies blouses and Allinson’s Wholemeal Bread, available from the city Health Food Stores. There is a children’s column offering mathematical surprises and stories from around the world about the moon (women readers of newspapers and journals were used to sharing ‘their’ section with children, making sure that the loftier matters of politics and sport were kept far apart from household cleaning, fashion, food – oh and the raising of children. At least ‘Concerned’ could be reasonably assured that her ailment wasn’t likely to be read out at breakfast time).
The humour in the jokes section is cheesy enough for groans; “Now Patsy, would it be proper to say, ‘You can’t learn me nothing’? ” Patsy, “Yes, ‘m “. Teacher, “Why?” Patsy, “Cause you can’t”.
And on that note, here are the words of wisdom given to the women of Coventry in 1911 not just on how to be happy but how to stay that way, in ten steps:
‘Keep cheerful. Hunting trouble ruins more nerves than trouble when it arrives
Keep alert. Mental ruts make more hypochondriacs than does overwrought imagination
Keep physically active. The alert woman who hates to move is usually the greatest growler about her health
Keep clean. The close connection between the pores of the skin and general health is not considered carefully enough
Keep interested. There is nothing like a fad or an object in life to put aches and pains into the background
Keep your feet warm. more cold is taken through the ankles than in any other way, so do not run in low shoes all winter
Keep away from drugs. Walk more and take medicine less
Keep a curb on your appetite. Over-eating is the menace of the age
Keep out of debt. There is nothing like money troubles to worry one to death. Care will kill the nine-lived cat and what gives more care than a budget of debts with no money to settle?
Lucky those, then, who could settle their debts. In my forthcoming series, I will be looking at the people who lived in the street I have chosen for the study, examining their occupations, their wages and how they got by. In the early twentieth century Coventry’s population was growing, new industries were providing employment not just for the local workforce but for those from other towns and cities, attracted by the prospect of a decent wage and a secure future. I want to look inside the census statistics, curious to get as close as possible to the realities of daily life. That’s if, of course, I stop getting distracted by discoveries along the way….
The page is from the Coventry Herald, March 31 1911