- Do you have an infestation of black beetles? Try keeping a pet hedgehog.
- Are you a woman planning on taking the Omnibus into town? Don’t, or everyone will think you’re a whore.
- The solution to bedbugs is a solution of mercury on the joints of the bed. Or consider one of those new brass bedsteads that are all the rage these days.
- If your child has the whooping cough, try rubbing snails on it. Better still, get a servant to do it.
- Sadly, it is no longer permitted to send a child up the chimney in order to keep it clean. If you have a slightly-built maid, send her up instead. Failing that, try discharging a shotgun up there. Some choose to do this naked in order to protect their clothes from falling soot – if you take this course, ensure no daguerrotypists are present.
I’d love to say that I’d made some or any of these up, but they are all bona fide pieces of advice from Victorian guidebooks for women living in the city. Well, except the bit about daguerrotypists.
Anyway, for more of this sort of thing, I recommend Liza Picard’s Victorian London. Ms Picard is the author of a series of books on everyday life in London, the others being Elizabeth’s London, Restoration London and Dr Johnson’s London. They’re a brilliant source of historical information, even if London isn’t your thing. More-or-less every detail of period life is covered, to the extent that you’ll be able to watch costume dramas and mutter “Oh please,” with a roll of the eyes.
The style is also very lively and readable, and Picard isn’t afraid to throw in her own opinions where appropriate. As a result, the books never drag and are just as enjoyable for reading on the Tube as they are for the researcher.