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Black and white photo of a 1930s housewife in a kitchen preparing a sandwich and packing lunch. On the counter are a metal lunchbox and thermos bottle, apples, bread and a glass bottle of milk.

The changing kitchen of the 1930s

In the 1930s, the kitchen was increasingly becoming the arena of the housewife rather than servants, as new electrical appliances helped to ease the workload.

Discover England and Wales on the eve of war

Before the 1930s, the kitchen would have been the domain of the servant in many households, however after the Great Depression many could no longer afford to keep servants. Domestic duties were increasingly expected to be carried out by the woman of the house, or “housewife”, and luckily a host of new inventions arrived in the 1920s and 1930s, which made housework easier than ever before.

The kitchens in most British homes were small and cramped. The sinks were low and deep, being originally designed for use by young children, so simple tasks such as washing up could be back breaking work. In the 1940s,

Black and white photo of an unhappy woman sitting on a chair head down in front of fireplace. She is wearing an apron and has a broom at her side.
Life before the wageless servant. Image: Mary Evans/Classicstock/H. ARMSTRONG ROBERTS

In 1908 Ellen Richards, a leading name in home economics and domestic science, estimated that it would take eighteen hours a week just to dust her eighteen room home. In the 1930s, a number of innovations were appearing that would lighten this load and make possible the dream of a servantless home.

In the 1930s, a number of innovations were appearing that would lighten this load and make possible the dream of a servantless home.

A number of electrical labour saving devices, such as toasters, kettles and vacuum-cleaners came onto the market during the 1930s. The “regulo” thermostat provided some relief for those with a gas oven, making sure that food cooked evenly without the need for constant monitoring.

Dubbed “wageless servants” these new inventions were widely marketed at the modern woman. A number of cookery books were also released at the time, marketed at the new housewife, which included simple recipes and basic instructions on chopping onions and breaking eggs.

Black and white photo of a housewife wearing an apron in a kitchen. She is standing in front of a cupboard, holding a cookbook in one hand and reading a package of cornstarch from her other hand.
Cookbooks were incredibly popular in the 1930s. Image: Mary Evans/Classic Stock/H. Armstrong Roberts

With a variable electrical supply meaning that refrigerators and cookers wouldn’t work in some areas, many people couldn’t afford to take the risk, sticking instead to their cool larders and small gas ovens. With the introduction of frozen food in 1937 some people kept an icebox in the home. While the middle classes, many of whom had already invested in electrical lighting for their homes, were keen to get their hands on the new appliances, only 8% of British households owned an electric cooker in 1939.

Main image: 1930s housewife making a packed lunch. Image: Mary Evans/Classic Stock/H. Armstrong Roberts

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