Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Victorian Summer Days

I have not been enjoying the weather as of late. It has been very hot here in western Canada (and most of the US too). I have found the 30 degree Celsius heat (40 with humidity - yuk!) unbearable. I am personally quite glad for the modern convenience of air conditioning, and couldn't help think about our Victorian ancestors and how they might of dealt with it.

Summer Kitchens

To keep the house cool during the hot summer months, cooking would be moved to an out building called a summer kitchen. Food would then be brought inside or the family would dine outside in the shade. The house would be kept dark during the day to keep the heat out and windows opened at night to let the breeze in.


During the 19th century it was discovered that metal lined (and later ceramic lined) pitchers kept liquids cool. The double lined metal pitcher acted like a thermos and kept refreshing drinks like lemonade and punch a delightful temperature.

Look - refreshing punch!

Summer wear

During summer months women would switch from heavier fabrics like wool, to lighter cotton or muslin. I still think this would be incredibly hot with all the layers of bloomers, petticoats and a corset though.

Hats and parasols

Hats and parasols kept the sun off one's face, though I definitely think parasols are the lighter and cooler option for keeping one shaded and untanned.


Not as effective as the electric fan, but much more elegant. These accessories helped a lady beat the heat while still being fashionable.

Ice Cream

Ice Cream became a more readily available treat during the 19th century, with ice cream churns like the one above on the market, and stores and street vendors selling the tasty treat to the masses. One draw back was the ice cream or "hokey pokey" the street vendors sold were not always made in the most sanitary conditions. In the 1880s, 90s and early 1900s there were several cases of typhoid, scarlet fever and diarrhea traced back to ice cream street carts. In one case the vendor selling it was suffering from typhoid himself, and in another, the ice cream was being made in the home right next to where they changed their baby!

Enjoy your typhoid, I mean - ice cream kids.

How do you cope with the summer heat.
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  1. Stay inside, and rub lemons on myself to get rid of my farmer tan. I am investing in a parasol this year, you'll be happy to know. We have no a/c, so some of our methods for keeping cool sound a lil like we're stuck in the early 1900's. Maybe. But keep in mind that we don't have that oppressive night humidity - it cools off at night, and I think that makes it bearable.

    1. Living in England, means no A/C...also means infrequent summer days but when they hit, they hit and humidity is often much worse than the heat itself! All we can do it wander listlessly through the house in our underwear and drink litres upon litres of water D:

  2. I constantly think about how the Victorians would have "dealt" with the weather as well- here in western Pennsylvania it's always hot and humid, with last week being particularly miserable. I think part of it has to do with the fact that the Victorians did live in a more northern section of the world than I do that has less humidity. Keep in mind that the Earth was somewhat cooler back then- not drastically, but in 1816 there was that whole "Year Without a Summer" and a "mini ice age" time period that I think went from the 1500s to the 1800s- hence why people generally dressed in more layers.

    Also, I hear that hoop skirts were actually rather airy. I have not yet tried a hoop skirt, and I can't image that they could have felt that airy to a woman wearing bloomers and stockings beneath anyway, but one never knows until one truly tries for themselves, I guess...

    Great post. DIdn't know all of that about the ice cream. Ewwww.

  3. Another fun way ice cream used to spread disease was, before the edible ice cream cone and disposable paper cups, you were given a cup made from glass or ceramic or whatever to lick the ice cream out of... which would then be reused, unwashed, for the next customer.