Eighteenth-century DIY

by Sally Osborn

Sometimes among the culinary, medical, veterinary, cosmetic and household recipes in manuscript books one comes across some that would fall under the category of DIY in modern terms. These can range from a recipe for a relatively simple product that we would now buy off the shelf, such as green paint (why it’s nearly always green I’m not sure, but it was a fashionable colour) or paint for garden walls. The more adventurous might go for roughcast (pebbledash) or ‘A colouring for the out side of buildings according to Mr Clarkes men’ (both in Add MS 29740, British Library).

However, other recipes smack of a ‘project’ such as might enthuse a modern DIYer. A different anonymous contributor to the manuscript containing the above two sets of instructions collected this detailed guidance for whitewashing:

Best drift sand washed quite clean, best new lime (stone lime if possible) well hair’d: a bushel of lime before it is slacked requires a bushel of sand; one coat laid on thin with a plasterers trowel and floated well as they come on. When it is dry, it must be washed with whatever colour is thought proper, and a little fine sand in the wash is the better: thin size is used at Sir Tho. Sebrights to slack the lime for the wash but not at Mr Brand’s.

Note 1. The length of the cradle for whitening the house is about 12 feet, and the breadth about 3 feet 6 inches, the rails about 3 feet high, to keep the men in; a set of pullies at each end to draw it up and down, this will hold three or four men to work in, and may be hung between two long ladders or poles bearing against the cornice, or from the top of the house.

2. The brick-work should be dashed well before the coat of plaister is laid on, and all projections should be leaded or slated.

3 The price is eight pence a yard-square, if all materials cradle &c are found and bought by the bricklayer, six pence if you bring them and find them yourself; and about three pence if you find all materials and the bricklayer only workmanship. NB. white wash and all is included in this calculation.

Or how about making your very own ice house? Very useful for those fashionable table centres and the new craze for ice cream. This is how you did it (Add MS 29435, British Library):

The well to be the shape of a cone inverted, to be at the top [missing] foot over 17 foot deep; a grate to be fixt 4 foot from the bottom to support the ice – a pump with a small tube to be fixt on the wall that is round the well, which wall ought to be 4 foot wide within the ice house: The wall to be made of loam or cob, & straw well mixt two foot thick & 3 foot high. The entrance should be a porch to the north 5 feet long & the breadth at pleasure with two doors. the roof to be thatch’d thick, the wall to be turf’d. The well to be lined with straw & when you fill it ram it all & heap it up in a point like a double cone

All you need is a garden big enough…


2 thoughts on “Eighteenth-century DIY”

  1. Dear Ms. Osborn,

    You might enjoy this recipe of MUM, taken directly from our Encyclopaedia Britannica or, a Dictionary of Arts and Sciences MDCCLXXI

    MUM, a kind of malt-liquor, much drank in Germany; and chiefly brought from Brunswick, which is the place of most note for making it. The process of brewing mum, as recorded in the town-house of that city, is as follows: Take sixty-three gallons of water that has been boiled till one third part is consumed, and brew it with seven bushels of wheaten malt, one bushel of oat-meal, and one bushel of ground beans; when it is tunned, the hogshead must not be filled too full at first: as soon as it begins to work, put into it three pounds of the inner rind of fir, one pound of the tops of fir and beech, three handful of two of the flower of rosa solis; add burnet, betony, marjoram, avens, penny royal, and wild thyme, of each a handful and a half; of elder flowers, two handful or more; seeds of cardamum bruised, thirty ounces, barberries bruised, one ounce; when the liquor has worked a while, put the herbs and seeds into the vessel; and, after they are added, let it work over as little as possible; then fill it up: lastly, when it is stopped, put into the hogshead ten new-laid eggs unbroken; stop it up close, and drink it at two years end. Our English brewers, instead of the inner rind of fir, use cardamum, ginger, and sassafras; and also add elecampane, madder, and red sanders. Mum, on being imported, pays for every barrel.

    Your Obliged, EB, a Society of Gentlemen in Scotland

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