The Making of Home: The 500-Year Story of How Our Houses Became Our Homes

The Making of Home: The 500-Year Story of How Our Houses Became Our Homes

by Judith Flanders


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250067357
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 09/08/2015
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 1,292,057
Product dimensions: 9.30(w) x 6.50(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

JUDITH FLANDERS is a New York Times bestselling author and one of the foremost social historians of the Victorian era. Her most recent nonfiction book, The Victorian City, was a finalist for the 2014 Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Judith is also the author of a crime fiction series, beginning with A Murder of Magpies. She lives in London.

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The Making of Home

The 500-Year Story of How Our Houses Became Our Homes

By Judith Flanders

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2014 Judith Flanders
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-7548-7


The Family Way

While the word 'home' for many today conjures up ideas of retreat from the world, at the same time few would argue that what makes homes desirable are the products of the industrial world, whether it is readily accessible consumer goods, or the technologies of hygiene, lighting and heating. It is no coincidence that the physical reality of the modern European house on which rest 'the comforts of our little home' emerged as the Industrial Revolution developed in northwestern Europe.

One of the key questions of economic history is, why did a backward region like northwestern Europe, a region that was politically, geographically and economically peripheral, become the engine of the industrial world? Why did the elements that knitted together to become 'modernity' – the concept of nation-states, the technological innovations that fuelled the Industrial Revolution, capitalism itself – arise in this place? In Europe, the city-states of Renaissance Italy or the great courts of worldly, cosmopolitan France might have been more obvious heartlands for such developments; on the world stage, perhaps the monolithic administrative empire of China. But, instead, it was first the Netherlands, then England, most particularly, two countries of minor political importance, that became the seedbeds of change.

Answers to this question have tended towards the circular: the modern world developed where it did because this is where the Industrial Revolution took place. So why did the Industrial Revolution take place where it did? The Industrial Revolution, runs the generally accepted narrative, was precipitated in northwestern Europe by a series of events. The decline of feudalism (and, in England, where feudalism had been substantially weakened far earlier, the collapse of the manorial system) enabled tenant farmers in agricultural regions to strengthen as a class, as it did the precursors to a professional middle class in urban districts. At the same time the population increased, driving surplus agricultural workers into proto-industrial occupations, and encouraging their migration to what were becoming cities. The expansion of shipping and exploration opened trade routes and access to goods and commodities previously unknown, or available only as luxury goods for the wealthiest. State control and subsidized underpinnings of colonization at the same time reduced the power of the trade guilds, which, as cartels, had kept prices up and stifled enterprise.

As all this took place, in Amsterdam first, new financial structures were being created, and the philosophical concepts of free trade were being established. Meanwhile, another belief-system, Protestantism, the religion of northwestern Europe, in its sanctification of hard work, and, by extension, the idea that worldly success was a sign of God's favour, developed in tandem with trade and finance to create a new ethos, named 'the spirit of capitalism' by the sociologist Max Weber. Add into the mix a relatively literate population, a new system of patents that rewarded innovation and, crucially, a good supply of natural resources (in 1700, the nearly 3 million tons of coal mined annually in England was five times more than was mined in all the rest of the world combined).

All these elements together produced the Industrial Revolution, not for any of these factors individually, all, or most, of which also occurred elsewhere, but because in northwestern Europe, by chance and circumstance, they all occurred together or serially. As Dr Johnson said in another context, 'It is not always that there is a strong reason for a great event': lots of milder reasons will have a cumulative great effect.

A return to Robinson Crusoe shows how many of these different threads had, by 1719, already become intertwined. One of the reasons for the enduring success of that novel is that it can be interpreted in many ways: as a Puritan autobiography of spiritual growth, or a narrative of colonial exploitation and trade, or of modern individualism, or the transformation of capitalism. Classical economists have used Crusoe to illustrate their theories of production, while Karl Marx borrowed the story to show how production for use differs materially from production for exchange. Robinson Crusoe himself can be seen as a personification of the spirit of the Industrial Revolution, flourishing on his island through a combination of hard work – that Protestant work ethic – and careful utilization of the products of modern western European trade and technology, which he salvages from the wreck of his ship.

Certainly Defoe was interested in what would later become the field of economics: 'Writing upon Trade', he confessed, 'was the Whore I really doated upon.' Adam Smith's seminal The Wealth of Nations, published half a century after Defoe's novel, in 1776, identified the central characteristics of the form of political economy that would soon become known as capitalism – competition, resource allocation and division of labour among them. But Crusoe, or rather Defoe, was here first: he had already used the phrase 'the wealth of nations' a good three dozen times in his writings. And when Smith laid out the classical explanation of supply and demand – that the value of goods will fall when a commodity is plentiful, and rise if it becomes scarce – Crusoe had already lived it: before he was shipwrecked, he was, the novel tells us, a trader who had made a comfortable living by importing English commodities to Brazil where they were rare, and therefore much more valuable.

For the Industrial Revolution to flourish, a second revolution was necessary – the consumer revolution, which gathered pace from the early eighteenth century. Over the last few decades, historians of consumption, of material culture more widely, have modified the phrase 'supply and demand', acknowledging that it is historically more useful when it is reversed. For supply does not drive demand; demand drives supply. A desire for goods, for things, was what produced the circumstances from which the Industrial Revolution, and modernity, developed. Without the desire for goods, and the ability to purchase them, the various factors that contributed to the Industrial Revolution might well have remained separate events. Without demand, there must – would? – have been no Revolution.

And just as answers to the question 'Why did the Industrial Revolution take place in northwestern Europe?' have a tendency to become circular, so too do explanations of the origins of the consumer revolution. That some people have sufficient income to satisfy more than subsistence needs is a situation that has occurred in many places at many times, yet there was no equivalent consumer revolution in, say, China. The usual explanation is that social emulation, the desire to keep up not only with the Joneses, but even with those one step higher in social rank, drove the desire for consumer goods, and in the Netherlands and England, the first countries to be affected by the consumer revolution, the differences between the social classes were fairly small, and were permeable to cash, in a way that many societies based on aristocracies of birth were not. (In England, the grandson of an impoverished aristocrat was a worker; in France, or India, he too was an impoverished aristocrat.) These smaller social gaps might appear bridgeable to those just below, particularly as the new technologies of advertising and print culture arrived. Newspapers, magazines and prints now disseminated further than ever before information about the ever-increasing range of new commodities, and more widely available commodities. Yet emulative spending, and a commercial world focused on selling, were also not geographically specific, while the consumer revolution was.

What provoked the demand, then – what created this desire for goods? In part, the consumer revolution might be thought of as the end-product of four revolutions: the ending of the Eighty Years' War and the Dutch revolt against the Spanish in 1648; the American and French Revolutions of 1776 and 1789–99; and the century-plus Industrial Revolution. These revolutions produced more fluid social structures in which the middle classes (as they may begin to be termed) wielded increasing power, at the expense of the landed gentry and nobility. These classes benefitted from what, in the Netherlands in particular, had been from the Middle Ages a cash market economy rather than one based primarily on land. It was there that development of financial instruments that enabled commercial credit and government borrowing, the 'very essence of the capitalist economy', first flourished. And it was there, too, that the first modern cities began to develop. The Dutch Revolt and the Protestant Reformation between them both brought about an alteration in land-ownership on a scale never before seen: over 30 per cent of all property in Utrecht had belonged to the church before the Reformation; after it, that property had been transferred to the city itself, or was in private, secular hands. Urbanization, both a precipitating factor and a by-product of industrialization, meanwhile also meant that social judgements were formed less on the basis of previous knowledge of lineage or character, and more on the presentation of self, which inextricably intertwined with the possessions one owned. Together these factors created an environment where the consumer revolution was not merely possible, but necessary.

Yet what was perhaps an even more important factor in the creation of the consumer revolution was much closer to home, quite literally. The historian Mary S. Hartman has suggested, it seems to me more than plausibly, that the crucial element, one that has previously been overlooked or considered of only minor importance, was the unique marriage system found in northwestern Europe, and nowhere but northwestern Europe. This was a pattern of nuclear-family living that was essentially in place by 1500, and possibly before. In outline, men and women married late (late twenties for men, mid-twenties or later for women); the age of the couple was much more equal than in early-marriage societies; and both men and women worked for a considerable period of time before marriage, usually in a cash economy, saving in order to set up in their own household on marriage. (Prepubescent girls were married to older men in northwestern Europe only for a time, and only among the ruling elites, for dynastic and property-enhancing purposes.)

It comes as a surprise that even a word as apparently immutable as 'family' has encompassed different meanings at different times. In the Roman world, a famulus was a slave, and familia indicated not a blood-tie, but a relationship of ownership and possession. By the Middle Ages in northern Europe, a family comprised those living together in a household, plus the serfs attached to the house, but not the head of the household himself: 'family' was still a relationship of subservience, not kinship. In Renaissance Italy, the writer and architect Leon Battista Alberti hoped his children would 'remain happy with our little family', but to indicate the quality of the affectionate relationship he had in mind, he had to use a diminutive, famigliola, because famiglia still meant the entire household, whether connected by blood or not, and had no emotional weight. In the British Isles, too, 'family' was a formal designation for those living under one roof; blood relatives were 'friends'. (In Romeo and Juliet, Friar Lawrence advises Romeo to go into exile until 'we can find a time/To ... reconcile your friends'.)

This was the way Samuel Pepys used 'family', although by the seventeenth century the meaning had expanded to take in the head of the household as well. 'My family,' he summed up, 'is myself and wife – Wm. my clerk – Jane, my wife's upper-maid ... Susan our cook-maid ... and Waynman my boy'. A family was therefore not an absolute grouping, but one that expanded and contracted with time and circumstances. An eighteenth-century diarist referred to servants as 'my family' when they were in his employ; if they left his service they became 'my former servant'. By the nineteenth century, English speakers used 'family' to mean blood relatives in everyday speech, but the older meaning persisted formally. As late as 1851, the census of Great Britain defined 'members of the family' as 'the wife, children, servants, relatives, visitors, and persons constantly or accidentally in the house'. The head of the household was, notably, still not officially part of the family.

Many types of family, and of living arrangements, that are seen across the world even today reveal the wide range of responses to basic needs. In southern Europe, adolescent girls and men in their twenties were historically often paired, with, for example, in southwestern France, the woman moving into the man's family home, the ostal (the word, tellingly, means both house and family), which was inherited by a single son, while the remaining children received, at most, cash or movables. In eastern Europe, serfs lived in multiple-family households, while in the southeast, in Croatia and Serbia, the zadruga, where all land was owned jointly by the patrilineal extended family, saw sons bring wives into their birth households, to live in large multi-nuclear arrangements. Other areas favoured what are called non-family groupings (where two brothers, or two cousins, shared a household); or extended family groups (a married couple plus other kin, but not a second couple); or multiple-family groups (two or more couples, in various permutations). There were also stem-family groupings (a son and daughter-in-law living after marriage with his parents) and frérèche arrangements (horizontal multiple families, such as two brothers and their families). For simplicity, these are all known as extended families and variants were found in different regions across much of Europe.

The nuclear-family pattern that was found across the home countries was not exclusive to this region: it was also common in parts of Spain, Portugal and Italy. The difference was that in home countries, the nuclear family was rarely encroached on, and only a minority of households had other relatives living with them – as few as 3 per cent of families in Rhode Island, barely more even in densely populated seventeenth-century Dutch cities. Over more than two centuries, barely 10 per cent of English households had non-nuclear kin permanently in residence. In house countries with nuclear-family structures, this was unimaginable: more than half of all households in one region of Italy had non-nuclear kin resident.

Those are the broadest outlines of family living patterns. And just as 'family' meant many different things at different times, so too did the notion of marriage. And while the changes have been great, they have been as invisible to subsequent observers as spittoons have become to ours. In Pride and Prejudice (1813), Jane Austen's pompous clergyman, Mr Collins, lists his reasons for wanting to marry: first, he says, it is 'a right thing for every clergyman in easy circumstances (like myself) to set the example of matrimony ... Secondly ... I am convinced it will add very greatly to my happiness; and thirdly – which perhaps I ought to have mentioned earlier ... it is the particular advice and recommendation of the very noble lady whom I have the honour of calling patroness.'

The modern reader can still take pleasure in the bathos of dashed expectations, having assumed, together with his appalled would-be fiancée, that what 'perhaps' Mr Collins ought to have mentioned earlier is, if not his love, then at least his admiration and affection for the woman he is proposing to. Instead, his position in the world and relative wealth are first in his thoughts, the pleasure marriage will give him comes next, and then, comically, his hopes for the social and professional advancement it will bring by pleasing his 'patroness'. In addition, early-nineteenth-century readers would have found enjoyment in a further layer of meaning, which today has become obscured. Jane Austen was mocking the pomposity of her fictional character, but, churchman's daughter though she was, she was also parodying the Book of Common Prayer, which enumerates the reasons for marrying much as Mr Collins does: 'First, It was ordained for the procreation of children ... Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication ... Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.' To Austen, writing at the start of the nineteenth century, the fact that the church placed companionship – companionate marriage – last, giving precedence instead to children and the avoidance of sin, was ripe for comedy. To her, and the society around her, the 'Thirdly' should obviously have been first: indeed, all of Austen's novels are, in the most reductionist reading, explorations of the ways to identify those who will make good life companions.


Excerpted from The Making of Home by Judith Flanders. Copyright © 2014 Judith Flanders. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


1810: The Berners Street Hoax

1. Early to Rise

2. On the Road

3. Travelling (Mostly) Hopefully

4. In and Out of London


1861: The Tooley Street Fire

5. The World's Market

6. Selling the Streets

7. Slumming

8. The Waters of Death


1867: The Regent's Park Skating Disaster

9. Street Performance

10. Leisure for All

11. Feeding the Streets

12. Street Theatre


1852: The Funeral of the Duke of Wellington

13. Night Entertainment

14. Street Violence

15. The Red-Lit Streets to Death

Appendix: Dickens' Publications by Period

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The Making of Home: The 500-Year Story of How Our Houses Became Our Homes 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
LinNC More than 1 year ago
Not sure what attracted me to this one - maybe the cover images - but very glad I read it. Flanders sets records straight about so many stages of the evolution from simple shelter to housing to homes - and how our impressions shaped by paintings and written 'guides' are not as accurate as we thought. I was really pleasantly surprised at the insights the author shared regarding the roles of women as the concept of 'home' shifted. Excellent book! Highly recommend it as well as Bill Bryson's At Home is you are interested in learning more
KarenfromDothan More than 1 year ago
All cultures have a word meaning house, but not all have a word meaning home. In Judith Flander’s new book, The Making of Home, she explains how homes have evolved from basic one room dwellings with little to no furniture. Meticulously researched, it thoroughly covers every aspect of their development into the larger, multi-room homes of today. It’s obvious right from the get go that lots of thought, consideration and work went into the writing of this book. I think the author’s conclusions are well reasoned and insightful. At times surprising and revelatory, I found this book quite interesting. From now on I’ll look at art in a whole different way, and I definitely won’t idealize the past.