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Lucy Worsley

About The Author

Image of Lucy WorsleyLucy Worsley was born in Reading and studied Ancient and Modern History at Oxford, before going on to take a PhD in Art History at the University of Sussex.

Having previously worked for the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and English Heritage, she is now Chief Curator of the Historic Royal Palaces in London.

She has presented and appeared in a number of history documentaries and her previous books include histories of Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace and a biography of the seventeenth-century nobleman and playboy William Cavendish.

Her latest TV series is An Intimate History of the Home on BBC4, for which she has written a tie-in book, If Walls Could Talk. Here she tells about how she researched the features of British homes throughout history.

 

Below the interview is a list of titles by Lucy Worsley currently in print in the UK. You may find othereditions in our 'New and Used' section by typing the author's name into the Search field at the top of this page andselecting the 'Author Exact' filter to the far right of the Search field.

Questions & Answers

Why did you write If Walls Could Talk?

I'm Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, the independent charity that looks after Hampton Court Palace, The Tower of London and Kensington Palace. This means I spend my days in some of the grandest houses ever built. But my own home is an ordinary modern flat, and I had the hunch that its history would be just as surprising and
interesting as a great palace's.

For the last couple of years I've been concentrating my research on normal people's houses, from the Normans to the present day, and as a result I have started to see my own home with completely new eyes. There are lots of tiny, quirky and seemingly trivial details in my book, but add them all up and you can chart great, overarching, revolutionary changes in society. People spend so much effort and money on their houses because they subconsciously realize that their homes express a great deal about who they really are.

How did you do the research?

I had some extra help from outside the walls of the library. Firstly, at Historic Royal Palaces, it's our job to bring the past back to life for our visitors, so we talk about these topics every day.

Secondly, while presenting a BBC TV series on the same subject, I had the chance to try out many of the processes and rituals from homes in the past. I blackened a Victorian kitchen range, lugged the hot water upstairs to fill an unplumbed bath, ignited a gas streetlight, waded through nineteenth-century sewers and slept in a Tudor bed. Perhaps the weirdest thing I did was to try out urine as a 'stain devil' - it really works! The nastiest experience was spending a week with a sixteenth-century personal-hygiene regime: no toothpaste, shampoo, bath or shower.

What patterns did you discover?

Looking into the bedrooms of the past, I was intrigued to discover that they were rather crowded, semi-public places, and that only in the nineteenth century did they become reserved purely for sleeping and sex.

Victorian houses saw the climax of a trend for increasingly specialized rooms that's since been reversed. In a medieval house, people were often to be found sleeping in the central living hall, and in a sense we've come full circle: certainly guests often sleep on my own living room sofa.

Our bathrooms are the rooms with the shortest history. Bathrooms didn't even exist until late into the nineteenth century, and I was amazed to discover that changing ideas about personal hygiene, rather than technological innovation, determined the pace of development. The flushing toilet was invented in Elizabethan times, but didn't catch on: it remained much more convenient for you to have your maid bring a chamber-pot to your bedroom than it was for you to take the trouble to walk to the lavatory.

The living room developed only after people had the leisure time and spare money to spend on making it comfortable, so I've learned to think of it as a sort of stage-set where homeowners acted out a sort of idealized version of their lives for the benefit of guests.

Finally, the kitchen has recently re-taken its place at the heart of the home. For centuries it was pushed out, or down into a basement, and was a dark, unpleasant, strictly functional place. The twentieth century, the collapse of domestic service and the extractor fan allowed the kitchen to become a room where people actively wanted to spend their
time.

What will the homes of the future look like?

Well, I think the future of the home will look curiously medieval. In a world where the oil is running out, there's lots to learn from the low-tech, low-carbon ways of the past. In thoughtful modern house design, walls are getting thicker and windows smaller to reduce heating bills. We'll see the return of the shutter to keep out both sun and cold. The chimney's coming back, partly for wood-burning stoves, and partly to provide natural rather than expensive mechanical air conditioning. We'll be growing as water-thrifty as the Victorians were: they only used 20 litres per person per day.

Today's town planners look with admiration at Tudor towns because they were dense communities, where it was easy to get about by foot and where everyone got seasonal food at farmer's markets. In the past rich and poor lived in close proximity, and the wealthiest people had very definite charitable responsibilities towards people in poverty that are far from familiar today.

And here's one timeless truth to end with: I think most people would agree with Dr Johnson, who said that 'to be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition'.

Available Titles By This Author

Hampton Court Palace: The Official...
(Paperback)
Lucy Worsley; David Souden
 
 
£12.95
 

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