The life of William Murdoch gives the visitor his existence and a few images of his appearance and home, but I have received enquiries about his home life. 1912 seems both distant and yet similar to our own time. Truth can be found between those two, - electricity may have been in Southampton and on White Star Line ships, but it was 1916 before houses in Dalbeattie had electric light. Gas lighting, paraffin and colza-oil lamps, were still in general use.
Telephones existed, but were used mainly for business use. The wax-cylinder phonograph was soon to be replaced by the bakelite gramophone record, but broadcast radio had to wait until the 1920s. Cold water was on tap, but only the wealthier families could afford boilers in their homes and a radiator system. Department stores and corner shops existed, supermarkets did not, the sliced wrapped white loaf had yet to be invented, whilst most goods were transported about town by horse. The differences massively outweighed any resemblances. It is the intention of the writer to develop this page to set the scene for the Murdoch family 'at home'.
The following are largely informed guesses, and the writer would be delighted to receive more exact information.
William and Ada Murdoch lived after their marriage at a semi-detached house at 94, Belmont Road, Southampton. The house appears to have been built at the start of the twentieth century, and may have been new or second-hand when they moved in. The house was probably most of the £ 1,000 estate that William left Ada upon his death. In common with many properties of that date, it was brick built and had coal fires in the main rooms. In 1998, the historian Jenni Atkinson visited the house and found it to be in use as student flats. Judging by its appearance, it would have a lounge or parlour at the front, with the main bedroom above. A dining-room would lie behind the lounge, with a second bedroom overhead. These rooms would open onto a hall and a landing. There would be a kitchen at the end of the hall, probably with a bathroom or third bedroom above it.
The house does not appear to have had a cellar. This means that Ada must have had some kind of built-in larder, though this was not reported. In a time when refrigeration was not generally available, fresh food had to be kept cool on a stone slab or in an ice-box. Insulated cupboards with a zinc drawer to hold ice-blocks were once a common substitute for a 'fridge'.
Gas would have been laid to the house; the gas-mantle, as against the gas-jet, would have given the Murdochs a reliable light-source. However, most houses still had colza-oil or paraffin Aladdin lamps. Gas cookers were available, so it is probable that Ada would have used one. Electricity was mostly for the rich; even if Captain Smith had it, his officers may have been too meagrely-paid even to afford electric lighting. Heating would probably have been by gas-fire (as per Sherlock Holmes) or coal, probably water would have been heated in a solid fuel boiler or back-boiler.
I think it highly likely that the Murdochs' bathroom would have been fitted with an enamelled cast-iron bath, a washbasin and high-tank toilet. Whether William would have shaved in his bedroom at a marble-topped wash-stand, I cannot say; my grandfather certainly did so at his London home as late as the 1920s. Those with indoor toilets at least escaped the odorous necessity of using a chamber-pot or a commode at night.
It is highly unlikely that the Murdochs had more than one maid or other servant. The house is too small to accommodate someone sleeping in the house, but of course a maid might live in a poorer part of town and come to help with the cooking, cleaning and laundry. A part-time gardener might have been essential to keep the garden in order.
The house has a long and currently-overgrown garden behind it, as had many houses that gained both flowers and vegetables from it. That begs a question : was Ada a keen gardener ? A thrifty housewife could have raised many vegetables and flowers, in an age when horse-drawn transport made manure cheap and generally available. It would be interesting to examine the garden and see if there are any signs of cold-frames or greenhouses as marks on walls.
|Life of W.M. Murdoch||The White Star Line||RMS Titanic||Collision and Aftermath||The Board of Enquiry|
Monument to William McMaster Murdoch on Dalbeattie Town Hall
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