Bakehouse Copper

Object name: Bakehouse copper

Object number: n/a

Category: buildings

Description: A brick structure containing a fireplace, and above it a copper container, covered with a wooden lid. The copper is built into the Bakehouse, next to the bread oven. The well is located just outside.

Made: c.1690

Context: Long before the Austens moved in, this house was a farmhouse known as ‘Petty Johns’. Behind the house was a farmyard, surrounded by outbuildings. One of these was the bakehouse, where the copper was installed for heating water for household purposes.

A fire could be lit in the fireplace underneath the copper, to boil water. A wooden lid closed the top, keeping the heat in and for safety.

Most farmhouses had coppers for many purposes including heating water for the

washing of household linen. The Austens had a maid from the village to do the household washing. Household linen and cotton would be boiled clean in the copper. Before the water became too hot, an oblong washboard would be put into it; stained cloth was placed over the washboard and scrubbed with a bristle brush and lye soap. It was hard work especially in the colder weather, when hands would become cracked and blistered.

The copper was also used for processing hams from the pigs reared on the farm. Boiling water was used to scald and scour the pigskin, to clean and soften it. On a beam nearby there is a roller raised by rope, with a hook to hang the sides of meat on. This made cutting the joints of meat easier before salting or smoking.

For festivals, many people would make large round puddings, both savoury and sweet and tied in cloth. Communal cooking was often done in large coppers, with cottagers bringing their puddings to be cooked together.

The copper also provided hot water for the family’s washing. It was heated in the bakehouse and then carried to the kitchen in pails by a manservant, ready for the ladies to take a bath, probably a tin hip bath in front of the range. A large copper could be used to dye cloth when the ladies wanted a change of colour for their clothes.

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