Bakehouse Copper

Text by Ann Channon, former House and Retail Manager at Jane Austen’s House

The Copper would have been installed in the Bakehouse, built as part of the outbuildings around 1690. These are part of the main site which was a farm at the time, named ‘Petty Johns’. A fireplace under the Copper was lit using bavins, ‘kindling’ larger logs were added giving more heat 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. Another 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 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 placed over the washboard was scrubbed with a bristle brush and lye soap. Hard work especially in the colder weather, when hands would become cracked and blistered. The Copper provided enough hot water then carried to the kitchen in pails by a manservant, ready for the ladies to take the occasional 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.

This copper has served as a working boiler for many generations. It is not used today but on show to all visitors who can see it as part of the Museum’s living history.