Not Just For Looks
Pete, your ‘incident’ with the lever-action 44 jogged my memory about an old family diary. Old Phil may have had strong views about interior decorating.
How was that?
It was in 1871, when Old Phil was just 14 and living in Thames during the gold rush. The family had a timber-framed house covered with a canvas.
Common in those days on the goldfields. Very make-do. A sort of fancy tent.
Phil’s brother, John Edward, kept a diary. On Monday July 31st 1871, he wrote:
‘Pasting paper in the tent. Philip & I fell out over it, jolly row & fight in consequence. Atehita gave Mrs Leyland her decided opinion on the subject, which was that I was no good for any work, but all for fighting,’
Sounds like the Maori woman had the measure of granddad’s brother. Only good for fighting.
There’d be some form of wooden lining nailed up to the frame. Match-board was what they sometimes called it. And the paper might be whatever was to hand to cover over the gaps.
Two days later John Edward wrote: ‘Pasted up some engravings in the tent’. Evidently he wanted something artistic.
That’s what was preferred. Of course, in later years we’d get proper wallpaper, in rolls, like these days, but it was applied differently. The common practice was to first of all drape the walls with stuff called scrim — a lightweight sacking material, like a cheap hessian — and you’d tack it to the wall planks to stretch it tight and flatten it out and secure it. Then you’d cover it with whatever took your fancy. Now, with all the preparation it wasn’t a quick or inexpensive thing to do, but it was done.
To cut down the cost some ladies used their own home-made paste. You could buy proper paste but it was pricey and you needed heaps of it, because the scrim soaked it up, and you wanted to apply enough to stop the paper falling off. So the cheapest solution was to mix up a blend of flour and water — common flour — and if you knew the recipe and got the proportions right it made an excellent paste. Very good. And you could make it up by the bucketful. No problem. Cheap.
Of course, that whole system was subject to problems, in spite of being an economical solution. You’d get the whole thing done and looking fancy and then the timber underneath might move a bit, or shrink and allow the tacks to come loose and the scrim would wrinkle and fold, or worse still it would billow a bit when you got a good wind. See, those old houses had plenty of gaps. There was nothing such as a draft-proof house, just an outer skin of weather-boards nailed to the frame, and some six by ones or whatever planks nailed on the inside. No such thing as building paper. So the use of scrim and wall-paper was not done just for the looks, it was a practical way to stop the draft.
Didn’t the paste go mouldy after a while?
That was fixed by adding a bit of salt to the mix. Salt stops the decay. It was common for all sorts of things to be salted, including wallpaper paste.