Wasp waists, whale bone corsets and starched petticoats

Sue Robb was a columnist and cookery writer for a Northern Irish newspaper, but I haven’t been able to discover which; however, I have an interesting little booklet, Recipes From The Farm Kitchen, which is by her. As well as all sorts of recipes there are some old stories and insights into farming life in former times. I have no idea of knowing but I think that some of her stories must have been what her mother or even grandmother told her; ‘wasp waists, whale bone corsets and starched petticoats’ seem like something from the nineteenth century! Her remembered world is an idyll as she describes it, but I am sure life must have been very hard, the work unremitting, and sometimes very miserable for most of the agricultural workers, but here she describes a typical Saturday night:

Many a farm hand, working a seven day week, went to a dance on a Saturday night – riding an iron-framed bicycle, pushing along bumpy roads full of potholes, with only a guiding glow from a big sulphur smelling carbide lamp, the flame enclosed behind thick glass and shining out like the glow from an enlarged candle.

Carefree youth and a zest for life accepted these minor obstacles, for the girls were coy and wasp waisted, laced up in whale bone and modestly demure in starched cotton petticoats, but light of foot and bubbling with energy.

The daily toil was back breaking, but a few hours sleep snugly encased in a bulging feather tick in the kitchen settle bed, was sufficient. The air was warm from the peat embers on the hearth, and the heavy red quilts gathered firmly round the ears, kept out the draught. Then it was back to the plough and harrow.


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