Viscountess Boudica’s Domestic Appliances
Viscountess Boudica and her Berry Magnetic heater from 1940
When Viscountess Boudica invited me over to Bethnal Green to admire her domestic appliances, I was not quite sure what I might discover. Yet my expectations were surpassed by her magnificent array of vintage gadgets, gleaming in the half-light of her tiny ground floor flat, overshadowed by tall trees and sequestered behind discreet net curtains.
Like a high-priestess at a shrine, Viscountess Boudica presides over her treasured relics with gracious authority. These are the devices that freed women from the drudgery of housework in the twentieth century and Boudica tends her sacred collection, keeping each one sparkling clean and using them regularly, for cooking, washing and in all her daily chores – turning even the most ordinary domestic task into a ritual of religious intensity. Within the sepulchral gloom, Boudica’s colourful appliances line her kitchen with the irresistible glowing allure of pinball machines in a lost gaming arcade.
There is an intriguing mystery here, for Boudica is no literal-minded collector, ticking off her finds on a list. Instead, Boudica is on a spiritual quest, and each of her domestic appliances is a trophy leading her towards her ultimate goal – the Tricity 643 Cooker. This is the magic appliance that could transport her back to her own childhood and cure her fear of frying, as Boudica explained when she revealed to me the strange story of how it all began.
“It started with my search for the Tricity 643 Cooker. My mother had one. After she disappeared, my aunt was supposed to take me to school but when she came round one morning to the bungalow to collect me, Suzie her niece – that spoilt brat – she played up and my aunt had to take her out. “Here’s your eggs for breakfast,” my aunt said and she put them on the stove in a pan to cook, “All you’ve got to do is take the eggs from the pan and eat them.” I was only four and a half years old, and the eggs were spitting in the pan, so I had to stand on the blue library chair because the knobs were up high. They were push and turn. I managed to switch them off and move the pan onto the cold ring, but then my chair slipped and I fell onto the cardinal red floor. I had an ache for days. And of course, I always remembered that day and it gave me a fear of frying. So when I was older I thought, “I’ll see if I can buy one and go back to that day.”
I remember going out from the bungalow and walking down the lane to get the bus to the little villagey school a couple of miles away. When I saw my aunt later, little Suzie had a new outfit. My aunt said, “It’s your own fault, but now you’ve learned to switch it off you can make all the cakes up at the farm.” I was not even five years old, yet she said, “If you want to eat you’ll have to learn to cook, or you’ll starve, otherwise have a fag” - and that’s how I began to smoke. After that I started cooking, and my mother had a new man and I got pushed around to another of her boyfriends’ mothers. I used to cry and ask, “Where’s my mummy?” That’s how my life was, being moved from one to another, and I often ran away from home as well. They made me sleep with Greville, the lodger, and one night, when there was a terrible thunderstorm, I went up to my aunt’s side of the house and stood outside her bedroom door, where I heard her say to my mother that no man would want a woman that was a single mum.
For years, I tried to buy a Tricity 643, so I could go back in time to that moment and release myself, but I haven’t been able to because I can’t get the cooker. The dealers always sold me other appliances, they told me, “Buy this and we’ll get you a Tricity 643 next month.” I spent thousands of pounds on appliances without getting what I want, so I thought, “Oh well, I’ll collect them.” I’ve learnt to repair them all as well and, when I was at school, I even made my own working cooker with two rings. I sent away to Tricity to get the knobs.
Modern domestic appliances are rubbish. We are bombarded with foreign appliances when we used to manufacture these things ourselves here in Britain. They were made to last but instead we get these non-environmentally friendly appliances with a disposable life. I have begun to draw my own fantasy appliances now, because I thought it would be nice to have individual cookers instead of the boring mass-produced ones.”
Viscountess Boudica has rewired all her domestic appliances herself. She taught herself to do it, seeking spare parts from specialist suppliers and restoring broken old machines to perfect working order. Her fridge is more than sixty years old and she has cookers that are over eighty years old. When Boudica wants to cook her dinner she is spoilt for choices to suit her mood. All are as good as new and every one has a story to tell.
Proving to be an unlikely source of pleasure, knowledge and inspiration, Boudica’s beloved appliances have transcended the mundane. Today, Viscountess Boudica is proud to keep her secret temple in Bethnal Green to the lost glories of domestic appliances and, even after all this time, she has not given up hope of discovering a Tricity 643.
1960s Belling Classic Cooker
The fabled Tricity 643, drawn from memory – note the control knobs placed out of reach of a child.
1973 Hoover Constellation Vacuum Cleaner in pink
1930s Electric Cooker by E.E.Bond
Prescott Refrigerator, manufactured in Cowley, Oxford, late 1940s
1950s Baby Burco Washer-Boiler
1950s Parnell Tumble Drier
1950s Morphy Richards Iron
Wee Baby Belling Oven, Number 51
Goblin Teasmade 1940
1970s Black & White Valve Television by Ferguson
GEC Magnet Cooker 1930s
Drawings copyright © Viscountess Boudica
Be sure to follow Viscountess Boudica’s blog There’s More To Life Than Heaven & Earth
Read my original profile of Mark Petty, Trendsetter
and take a look at Mark Petty’s Multicoloured Coats,