At Home – Bill Bryson

I recently finished this very interesting and informative book. It’s basically a social history, in the context of the home. During the second half of the book I began to note extracts worth sharing. In my own words:


By the late C19, 80% of English wallpaper contained arsenic. William Morris’s famous greens were made from an arsenic-based pigment. Green rooms were suspiciously free of bedbugs. No wonder a change of air could really help health!

The average person today has more than 600 times more lead in their system than 50 years ago.

Lead poisoning can induce seeing halos around objects – an effect Van Gogh used. It is probable that he was suffering from lead poisoning, as many artists did.


The expression ‘sleep tight’ comes from when beds were made from a lattice of ropes that could be tightened.

When sleeping at an Inn before the 19th Century, it was common to share a bed with a stranger.


Visitors and residents at Versailles could be assured in 1715 that corridors and stairwells would be cleared of faeces weekly.

A typical report found that one London house had 3 feet of human waste in the basement. The yard was six inches deep with excrement, with bricks as stepping stones.


In the mid 1600s when buttons came in, people were very keen on them, sewing them in arrays in places they had no use. A relic of this is the row of buttons, often overlapping, on a suit jacket sleeve, serving no purpose.

Artificial moles in the late 1700s took shapes like stars and moons, worn on the face, neck and shoulders. For men, which cheek indicated your political leanings.

Around the same time, it became briefly fashionable to where false eyebrows made of mouse fur.


During the 20th Century, when stately homes became tourist attractions, one elderly resident refused to leave the sitting room while the horse racing was on. “She was voted the best exhibit.”

One person in Tanzania takes a year to emit the same carbon emissions as someone in Europe produces every 2.5 days, or 28 hours in the USA.

Highly recommended reading!


One thought on “At Home – Bill Bryson

  1. I love this book – but then I love pretty much anything he puts to paper! I highly recommend his brief bio of Shakespeare if you haven’t read it yet.

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