'I must frankly own that, if I had known beforehand the labour which this book has entailed, I should never have been courageous enough to commence it.' So begins Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, and so perhaps should run the first line of this book. The subject of the book is probably best described as domestic archaeology, a quest for establishing exactly how our ancestors kept themselves clean, warm and well-fed. Christina Hardyment has visited over a hundred houses, most belonging to The National Trust: stately mansions and humble farmhouses, medieval manors and terraced town houses. She has squirmed through medieval drains, poked into cellars and dilapidated sculleries, clambered down ice houses and up chimneys in the interests of establishing where domestic tasks took place and how they were done. Besides offering detailed chapters on the history of the kitchen, bathroom and laundry, she investigates bakehouses and breweries, kitchen gardens and orangeries, the lamp room and the larder, the poultry yard and the still-room. Her descriptions are illuminated by much lore about the operation of mangles, the management of dovecotes and the workings of water closets that has been gleaned from housecraft manuals through the centuries, National Trust archives, diaries and novels, advice given by architects and tradesmen and the reminiscences of those who were once part of the upstairs/downstairs world that we have lost. She concludes by asserting that even these days, when machines and supermarkets seem to provide all we need in the home, we would do well to take more seriously the traditional assumption that skilled household organization is a vital element of domestichappiness.