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Wednesday, November 21, 2012


English worker housing early in the industrial revolution. (1)

The word home defines a place or dwelling which a person has emotional attachment to and also some form of ownership over it. The word home first originates from the Old Frisian word hēm (abode, homestead or farmyard). However the development of the English word home appears to have been developed with external influences. The Old English word hāme, more commonly used as hām, was used in phrases to describe being at ones dwelling. Following this, the influence on the development of the word is probably due to Scandinavian influence on the British Iles, specifically in the area of Orkney and Shetland. The word developed into heem (ME), which appeared in Chaucer’s “Reeve’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales. This collection of stories was published in vernacular English, which resulted in the heem evolving frequently through Middle English into home. Furthermore, The Canterbury Tales is a story of the English peasant, and even a modest home is the peasant’s palace.
            A sense of ownership is absolutely central to the definition of the home, but monetary ownership is not necessarily dominant. During the Industrial Revolution, the nature of the English home began to change.  In urban settings, ownership of the home was not possession. The inhabitants were invested in the struggle to make rent, often for a single room for an entire family (see left). However as industrialization progressed, the layout and structure of the workman’s dwelling progressed and so to did the nature of their ownership. As working conditions and wages improved in England, the definition of home changed. The family fragmenting into the various rooms of new public housing supplemented the collective experience of the single room dwelling. Ownership became more complex as families gained disposable income, and the objects in the dwelling fostered emotional attachment. Ownership of the home became ownership of a dwelling filled with objects. Furthermore, the division of rooms caused individuals to take ownership and become emotionally attached to specific rooms in the house that were private and allowed them to reflect and care for themselves. Ownership of the home became a synthesis of collective and individual experiences.
Traditional English workers housing (1)
            The home retains its role as the peasant’s palace even into the modern era, however the privilege of a shelter does not foster the same attachment and sense of ownership that it did during the early industrialization of the West. Among the bourgeois, emotional attachment to a home is not absolute until the home is furnished. I have noticed this same experience now that I have moved into my first place, for the stark walls and living spaces do not foster the same sense of ownership that my first home does. One does not describe blank walls as homey and it seems that the ability to paint the walls with our own emotions and experiences has been lost in favour of covering them with ornament and baubles.


Works Cited

Holden, Richard, ed. Oxford. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Accessed November 16, 2012. http://www.oed.com/search?searchType=dictionary&q

(1) McKay, Donald. "Earthly Spaces and Heavenly Rooms." Lecture, University of Waterloo School of Architecture, Cambridge, ON.          

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