One of my favorite authors, Bill Bryson, had recently published a book in which he takes readers on a tour of his house, examining the history of each object in it. Since I love Bryson's writing style and enjoy learning interesting facts about random objects, this was a book that I was really looking forward to reading. Unfortunately the book wasn't quite what I had expected and after a couple of chapters I set it down permanently. Shortly afterwards I came across If Walls Could Talk, which sounded a lot like what I had been hoping Bryson's book, At Home, would be like, so I decided to give it a try. This time the book didn't get put down for several days, at which point everyone around me was sick of hearing about the history of beds, how closets came to exist and how Tudor maids removed stains from clothes (with urine!). But if you are the kind of person who enjoys such facts, I'm sure you'll love this book as much as I did.
I was particularly interested in discovering the origins for many of the customs and beliefs that I had heard of but didn't know the source for. For example, while I knew that in Renaissance England it was fashionable to wear white collars and shirt cuffs I didn't know that the purpose of this was to publicize the wearer's cleanliness, at a time when bathing was out of fashion. It was fascinating to discover the way that so many of the customs and behaviors of the past shaped the way that we live today.
I was slightly disappointed that Worsley doesn't go into any depth about her research in writing the book since she mentions that she had actually tried out for herself many of the practices that she discusses here, from sleeping in a rope bed to washing laundry, Tudo style. I would really have enjoyed reading about these experiences and the conclusions she came to, so I felt a bit let down that they weren't included in the book. Though I hadn't realized at the time that If Walls Could Talk is also a program on BBC, and I expect that Worsley discusses her experiences a bit more on that show, which I definitely intend to track down.