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Florence Cole as a child

The food safe / meat safe
before home fridges

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Indoor food safe standing on a shekf, also known as a meat-safe, used where there was no fridge, common up to the mid-1900s

A food safe for a normal sized family. The jars beside the safe indicate its size.

Before fridges came into ordinary homes, every household had what was known as a food safe, also known as a meat safe for storing perishable items.

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What a food safe/meat safe was like

A food safe was a wooden cupboard with doors and sides open to the air apart from a covering of fine galvanised wire mesh. This allowed the air to circulate while keeping insects out. There was usually an upper and a lower compartment, normally lined with what was known as American cloth, a fabric with a glazed or varnished wipe-clean surface.

Open food safe or meat safe

A large open food safe on a shelf. Photographed at Tilford Rural Life Centre.

Food safes were fairly small because they were primarily for rapidly perishable foods like meat, milk, butter and eggs. However one of the photos does show an extra-large one with three shelves.

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Positions for food safes

Food safes were always placed where it was cool and draughty.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer

For ordinary households like those where my mother lived on the Huxley Estate, this was in the passage just outside the scullery door against the fence that was shared with the neighbour. Consequently the safes were in the shade of one or other of the houses for almost all of the day, and access was easy. Where possible, safes were at eye level, either on stilts or attached to fence posts.

A food safe also called a meat safe, widely used in all houses before refrigeration

Food safe on stilts, of the sort kept in an outside passage in the shade.

In larger houses safes were often on shelves in cool, shaded rooms.

Indoor food safe standing on a floor, also known as a meat-safe, used where there was no fridge, common up to the mid-1900s

Indoor food safe standing on a floor.

Later on, into the 1930s, when the layout of new houses did not lend itself to placing safes outside, there was often a built-in cool, tiled pantry or larder with a meshed window. If not, a shelf or standing room for a food safe had to be found somewhere.

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.