Object of the Week

The "Polar" milk cooler from the 1930s, chosen by Kirsty, a volunteer.

Every week we will be highlighting an object from our collection. This week’s object has been chosen by Kirsty, a volunteer.

Polar’ milk cooler, about 1930

During lockdown I have been extremely grateful that we today have things that our forebears didn’t in situations like this. For many of us, the internet has helped us stay connected to our loved ones – and if not, the phone certainly has. But what about all the other things we take for granted? We found out that this May just gone was one of the hottest on record. June’s looking cooler and wetter so far, but we have the rest of the summer to come. What if you didn’t have a fridge to keep your food fresh? I know I haven’t wanted to go to the shops as often as before, and that hasn’t been an option for many of us who are vulnerable. The internet has helped – but how many of you, like me, have been staying up till midnight to get a delivery slot! Without a fridge, that wouldn’t be possible. You’d have to shop most days and things would go off really easily. The museum has a pantry in the basement, which would have helped keep things cool in Gustav Holst’s time, but there were other ways of helping things along.

This week’s item is a milk cooler. It’s not a fridge, but if used properly, it would really help. It’s made of terracotta, a type of earthenware pottery that’s porous. The cooler has a chamber for water at the top. What you did was soak the cooler in cold water before using, and then kept the water in the chamber filled up. The water would then diffuse through the porous pottery, and keep the milk cool by evaporation. I’m not sure you’d quite reach the polar temperatures the brand name suggests, but people have used terracotta for centuries to keep food fresh and cool. Indeed, you can still buy milk coolers today!

Why do I like it?

We often think we have all the answers with our technology, but sometimes you find something like this that is simple and efficient, and would certainly still work well today. That said, I’m actually looking to buy a new fridge freezer so that I can have more frozen food in the aftermath of lockdown to stop going shopping so often, so maybe I don’t have a leg to stand on!