My Gran’s house at Tawd Bridge was one of a row of four old stone terrace houses with a shop at the end. My parents lived there after they were married and this is where I was born. There were three bedrooms upstairs, the parlour at the front, living room in the middle and a kitchen at the back. Gran’s house had a glass veranda built on at the back. These days it would be called a conservatory but then it was mainly used as a utility room. Most of the houses I knew at that time had a typical cooking range, which used an open fire. This was set in the living room, serving for warmth as well as cooking. At the back was a communal backyard shared by all of the families in the row. Across the backyard was a block of four separate toilets.
At the back of the toilet block was a shed built of timber with a tar-cloth clad roof and this was the washhouse. As far as I remember it contained tubs or troughs and a large cast iron mangle with wooden rollers, and these were for the use of all of the four houses.
In the backyard there were various poles and hooks at strategic places where the housewives could string out the washing lines. They never left the lines out after washing day, they were all reeled in and put away when the washing was taken in, because soot dropping down from the coal fires would make the lines dirty. They used to use a prop, which was at 10 foot pole of 4X2 to hold up the sagging rope lines.
When I lived there my grandmother didn’t use the communal laundry, she did her washing in the glass veranda. She had a hand-operated washing machine, which they called a jazzer. It was a galvanized corrugated iron rectangular tub set on four angle iron legs with a wringer attached to one side. It had a wooden lid with an agitator and handle, which you cranked to operate the machine. A boiler provided the hot water for the washing. (This was a freestanding electric powered boiler, not the modern type of boiler which is integrated into a hot water service or central heating system.)
Every Monday it was washing day in the whole community. All of the housewives in the row of houses would do their washing on Monday, and hang out the washing on the communal lines all together.
Thinking of this makes me begin to understand why my mother was always so particular about her washing. In those days it was very important for those women to get their washing perfect because it had to go out on display in front of their neighbours.
Gran told me a story about her Grandmother Whittle, (who ran the shop at Tawd Bridge.) She had a little sideline job of “doing up” collars. The men wore detachable white collars to their shirts. These were laundered separately and starched very stiffly then ironed. Grandma Whittle would do up these collars for a small fee. There was another woman in the neighbourhood who also did up collars – a rival! One day this woman had been cleaning or black-leading the stove and her hands were stained black. She said to Grandma Whittle that she was about to go home and do a bit of baking to whiten her hands so that they would be clean to do up the collars! Grandma had a laugh thinking about that subsequent state of the baking!
Of course it was never guaranteed that you would be able to get your washing dry outside. The housewives were always very grateful for a good drying day. Even on a good day the washing may not be perfectly dry, so had to be aired before it was put away or used. Every house I knew had a line in the living room. This was a drying rack made of wooden slats attached to pulleys on the ceiling. You hung the washing on the line and pulled it up with a rope, and then it could hang until dry. Usually this line was placed near the cooking range for warmth. My Nana also had what was known as a maiden, a wooden rack which stood in front of the fire.
It was very hard work doing the washing in those days even when they had the hand cranked washing machines. All the water had to be carried twice, ladling it in and draining it out. It also entailed a lot of lifting of heavy wet washing and putting it through the wringer. When I was a little go they still used rubbing boards or washboards to scrub the stains out of the clothes. I remember that any day that we were not at school, my Gran would always try to commandeer us to scrub the socks. Our white socksuse to get very stained on the soles and had to be scrubbed on the washboard to get them clean. I really didn’t like this job, I was more interested in operating the wringer. I used to find it fascinating mainly because it was a bit dangerous and we were not really allowed to touch it. But very often I would get the job of turning the handle while an adult put the washing through the wringer.
When we moved to our own house at Tawd Bridge the configuration of the house was very similar to Gran’s, with a utility room at the back where mum had a hand-operated washing machine and an electric boiler to do their washing.
(To the editor of this blog – thanks for the us of the image, and I hope you will leave a comment to explain your connection with The Housewife’s Darling.)