Washing Day, part 1

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.)



This entry was posted in The Edith Coombe gallery by Edith C. Bookmark the permalink.

About Edith C

Born in Tawd Bridge, attended Digmoor school and chapel. Migrated to Australia in 1958, but have been back to Upholland for visits on several occasions since. Was a teacher, now retired. I would like to keep in touch with the people of Tawd Bridge, Upholland and Skelmersdale, I still have a fond and deep connection with the home of my childhood.

4 thoughts on “Washing Day, part 1

  1. Hy Edith great post brought back many happy memories of washing day .So different to todays washing now we just bung it in any time any day.Wonder if Edward Ashcroft might be a distant relation have to do some diging .Hope u are well regards .Dave

  2. what memories, Idon’t remember Edward Ashcroft, but do remember Andrew,who i assume would be his son? I obtained my first bike from the shop in Sandy Lane in the 1950s followed later by our first television, a ferguson 14 inch model. this took pride of place on a small table under the window and when not in use was always covered by a cloth to keep the dust out. Do you remember switching on a couple of minutes early to let the valves warm up?. Only one channel then and no morning programmes, at least there were no adverts to brainwash us.Good old days eh! and what about those childrens programmes in the afternoon, who remembers Rag Tag and Bobtail, Bill and Ben and on a Friday The Woodentops. Hank and Muffin the Mule with auntie Jean were other favourites of mine. Let us know ifyou have any favourites.

  3. The “Darling washing machine” had been and gone by the time I was 5 – 6 years of age visiting my grandfather Edward Ashcroft at his Moss St workshop in Skelmersdale. He was a most loveable man and a first class tinsmith making all manner of domestic items, pans, kettles, milk cans to be filled by the milk delivery lady with her pony and trap.
    Washday rubbing boards and what was known locally as the “tin bath” which could be seen hung on the outside back wall of many a home.

    In addition he made snap tins and drinking water cans and lamps for the coal miners. Many of these items I would clean and polish with French chalk before delivering them to the Sandy Lane shop

    Grandad would place a wooden box to give me height to reach the bench tops when instructing me to make some of the more simple items. He taught me a lot which served me well in later years as an engineer. One thing he did instill upon me was, “If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well”.

    As I got older, the variety of tasks extended to cycle repairs which was managed by my uncle Andrew instructing me to build new cycle wheels comprising of the rim,hub, spokes, rim tape tube and tyre.
    Uncle Tom worked on heavy sheet metal fabrications for local industries but was considered too heavy and dangerous for my involvement but never tired of watching him produce cascades of colourful sparks when either welding or torch cutting heavy metal.

    A regular Saturday job was to brush all the benches free from metal waste then brush the floors throughout after spreading sand or water to minimize the dust. All for the Princely sum of two shillings for which I was most grateful.

    Many years later, the land and buildings came under compulsory purchase due to the development of the new town.
    On visiting the “How We Were” exhibition centre at Wigan Peir, I was most pleasantly surprised to see the effigy of a man working in a staged workshop along with most of the hand operated tools and equipment used by my grandfather which had been donated to the exhibition centre by my uncle Tom
    together with a brief history of my grandfather’s business.


  4. Ed, this is quite wonderful! What an interesting comment.You were obviously a great admirer of your grandfather and all his achievemants and proud that he was the designer and maker of such iconic old Lancashire items such as the jazzer, the tin bath and the snap tin. He really deserves a more complete account of his life and work! How about it?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>