The Laundry

Washing and ironing the hard way

Ted Blowers

Image accompanying MP3 audio clip: Irons for rent - Desmond Reynolds remembers ( KB)

Irons for rent - Desmond Reynolds remembers

Photo: Keith Thomas

Image accompanying MP3 audio clip: Edna Smith remembers washing day ( KB)

Edna Smith remembers washing day

Illustration: Wallington and Carshalton Times, 1936

Risky ironing - Doreen O'Halloran (née Hayden) remembers

No central heating, no hot water, water for washing and bathing etc. had to be boiled in a copper, usually heated by wood or coal. When the washing was in, it was stirred and agitated by muscle power using a piece of wood referred to as the copper stick, or you would boil water in kettles on the fire unless you had gas, in which case you would boil the water on the stove. No disposable diapers or tissues, no paper towels all nappies or diapers, handkerchiefs, washcloths, had to be washed by hand.

When the washing was finished it was taken outside, where if you were lucky enough to have one, the big items like sheets were put through the mangle or wringer. This was a large contraption with two heavy wooden rollers one on top of the other which were compressed together by turning a drive screw at the top of the frame. There was a set of cogs on the side which had a handle attached, which the women had to turn while feeding the sheet  between the rollers to get as much water out as possible.This was caught in the tin bath for use on the garden later - this was heavy work.   Small stuff like shirts and underwear was wrung out by hand, then it was all hung on a clothes line which was strung between the house and a pole. To stop the washing dragging on the ground a clothes prop was used which was made by cutting a V in the top of a piece  of 2x2 about 10 ft long, or getting a long branch with a fork at the end from a tree. These were usually sold door to door along with wooden clothes pegs by the gypsies. The poles would be used to catch the line in the groove or fork and lift the line up as high as you could. The weight would keep it there. The wind would blow and clean lines of washing would be billowing in every garden. Women who experienced life without, still say that there is nothing better then wind dried laundry, though no doubt they would have appreciated the convenience of a drier, especially in the winter when the frost would freeze the washing solid and the poor women would have to bring it inside to try to dry it. Many would suffer from split fingers and chilblains. Moisturizer and all the array of cosmetics used today were unheard of and what was available most could not afford.

Once done it had to be ironed and there were no electric irons, just flat irons that had to be heated on the gas if you had it, or the fire. Blankets were usually washed by putting them in a bath, adding the water and washing soap, then taking your shoes and socks off and treading them like grapes, then rinsing them the same way.

This page was added by Cheryl Bailey on 17/08/2010.
Comments about this page

I remember going to Nan's house in Sherbourbe Crescent for dinner on a Monday.  Rushing home from school in Green Wrythe Lane, rush dinner and rush back again.  Every week it was Stew - I absolutely hated Stew because she would put pearl barley in it and I absolutely detested it.

She would start her washing first thing on Monday morning. Stripping at least four beds and all the underclothes and shirts and stand there at the sink, with the hot water from the copper in the corner of the kitchen, and scrubbing all day long.  She would put all the sheets and pillow cases in the copper and boil them up with Fairy soap while she scrubbed everying else with the glass ripple fronted scrubbing board and a brush that she swiped over with Fairy soap.  Then we would have to rinse it all in cold water (hands blue with the cold in the winter) and then out on the line, all snowy white blowing in the wind.  The kitchen was running in condensation and the smell of the stew and all the boiling and sitting in what amounted to be a turkish bath is quite a memory.


By Brenda Clark nee Stuart
On 09/04/2014

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.