Friday, 27 March 2009

The wash house in the back garden

Glass washboard, early twentieth century, phot...Image via Wikipedia

When I switched on the washing machine this morning my thoughts went back to the days when I used to watch my mother doing her washing by hand in a wash house in the back garden, shared by three other neighbours. They had their washday allocated to them and if it happened to rain on that day it was just tough luck and instead of the washing airing on the line outside it had to be taken into the house to dry.
You didn't just throw your clothes into a machine and press a button then, and washing machines were not on the wedding gift lists either as a more likely present would be a washboard or wringer.
On wash day the "sunlight" soap would come out along with the scrubbing board and carried down stairs along with the clothes, while the heavy wringer that was used after they were washed was kept in the wash house. The clothes would be carefully separated into appropriate bundles as not to shrink or discolour them in the wash then they were, in their turn put in a tub of boiling water and stirred occasionally with a wooden stick that was specially made for the job. (The water was heated by a coal fire underneath the tub in a brick enclosure in the corner of the wash house.) Once the clothes were deemed to be clean enough they were lifted out by the stirring stick and placed into a tub of cold water where they were rinsed then, once the soap was extracted they were then put through the wringer (screwed onto another tub to catch the water) which could be adjusted to suit the thickness of the garment being dried and if any stubborn stains were spotted the offending clothes were taken to the scrubbing board and rubbed with the sunlight soap then scrubbed hard until the stain or mark disappeared. If it was a good drying day the clothes would be hung out to dry while the next batch was in the boiler then the procedure would begin again.
When we moved to a new council house the job was made more easy for my mother because she could wash any day of the week she chose and the large metal tub in the kitchen (provided by the council) was heated by electricity, also the wringer was screwed onto a attachment between the two sinks that was part of her modern kitchen. The task was still as tedious and very hard work but it was made more convenient given the electricity and the fact she was in her own kitchen.
She then progressed to a plain washing machine only then a twin tub that spun the clothes but still used her boiler to wash as she thought it was better for the really dirty clothes. Now she has an automatic machine but the irony of it all is that she only has her own clothes to wash in comparison to the five children and a husband she looked after in the days of the wash house.

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1 comment:

  1. Here in france we still see the old communal washing lavoires being used for rinsing clothes or getting the first wetting of dirty clothes done, after all we pay for water by meter and yet the lavoire is free !