words and photo supplied by John Veasey
This morning as I switched on the washing machine my thoughts went back to the years circa 1946 BWM (before washing machines) and I thought what drudgery doing the family washing was for my mother.
Monday was always washday at Edward St and my mum had a routine which was to fill the copper with water on Sunday evening, lay the paper, sticks and coal ready for my dad to light the fire before going to work on Monday morning. This meant that the water was hot enough for mum to put in the dirty washing as soon as we’d had breakfast.
She would then put the Oxydol or Rinso soap powder into the copper along with the dirty washing so that, while she was she was clearing the breakfast things and washing up, the copper would be boiling away for twenty minutes or so getting the dirt out.
Then comes the real hard work, she would trundle the metal ribbed dolly tub from the shed into the scullery and prepare to transfer the hot sodden washing from the copper to the tub with the aid of a wooden copper stick and a galvanised hand bowl. This was a precarious process with all that boiling water around and in the days when rubber gloves were not available. She frequently scalded herself quite badly.
The next procedure was to manhandle (or women handle) the tub into the yard where she would pound away for ten or fifteen minutes with what she called her “POSH”, which was a metal plunger like instrument with a long wooden handle. After this exhausting process she would again manhandle the tub over the drain emptying out the soapy water and refilling it with rinsing water and repeat the process
Although she must have been feeling very tired at this stage it would still only mid- morning and there was a long day ahead
Once she was satisfied that the washing was thoroughly rinsed, the next step was to sort out the “Whites” and give them a rinse in Dolly Blue. I am not sure at what stage it would be done, but somewhere along the way, the table cloths and shirt collars and cuffs would be starched.
Next she would trundle the tub to the shed, where we kept the mangle, for the wringing process which involved taking each individual piece and feeding through the mangle then folding it ready to hang out on the line.
She would then take the partially dried items and hang them on the line to ”give them a good blow” as she would say.
I should be mention that, on days when there was a particularly heavy load, most of the process so far would be repeated more than once
By this time she would be starting to get lunch ready for when my sister and I came home at mid-day.
As I walked up the yard I would see a clothesline full of sparkling white sheets and shirts and windows running with condensation. On one such day I arrived home to see steam billowing out of the scullery window and my mother on her knees on the floor trying to mop up water from under the lino in The Breakfast Room as we called it, which was the result of the copper boiling over and flooding the place
So lunch time came and went and I would go back to work leaving my mother to carry on with her washday chores . Firstly she would empty the remains of the soapy water from the copper putting it in a bucket and then use it to wash the concrete yard and clean the drain.
Next she would rake out the copper fire and dispose of the ashes and mop the scullery floor.
By this time the washing on the line would be dry and needed to be brought in which she did, neatly folding each piece ready for ironing
Now it was time for her to prepare the evening meal for my dad, my sister and me ready for when we came home about five thirty and I don’t ever remember it being late.
Having had our meal one would think that it was time for her to rest but no there was ironing to be done and In those days that was a labour in itself. Almost everything was made of cotton or linen , no Easy Iron synthetics, no Ironing boards, no steam iron. Her ironing board was an old blanket folded on top of a leaf of our polished top table which it ruined eventually. Her iron was plugged in to a lethal two pin socket, no earthing circuits then.
She would carefully take each item sprinkle it with water from a bowl on the table to create steam then iron away until everything was pristine. She ironed everything, even her dusters , she wouldn’t stop until everything was done, I have known her to be ironing at eleven O’clock at night.
So that was our washday nearly seventy years ago .
My Mum was a Drudge and a Saint .
God Bless Her