A Wartime Washing Day
by Charlotte Tate
Monday was always washing day and what an awesome task it used to be. When I was a child I used to begin dreading it on Sunday, hating the steam-filled kitchen, the wet quarry floors and the thudding of the maiding tub.
At our house in Oak Road, there was a gas boiler in the corner of the kitchen, next to the crock sink. Early on Monday morning, my mother would fill the boiler with water, using a galvanised bucket. Persil was added, and the gas jet beneath the boiler was lit. While the water heated, a mangle with rubber rollers was brought into the kitchen from the garage, followed by a metal tub and a wooden maid. The washing line was then hung out in the garden. Washing would be sorted on the floor into piles of whites, light colours, dark colours and lastly, woollens.
Warm water would be drained from the boiler into a bucket through a little brass tap and poured into the sink- then using a bar of Sunlight soap, collars and cuffs would be scrubbed and put into the tub. Hot water was drawn from the boiler and poured into the tub and the whites were pounded and pounded with the wooden maid in the hot, soapy, water. The washing was then mangled into a deep, cane basket picked up and shaken out and dropped into now boding Persil water and poked down with a wooden boiler stick.
When the whites had boiled for twenty minutes, they were lifted up with the boiler stick and held to drain for a while, before being plunged into a sink full of cold water, which began the swilling process. When this laundry was hand-hot, it was wrung and stacked on to the draining board.
Soapy water was emptied from the tub and the tub was swilled and filled with cold, clear water. The hand wrung laundry was shaken out and lowered into the clear water, then maided and mangled to remove the soap. This procedure was carried out three times with a change of water between each one. Finally the tub was filled and the whites were rinsed with clean water that was coloured blue, with the aid of a bluebag. This was to make the whites whiter. To use bleach was unthinkable as it was said to be the lazy way to wash and furthermore it rotted the clothes faster. Our white clothes were put through seven waters.
When the final blue rinse was completed, the clothes were mangled three times. After each mangling the clothes were folded and the mangle rollers were tightened in order to squeeze every possible drop of water from the clothes. All were guided into the laundry basket, carried into the garden and pegged out on the line. A heavy, wooden line-prop was used to hoist the washing high to be blown dry.
Mother worked on and on through the piles of washing until all was clean, ending with washing the woollens in the now cool water. Then the clearing up began. Soapy water was drawn from the boiler and used to scrub the kitchen and hall quarries. The front and back doors were opened then to blow the floors dry.
When it was winter, my mother liked the frost to form on the whites, saying that it improved on their whiteness. Then the laundry would be carried into the house frozen stiff to be aired around the fire on a big, heavy, wooden clotheshorse. Sometimes when the weather was bad, it would be Thursday before the laundry was dry enough to be ironed.
When the washing was dry, three blankets and a sheet would cover the kitchen table, forming a big ironing board. We had an electric iron, but as power-cuts often occurred in wartime, we also kept a pair of Victorian sad irons in reserve. These irons were heated on the gas jets of our cooker. One was heated as the other was being used.
Having laundered in this way for my mother, when I grew older, I appreciate my automatic washing machine and tumble dryer so very much. But I think that the old fashioned method of laundering used by my mother and my grandmothers made the whites glow whiter than mine do now.
Sweaters, cardigans, gloves, stockings and socks were all made from pure wool during the war. They wore into holes very quickly; therefore there was always a basket of mending waiting to be done.
The holes in socks and stockings were darned using a wooden mushroom. Holes in gloves were darned on the hand or knitted over. Cottons wore quickly too. Frayed buttonholes were re-sewn in a neat and tiny buttonhole stitch. Missing buttons were replaced; frayed collars and cuffs were repaired or turned. Old sheets and pillowcases were cut up and used to patch the better ones, as holes and tears appeared. All was carried out sitting beside the fire, sometimes by candlelight. It was a peaceful scene that I remember well.
© QLHS 2005