Having to cope with family washing is no problem for the modern housewife. Her automatic machines will do the washing while she gets on with other tasks. Should the weather be adverse, the tumble dryer can also be brought into use. All will be clean and dry with no inconvenience to the housewife or any other inmate of the home. Ironing to is relatively simple, whether ordinary or electric irons are used.

Sixty or seventy years ago washing for the family was a mammoth task. The village had no water or electricity supplies, so the first priority was to fetch water from the nearest well which could be a hundred yards, or in some cases two hundred yards, or further. Sometimes that supply was augmented by rainwater which came off the roof, most homes had a barrel for this purpose. Usually this was rather brown in colour and could only be used for heavy or dark articles. The water then had to be heated on the living room fire, or the kitchen range, providing there was one. A lack of running water meant there was no kitchen sink, so washing had to be done in a large bath or tub which was raised onto a stand, slightly higher than a chair. A washing board and scrubbing brush were always at hand. The washing board had one plain side, the other on tin or aluminium was ridged in concertina fashion. If clothes were grimy they were rubbed on the ridged side but if stains were really ingrained they were scrubbed on the plain board. White articles were usually boiled in a large pot, much care had to be taken lest they boil over. If this happened it caused a real mess, ash and water spluttering all over the fireplace. After many rinses, the last one for the whites always having Reckitts Blue added, they were put through a hand operated wringer. Needless to say much of the water found its way onto the floor and had to be dried up afterwards. When the washing was completed, all used water had to be carried outside to be disposed of.

Even in those days there were washing machines, quaint wooden contraptions with a central part that had to be pummelled up and down, or moved from left to right and vice versa, hand operated of course. Due to the effort required, I seldom saw one of those contraptions in use.

Drying the clothes was often more of a problem than washing them. In fine weather all went well but if stormy or wet, as it often was in winter, drying had to be done indoors. There was little chance of a seat by the fire on such days and it was sometimes difficult to even identify the other occupants of the room. Large wooden clothes horses were arranged around the fireside and columns of steam rose upwards. No matter how ingenious the method used for drying, there was always rising vapour, it seemed to get everywhere.

Ironing was another laborious chore. Flat irons and those with heaters were used. The flat irons were placed hard against the front bars of the grate, meanwhile heaters were thrust into the heart of the fire until they were red hot. Transferring them to the iron was a rather dangerous operation. They were of the same shape as the iron itself, pointed at one end and straight at the other. Each had a hole near the flat end, through which the poker could be thrust, thus enabling its user to lift it into the hollow casing of the iron, a flap then fell, sealing it inside. When one heater cooled another was used, if this was too slow in heating, a flat iron would be employed instead. In later years Primus stoves were used to heat both flat irons and heaters. The Primus stove offered a much quicker and cleaner operation.

Blanket washing was a totally different operation. As a child this was a task which I really enjoyed. Our blankets were usually washed at Granny’s house as it was much more convenient to do them there. Granny always chose a nice day before announcing her intention to wash, she then summoned mother and my aunt to join her. The children’s help was enlisted too. It was our task to go to the beach and fetch: driftwood, old dried tangles, old boots or anything that would burn. A fire was set between two low walls of stone, across from which, was placed iron bars or an iron grid to support a huge pan of water. The boys had the job of stoking the fire, while the girls were allowed to stamp the blankets. Granny had a well in her garden from which water could be pumped. We helped her carry this water the short distance to where several tubs were arranged near the fire. A large mangle stood nearby, having been wheeled out earlier in the day. When the water was hot enough a skillet was used to ladle it into the tubs and when a nice lather was obtained the stamping process began. What fun we had throwing the soapy bubbles at one another and stamping all the while! After much footwork the blankets were transferred to another tub, they were then rinsed several times before being put through the mangle. Turning the handle was no easy job, however the pressure of the huge rollers was an effective way of squeezing the water out. Finally, they were carried to the grass just short of the shore, or to those stones on the beach which were well above the high water mark, there they were spread out to dry. The procedure was repeated again and again until all the blankets were done. We helped when we could but in between we had lots of time for play in Granny’s large garden. To us it was all a game, not so for the adults, who had to work very hard.

At the other end of the village, blankets were washed by the burn and were spread out to dry on whin bushes close to hand.

The luxury of an electric blanket or Continental quilt is taken for granted nowadays, as are the other advantages of electricity and water supplies. Had our parents and grandparents enjoyed these modern comforts life would have been much easier for them.



Katie Ross