Mrs Bliss, now 94, lived for most of her life in what is now the Cattery in Cress Green, and her daughter Megan has been documenting her memoirs. This time she reminds us what washing day was like in the times before the war – life may have been quieter and greener, but it was a whole lot harder too!
I have said earlier what a hard existence our parents must have had compared with ours today. If there is one modern appliance that has transformed the life for the housewife it must be the washing machine.
Monday was always wash day but preparations had to begin the night before. My father would lay the wood, coal and paper in the fire box beneath the the ‘copper’ or furnace as it was sometimes called – in the wash-house, ready for lighting in the morning before he left for work at 6.30 a.m.
Water had been carried in buckets from the kitchen to fill it, the wooden lid was put on the top to keep the heat in, and by the time my mother was ready to begin, the water would be very hot. Sheets and white articles were put in to be boiled with slivers of soap (which had been sliced from a very long bar) and soda, which was added to soften the hard water.
A ‘copper stick’ made of wood was used to move the sheets etc around, and also for lifting them out when ready for the rinsing into a bath of cold water.
The rest of the clothes would be washed by hand in another zinc tub or bath, hot water being ladled out and would be scrubbed on a washboard if necessary. When all had been washed and rinsed there came a ‘Blue Rinse’ to whiten and keep the colours fresh, then starching for some articles to ‘crisp’ them.
The wringer or the mangle was used to remove excess water (the handle turned perhaps by any child who was around at the time), care had to be taken to keep ones fingers clear of the rollers.
It didn’t end there, for after the clothes had been hung out to dry on the long line across the garden, all surfaces, washhouse, kitchen, back steps etc. had to be washed down while their was plenty of hot water available.
It would be lunchtime by then, and I remember coming in from school to a ‘washing day dinner’ cold meat & bubble and squeak.
Ironing came next day, if it had been a good drying day. Irons were heated in front of the kitchen fire on a grid fixed to the bars. One had to be very careful they had not black soot on them, so had to be wiped clean before commencing. Cloth iron holders were used as the cast iron handle was almost as hot as the iron itself.
Thick blankets were spread out on the kitchen table (no ironing board). If the starched items were too dry, they would be sprinkled with cold water, rolled up and left to become damp, this was done after being taken from the washing line.
The luxury of having a bath in front of any open roaring fire is probably no more, but it certainly was all we knew. The same procedure was used – filling the copper, ladling the water into buckets to be brought back into the kitchen to fill the zinc bungalow bath. Afterwards, water ladled out, and it was likely to be kept for watering the garden etc. What kind of soap we used, I can’t recall, may have been the same as for the laundry, probably carbolic, as scented soap came as a real luxury!