Strange how a little enamel sign can bring the memories flooding back. My personal memories are of a ‘scullery’, with very large Belfast sinks. The scullery was accessed through the walk in pantry, which had slate slabs to keep food cool. The Scullery initially had a brass cold tap, until my father ‘modernised’ the wash room and my mother could access hot running water.
How we used to wash our clothes
Previously, laundry used to be a communal affair, and sometimes carried out in a wash house.
Moreover, Copper boilers would be ignited with gas, and water would be boiled. Laundry Monday would commence. Similarly, something called a washing dolly, (a copper dome with holes attached to a wooden pole) would be engaged. This would relieve weary and wash red hands from boiling soapy suds.
A tub of hot water, a washboard in a wooden frame with somewhere to rest the bar of laundry soap in pauses from scrubbing. This is a familiar image of how our great-grandmothers washed the laundry.
It’s not wrong, but it’s only part of the picture. Factory-made washboards with metal or glass scrubbing surfaces certainly spread round the world in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Bars of soap were cheap and plentiful by the late 1800s, but there were other ways of tackling the laundry too.
In the idealised images of early advertising or today’s nostalgia products, the washtub is on a stand near a bright, breezy clothesline
In reality it may have been in a cramped kitchen or dark tenement courtyard, or by a tumbledown shack.
I tip my flowery hat to the women who slaved away. They were trying to keep their families and the nation clean. They were hard working and the salt of the earth, thank goodness for our various wash choices, spin cycles and the good old tumble dryer. We have been released!!