Yesterday, we were looking after the grandchildren, as we do most Thursdays. When my daughter came home from work in the evening, she was telling me that her washing machine had broken down the day before. It is twelve years old so she had feared the worst and had visions of bringing all her washing round to my house until she could get a replacement. However, the mechanic had been round and, thankfully, the problem was not serious - and he had the correct spare replacement part, so all was well. The first thing she did was to fill the machine up as she had two loads to wash. That got me thinking. Nowadays a washing machine is an absolute essential in the modern home - could you do without one? Would you do your weekly wash in the sink? Even once? Is your sink even big enough? No - I didn't think so.
Things were very different in the past. As a very small child in the mid 1940`s, I have memories of my mother doing the weekly washing. It seemed to take her all day! I think that before World War II, Mum used to use a laundry service for linen double sheets and large tableclothes and things like the detachable stiff collars men had to wear. But when war broke out, this stopped. I remember she had a very ancient gas washboiler with a large folding mangle. It lived in the `scullery' (utility room) and she used it for washing sheets, towels, linen tablecloths, serviettes and such like. This machine had to be filled with water by hand and had a tap at the bottom for emptying the water when finished. I think it had a paddle or something to move the laundry around in the water (manually, of course). I can remember helping her to pass the washing through that mangle. Items were still quite damp, of course, but much better than if you tried wringing them by hand. In the winter, it was not unusual for washing to freeze on the line in the garden. Ever tried dealing with a frozen double sheet?
For all the other washing, there was the washboard - a long wooden frame with a corrugated front. The sink was enormous - at least as deep as your arms and probably three foot square. Mum had a large bar of white soap which she rubbed on the clothes and then she pummelled and pummelled them against the washboard and up and down in the water for ages! Sometimes, she needed a small brush for stubborn marks on collars and cuffs. Then, everything had to be rinsed several times before going through the mangle or, for very delicate items, being pressed gently between two towels. She also had one of those large ceiling racks (you can still buy these) to hang washing up indoors when it was raining. You lowered the rack with a rope, loaded it up, and pulled it up again. Ceilings were high, so the washing was out of the way.
In the early 1950's, Dad bought Mum an electric Thor Washing Machine. This was a state of the art, top-loading machine with agitator action. It also rinsed and spun dried! I know we were the first in our road to have an automatic washing machine! It was a real luxury then and I can remember my mother being slightly embarrassed when she described it to our neighbours! Well, she deserved it. My lovely mum had been severely handicapped since contacting Puerperal Fever in 1921 from the midwife who delivered my eldest sister. She was very ill for a whole year and nearly died. [See the page on my website about My Mum]. In those days, with a large family and myself (the afterthought!) still under five, she had a 'Charlady' twice a week to help with some of the housework but that still left a great deal for her to do.
When I was first married, I had a washboiler too. My wringer was my husband! How we coped with the huge number of terry towelling nappies, I don't know. It was several years before we could afford an automatic washing machine so I really appreciated it when we got one even if I had to drag it backwards and forwards to the sink to attach the pipes to the taps. I remember once forgetting to put the outflow pipe into the sink and the machine emptied itself at least three times onto the kitchen floor! That was fun! Well, the children, playing alone in the breakfast room certainly thought so. I was in the next room tending to my husband, who had just come home from hospital after his second hernia operation, and it was the children's hilarious laughter which alerted me to something unusual! I can certainly laugh about it now but at the time I wasn't too impressed over that episode. ('Why on earth didn't you call Mummy straight away?')!
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