Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Wash Day – Well Hall Estate

The Well Hall Pioneer Circle considered wide ranging issues political social and domestic. During October 1916 the subject of wash day came up. It was reported that ‘washing-day was condemned as one of the most exhausting of the house wifely work days’. The women called for more laundry centres for small groups of houses (as well as cooperative kitchens and day nurseries).
Washing was a very physical activity. Without washing machines friction was needed to clean garments and this came from rubbing – either rubbing cloth against cloth or cloth against a washboard probably of metal at that time – or of drubbing with a dolly poster. Both of these would probably take place in a metal tub and with the help of a bar of hard household soap like  ‘Sunlight’. Water would first have been heated in a copper – we know that the kitchens on the estate were each supplied with one of these – and then baled into the tub. Whites needed to be washed separately from coloured and a little bag of Ricketts Blue might be used to keep them sparkling white. After washing clothes might be rung to make more effective use of the rinse water. Once rinsed undoubtedly in cold water to save time and fuel – clothes were either hand rung or put through the rollers of a hand operated mangle. These were not cheap items and Eda Biddlecombe in her diary mentioned that her mother bought one secondhand from a Mrs Parry probably a resident of Bexleyheath where the family used to live. The mangle is brought around by Carter Paterson.
Finally the clothes would be hung out to dry and, as we know from the estate rent book which set out the rules, this would need to be away from public view in the back garden. No wonder a whole day was dedicated to washing. I wonder how many of the estate’s housewives managed their wash on a Monday:
They that wash on Monday
Have all the week to dry;
They that wash on Tuesday
Are not so much awry;
They that wash on Wednesday
Are not so much to blame;
They that wash on Thursday,
Wash for shame;
They that wash on Friday,
Wash in need;
And they that wash on Saturday,
Oh ! they’re sluts indeed.
(Traditional rhyme)
Eda’s mother was doing her washing on a Friday when she got a needle in her hand and the only other mention of this chore in her diary was on a Saturday; for working women it was not easy to stick to the traditional ways! However, towards the end of her diary Eda refers to the fact that she has started an account with Laundry Mail so perhaps this was a collection and delivery service for domestic washing – more research needed!

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