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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Wash Day in Victorian Times

As promised in my last post, I'm going to tell you about the delights of doing the laundry in Victorian times. When my children were tiny, and my husband was a student at University, our ancient, twin tub washing machine caught fire. There was no money to replace it so I bought a mangle for £3. In those days there were no such things as disposable diapers, everybody used toweling squares. I can well remember the horror of putting these through the mangle, on a winter morning, to see them emmerging the other side of the rollers frozen stiff.
The first thing we bought, when my husband started work as a teacher, was an automatic washing machine. I can well remember standing by the washing line exclaiming loudly about the whiteness of the baby's clothes, just like someone in a washing powder advert!
The unfortunate housewife in Victorian times would have thought the mangle a thing of wonder. These were only available towards the end of the 19th century when cast-iron items were manufactured in several factories. Before this clothes had to be wrung out by hand.
A farmer's wife, for instance, would sort out the dirty clothes at the weekend ready to start washing on the Monday. The fire under the copper would be lit in the middle of the night so the water would be hot first thing. Individual stains were treated with a variety of agents: alcohol,vinegar and milk to name just three. Clothes were then put in to soak.
Next the clothes had to be pummelled with the dolly stick in a fresh tub of hot water. This was backbreaking work and each load took around an hour. Clothes then had to be rinsed and mangled. Dark garments would then be hung out to dry. However, white items had to be placed in fresh water and a cube of 'blue'(a chemical that became available the same time as the mangle) was added to the water. This gave the white clothes the added brightness they needed. A lot of modern washing products have blue particles added for this very reason.
Wednesday was spent drying and airing the laundry, Thursday and Friday the items would be ironed. This would be done on a blanket on the central kitchen table. The irons would be put on the range to heat. Imagine the effort needed to iron the voluminous clothes, worn in those days, with a heavy metal iron.
No sooner had the laundry been put away then the poor woman would be starting all over again! Laundry took up 50% of the housewife's week; it is hardly surprising clothes tended to be dark so they didn't show the dirt.
I quite enjoy hand washing the odd jumper and delicate item, but I'd hate to go back to using a mangle!
Fenella Miller
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Mary Ricksen said...

I hate doing laundry now, I never would have survived that era.
Well my family would be always wearing dark clothes.

The rest of their time was spent cooking and cleaning. We never woulda had time to write then!

Fenella Miller said...

Our dishwasher died last week and even wahsing up seems a chore nowadays. I've just cleaned the house from top to bottom in honour of my daughter's visit today. My husband and I said 'Good- no more cleaning for another month!' Writers don't 'do' housework.

Linda Banche said...

My mother had a mangle washing machine. And I remember hanging the clothes out on the clothesline in winter and pulling them in frozen. Amazing we had any clothes at all in the winter