Washing and Ironing

In summertime everyone hung their washing in the street, but it was a risky business.

Although we were desperately poor, my mother kept us all neat and tidy. She was forever washing, ironing and patching our worn clothes, darning socks and knitting jumpers for us. She was also very house proud. Every Friday she would clean and polish that huge black-leaded fireplace until it gleamed like a mirror. Being the eldest child, I had to help a lot with the housework and look after my sister and brothers.

Monday was washing day. We didn’t have a wash house but my Nana had one, so that’s where the washing was done and, believe me, it took all day. As we went off to school my mother would start about nine o’clock and she would still be busy when we came home at four o’clock in the afternoon. It was terribly hard work. The white clothes were possed first in a wooden tub with a heavy poss stick, then they were scrubbed, then they were boiled. After rinsing they would be steeped in a bath of cold water to which a ‘dolly blue’ had been added. The blue solution makes the whites look whiter. The coloured clothes weren’t boiled but they still had a vigorous washing and were possed and scrubbed.

My mother was so particular, everything had to be scrubbed inside and out. From the age of eight I often helped to poss the clothes. I remember the poss stick was so heavy I could hardly lift it. I liked scrubbing the clothes better. What a hard life the women had then. In summertime everyone hung their washing in the street, but it was a risky business. Every time a vendor came down in his horse and cart the women rushed out to move the clothes to one side, especially when the coalman came. He would just sail through people’s washing without a care. In the winter clothes were hung up on lines in the house, so everything steamed up. You couldn’t move for wet clothes hitting you in the face.

Then of course came the ironing. The irons were made of cast iron, they were a ton weight. We had two, one would be heated on the fire and when it was deemed to be hot enough it would be lifted off very carefully with a thick cloth round your hand. You could tell if the iron was hot enough by spitting on it. If the spit sizzled it was ready. Believe me, it was hard work ironing. The weight of the iron used to ache your arm and your back. I used to hate it. I think I was about sixteen before we got an electric one and then we were frightened of it, especially my mother. She wouldn’t touch it for ages. She thought we all would be electrocuted.

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