Chester-le-Street Heritage Group
A 1940’s Childhood - Washing Day
Our house used a cylinder gas boiler on the wall to heat the water. On washing day the clothes were sossed in a zinc poss tub, but the wooden dolly poss stick had modernised into a “squeegy”. This was like an upturned copper colander with a wooden handle on the top. The clothes were scrubbed using block soap (e.g. Fairy or Sunlight) on the wooden draining board next to the Belfast sink. There was a gas boiler in the scullery for boiling the clothes, this was a copper tank built into a brick surround with a gas ring underneath. The washing was removed with a pair of wooden tongs, and the water was scooped out using a tin jug. A little bag of “dolly blue” was dipped into the rinsing water to keep the clothes whiter than white.
Some of the white items were starched, shirt collars and table cloths etc. The starch powder was mixed to a cream with a little cold water, then stirring all the time with a wooden spoon, boiling water was added until the mixture became transparent. You then watered it down depending upon how stiff you wished the article to be. Starched items were better ironed damp; otherwise you would never get the creases out. If they became too dry, you had a basin of water into which you dipped your fingers and flicked the drops onto the item and rolled it up to disperse the dampness until you were ready to iron it.
The clothes were dried on a three sectioned wooden clothes horse in front of the fire. (When not in use, this was also used to make a tent for us to play in.) In the kitchen was a black range, my mother didn’t use the oven, so it was painted inside with whitening to keep it clean, and as she had a gas boiler she didn’t use the set pot either. There was a metal shutter inside the grate called a “dog” which was dropped down to stop the fire from going underneath. Fenders came in a variety of different styles, ours had a square box seat at either side, with a hinged lid where we kept our slippers. The seats were upholstered in brown leather but it was usually too hot to sit there.
Flat irons were stood on a bar on the front of the range to heat, to test the iron to see if it was at the right temperature you spat on it. If the spit “danced off “ or evaporated immediately it was too hot, so you had to wait until it had cooled, it was ready when a licked finger could speedily be tapped onto the sole of the iron. Box irons were also used, a piece of metal called a slug was heated on the fire and dropped inside the hollow box, a spare slug was heated while the first one was being used. Gas irons came into fashion later.
We didn’t have an ironing board but ironed the clothes on the end of the polished dining table. A table felt covered the table first, then several layers of old sheets were placed on top. One day my elder sister left the iron lying flat instead of standing it on its end, this burnt a hole through all the layers of cloth, and left an iron shaped burn mark on the polished dining table! Everyone was frightened in case my father found out, so we were all sworn to secrecy. We made sure that a table cloth covered the table every time he came home, and it wasn’t until several years later when we moved house that he found out.
Reminiscence by Bunty for the Friends of CLS Heritage Group March 2011