Monday, 1940s style
Today I’m handing Bod for tea over to a very special lady who has allowed me to re-print this article she wrote back in 1974 about my Great-Grandmother. The prompt was ‘Monday’ and the author was, well it was my Mother. Enjoy.
The thoughts that come into my mind at the mention of Monday are: washday, cold meat for lunch and ‘drip-dries’ hanging in the bathroom. It’s not my favourite day of the week, especially first thing in the morning when the family have departed, leaving behind a clutter of belongings to wade through with maybe a hasty call from the stairs “Will you give my brown trousers a quick rinse through, Mum?”. That makes six pairs of trousers to wash this week, I mutter to myself. Then I face the pile of clothes waiting in the laundry bag and pull the twin-tub up to the sink.
Now if it was my lot to do the weekly wash as my Grandmother used to back in the 1940s, I would have something to complain about. She never seemed to mind Monday mornings. At five o’clock without fail, she could be heard hurrying down the stone steps leading from her kitchen into the yard below. In the yard was the wash-house; a basement room, leading to a small garden. The wash-house contained a large stone copper with a space underneath for a fire. This was always filled with kindling the night before.
Grannie’s first task was to fill the copper with cold water from the tap at the deep stone sink. Then she lit the fire before lifting a large tin bath from the wall and filling it with a solution of ‘blue’ to make the white’s sparkle. Another bath was set aside for starch. As she waited for the water in the copper to boil there were various other tasks to be carried out: the laundry needed to be sorted into whites and coloureds, the washing line wiped clean and the clothes prop fetched from Grandad’s shed. Some mornings she had to knock the snow from her shoes as she came back into the wash-house.
When she was satisfied that the water was hot enough she added soda and soap-powder and swirled the mixture around with a copper stick. The white clothes were added and left to boil for a while and she got started on the coloured clothes with a frenzy of rubbing and scrubbing in the sink, her brown arms covered in soap suds up to her elbows. When these were washed, rinsed and starched to her satisfaction she repeated the whole process with the now boiled-within-an-inch-of-their-lives whites. These were carefully lifted out of the copper with wash tongs and woe-betide anyone who was in the way. After they were rinsed in the blue and starch solutions my part in the proceedings began.
Grannie pushed a large mangle with wooden rollers into the garden and adjusted the screw at the top. My task was to feed each piece of clothing through the rollers while Grannie turned the heavy metal wheel. The speed that the rollers spun allowed no time for dawdling and added spice to the operation. In no time at all a large basked had been filled with the now flattened clothes.
Now came the highlight of the morning, weather permitting. The snow white sheets were pegged to the line and hoisted into position with the prop. The wind would catch them and send them billowing high above Grandad’s tomato plants and chrysanthemums. Grannie would stand for a few moments watching them blow then showing her approval with a snort, hurry back to tidy the wash-house.
It did not seem to matter to her that smoke from the nearby railway would soon cover the sheets with black specks of soot. Her washing was still the whitest in that poor street and looking back it was probably the only thing she could take pride in. Maybe Monday mornings were a kind of therapy in the never ending struggle to make ends meet.
I sometimes wonder if some of Grannie’s ‘Monday Morning Therapy’ sessions would help the gadget-surrounded housewife of today appreciate the ease of her life compared with Grannie’s time. Although I must admit not until my twin-tub is pushed back into it’s own little alcove and my own washing is done.