Washing day

Wednesday was washing day. Tommy was at school and I was left to my own devices. Mam was far too busy to entertain me. I can remember sitting on the cold bare stairs amid the piles of washing, drawing in the fly leaf of my dad’s western books.

The ‘back kitchen’ door was open and the windows and distempered walls glistened with condensation. In the corner next to the stove, the gas copper was set up and steam poured from the near boiling water. The floor and the stairwell disappeared under a mountain of sheets, pillowcases and other items.

The task was done once a week and Mam did Ollie and Jim’s washing as well as her own.

Coral recalls:

“Either Ray or I were sent around to Gran’s to collect their washing bundle, which was tied up in one of the sheets or tablecloths. In the top was a packet of Oxydol and a ‘secret’ half-crown ‘for the gas’.

“The gas meter was situated in the small cupboard next to the chimney breast. All gas meters were equipped with a timer and needed to be fed a penny a time.”

It was a major production. 61 was equipped with one solitary cold-water tap fitted above an ancient earthenware sink.  Mam had to bring the gas copper (a copper lined tub with a gas ring located underneath) into the back kitchen from the back yard, fill it by hand and run a rubber hose from the gas stove to the copper. She had a wooden tub in the back yard that also had to be filled by hand from the copper.

After boiling, the washing was transferred from the copper to the tub to get ‘possed’. The poss stick (or sosser) was a wooden device about 95cms long with a cross handle at the top and a heavy fluted base. This crude forerunner of the washing machine was used to pound the washing and agitate the water.

There was an old dining table in the yard where clothes would be laid out and scrubbed, especially the collars of Jim’s work clothes which were covered in red ore dust from the docks. As Tommy worked as a property repairer, his work clothes were often covered with soot and concrete dust from fireplace renovations.

Tommy recalls:

“Wednesday was the big washing day. Mam would wash all day with a poss tub in our little backyard doing ours and Grandma’s washing. In the cold dark days of winter, she would still be out there in the dark and even snow. I would sometimes use my Aldis Morse code signalling lamp, a present that Uncle Ronnie brought home from his time in the Air Force, to give her some light.”

When Mam did the washing, she always had to carefully wipe the industry grime from the clothesline before hanging anything out, and if it rained the washing had to be taken in quickly or it had to be washed again.

Keeping windows clean was an unending task. They had to be washed at least once a week, more frequently if the fallout was particularly bad. Most people were too poor to afford a window cleaner, so the woman of the house had to clean the windows herself, even upstairs!

One day, Mrs. Thompson, a little middle-aged, slightly eccentric widow from two doors up, was washing her bedroom windows. To do this the window sash was slid open and the cleaner had to sit on the sill facing the window, legs inside the room and bum to the street. The sash was then pulled down onto the legs to ‘lock in’ the cleaner.

She was halfway through the job when she lost her balance. The bucket went flying and she fell backwards. Fortunately, the window sash prevented her from crashing to the flags below. There she was, screaming for help, hanging upside down, dress and pinny hanging like a tent and her bloomers exposed for all to see. It was quite a while before someone found a ladder and rescued her, but not before most of the street had come out and had a good laugh! Looking back it really must have been a funny sight but every kid just stared in awe.

Dean Martin – ‘That’s Amore’  1957
When the world seems to shine
Like you’ve had too much wine
That’s amore

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