I hated Mondays

I hated Mondays; Mondays were washing days, washing ‘without fail’ days, come rain, snow, ice and gale force winds the washing would still be done. The weeks washing was left to soak over Sunday night in a large galvanised tub, ready for boiling. Starting first thing on Monday morning, after first filling it with water, a fire was lit in a tiny firebox under the brick built copper which occupied the far corner of the kitchen/scullery and abutting the chimney breast which housed the cast iron cooking range, using loosely screwed up newspaper and small pieces of wood for kindling.

The copper, which as the name implies, was made of that material, was round and shaped like an inverted dome with its top flush with the brickwork in which it was set. A round wooden lid about an inch thick with a raised wooden handle was placed on top and was periodically lifted so that the clothes, mainly bed linen and towels could be stirred and prodded, dense steam would billow up every time the lid was lifted filling the top half of the room and escaping through the wide open sash window and the ‘back door’ as we called it, at the same time much of it condensing, causing rivulets of water to cascade down the painted walls, particularly in cold weather.

Once the clothes had been boiled for a couple of hours the fire would be allowed to die, the washing was then removed from the copper using a wooden copper stick and placed back in to the washing tub, the copper stick was about two foot long and roughly 1.1/2 inches in diameter with about four inches at one end forming a handle, both the copper lid and the copper stick were bleached white from the heat and steam and in time the stick would wear away. The newly boiled washing was the taken to the deep stone sink where a smaller tub was filled with hot water from the cooper and where every piece of washing was further inspected and hand washed with any remaining stains receiving individual attention using a large lump of green carbolic soap which required a great deal of ‘elbow grease’ vigorously rubbing of the cloth together, some women used a wash board and scrubbing brush for this operation but mum preferred hand power, as she thought the other method was too hard on the materials. As each piece received its individual treatment it was hand wrung to get rid of most of the water, it was then rinsed and wrung again and placed back into the large tub, when it came to hand ringing the double bed sized cotton sheets which quite heavy when wet, it required not only a great deal of expertise but also a great deal of physical strength. I used to watch mum doing this with admiration and amazed what she could do as she was not that big.

The rubbing and scrubbing was not the end of the washing effort, it now had to be wrung out, using the ‘mangle’ which was installed in the lean-to shed at the back of the house. The ‘mangle’ or ‘wringer’ was about 4ft. or more tall and approx, 3ft.wide with a heavy ornate, caste iron frame, which supported two 4inch wooden rollers with meshing cog wheels, bridging the rollers was another ornate caste iron frame with the makers name caste in raised letters, it had a screw down devise so that the pressure between the rollers could be adjusted. The rollers were turned by a handle, wide enough for both hands to grip it. The washing still in the large tub was placed on the receiving side of the ‘mangle’ with another tub set to catch the water, a third tub was required to put the newly mangled items in. The washing was fed to the rollers with one hand whilst turning the rollers with the other, once the rollers had gripped the material both hands could then be used on the handle. Each item would be fed through the machine several times with the pressure increased with each pass, this process was repeated until all of the washing was done. As important as ‘mangling’ was to speed the drying process, it also made extra work because it was very efficient at crushing and ripping off buttons.

Having ‘mangled the wash it now had to be hung out on the line to dry. Most people had a simple line of wire or cord stretched between two wooden posts about eight or nine feet high with the line running through a pullywheel at the top of one post and anchored at waist height by looping the line round a metal plate with two spigots, it was impossibly to pull the line level when fully laden with wet clothes resulting in the washing touching or nearly touching the ground in the middle of the line, therefore, a wooden prop about eight feet long with a ‘Y’ branching at the top was needed to push up the line in the middle placing the line in the ’Y’ branch and the bottom of the pole immediately in the ground under the line. It still meant that the sheets in particular were not very high above the ground and as the lines abutted the garden path, were subject to being caught up in any taller growing plants or anyone using the path.

Mum had no such problem with her line as dad had made a high line using twenty foot scaffold poles sunk and concreted into the ground at each end, the line was attached to a metal plate which had a shaped wheel that ran up and down the pole on the opposite side of the post to the line, which was pulled up by another line attached the plate which went to the top of the post , through a pully and back down to a handle operated ratcheted wheel and cable drum, this devise was at both ends. On top of each pole a smaller diameter tube on each post carried an aerial for the radio. The extra height not only got the washing out of the way but greatly speeded up the drying, however, there were many Mondays where it was simply to wet to hang out the washing and other days, where although not raining, the washing would not dry and on yet other occasions in cold weather the washing would freeze as stiff as boards.

Having at last got the washing on the line was not the end of the wetness of Mondays, the water left over from the process was used to scrub the wooden kitchen table, the steps up to the ‘back door’ and worst of all the wooden bench toilet seat and concrete toilet floor of our outside loo. The seat remained wet for a long time and it was not the most comfortable place to sit when the call was such that you could not avoid it. If as happened a lot the washing had not been hung out then some of it would be hung up in the kitchen to dry adding to the dampness caused by every thing being wet.

Unlike Pat who took a packed lunch to school I always came home, so the wetness probably affected me more than her, typically on a Monday lunch would be ‘bubble and squeak ’using the left over vegetables from Sunday which were mixed together and fried, I loved that meal which went some way to compensate for the wetness.

Monday was the most labour intensive day of the week for most housewives but Tuesday was almost as intensive as it was ironing day, particularly in our house because we did not have electricity therefore the ironing had to be done using flat irons heated on the gas stove. There were several sizes of irons and weights of iron suited to different materials. At least two were required of any different size so that whilst one was being used the other would be being reheated on the hob. The irons were made of cast iron with the sole being highly polished. A smooth tubular handle was fitted between two upright arms attached to the cast iron base. The whole iron including the handle would become very hot when heated, therefore, a padded cloth was needed to grip the iron to avoid being burnt, although that often happened.

Although I imagine many households had ironing boards much the same as modern ones, mum did not have one, instead she used the kitchen table, covering one leaf with an old blanket and doubled over linen sheet, a further piece of cloth was required to wipe the bottom of the iron before touching the cloth to be ironed, this piece of cloth was also essential to test the temperature of the iron to avoid scorching, spitting on the iron was also used to this end, although even with the best ironers this still happened, often leaving a brown scorch mark in the shape of the iron, a scorch if sever enough would quickly become a hole which meant another item to be patched.

Water was also needed to dampen clothes which become too dry, which was flicked across the item using the fingers. On top of all this, starch was also needed for many items which was also flicked on to things like collars. [When I was in the Army and stationed in Egypt, the dhobis used to take a mouth full of starch and create a fine spray by shooting the liquid across the garments between pursed lips and a swing of the head which gave an even distribution of the starch, it worked very well, but I don’t know whether there was any long term health effects from having a mouthful of starch for most of the day, as all off our clothes were starched]

On hot summers days with the gas burning to heat the irons and the sheer effort required in ironing four double and two single cotton sheets plus pillow cases and all the other clothes which amounted to nearly everything that was washed, would cause mum to sweat with it dripping off the end of her nose, despite the kitchen window and the back door being fully open, but Tuesdays was ironing day ‘come what may’ The smell of scorched cloth and starch is a memory of Tuesdays.

Wednesday afternoon was spent repairing clothes and in particular sewing on buttons which had been ripped off or crushed in the mangling process in Mondays wash, to overcome some of this destruction, cloth buttons were introduced but they were only suitable for certain garments. Darning holes in socks and woollen gloves also needed carrying out, it was more often the case of darning a darn, as all clothes had to be kept going even though they were ‘passed it’. Darning was carried out using a ‘toadstool’ a handheld polished wooden instrument which was pushed into the sock exposing and spreading the hole so that it could be properly darned in weaving fashion. There is very little, more uncomfortable, than wearing a sock or glove with either a toe of finger poking through a hole, fortunately Mum was very good at sewing and darning so we did not have to put up with the discomfort for very long.

Wednesday was ‘early closing day’ when all the shops would close at mid-day, this was a regional scheme which allowed shop workers to work the same hours per week as other workers, as they were required to work Saturday afternoon, which for most others would be time off and complied with the ‘five and a half day working week’. I say regional because which afternoon was taken off varied, with Southampton and Eastleigh it was Wednesday but in Winchester it was Thursday, which allowed shop workers somewhere to shop themselves. Nearly all shops closed for an hour at lunch times and shut again by about five or five thirty.

Thursday was shopping and visiting Gran day. The morning would be taken up with general chores, Beating rugs and polishing the lino, furniture and ornaments etc,. Sometime after lunch mum would take off with empty shopping bags to do the weekly grocery shopping at Cowleys a small shop about 1 mile from home, even though there was a similar shop immediately opposite our house but mum had always shopped at Mrs Cowleys in Bournemouth Road. The shop was the end house of a terrace and was in fact the front room. Mrs Cowley was not very tall with greying hair, she always wore a flowery wrap around apron, which fully covered her dress, with narrow tapes which tied at the back. The door to the shop was offset to one side with the whole of the rest of the width taken up with a glazed window of three panels. An ‘L’ shaped dark brown panelled counter with a leaf at one end was placed just far away from the inner and back walls to give the server passage room between it and the multi shelves carrying an array of goods .