Memories of Mother’s Washday

Memories of Mother's Washday

No wonder it was called ‘washday’, because as far back as I can remember in the late 1940s and 1950s, it literally took up to a full day to complete the family weekly wash. Memories of Mother’s Washday

At our house in rural Cheshire, washday was traditionally a Monday, never ever on a Sunday, and never ever, on a bank holiday Monday.

The washday began early, with my mother, Lucy Amelia Pownall, lighting the boiler, located  in the far corner of our kitchen.


She didn’t use firelighters, rather a piece of screwed up old newspaper, a few sticks of wood, with small pieces of coal on top.

The copper boiler was two thirds filled was warm water from the hot water tap, transferred by means of an enamel bucket.

Now it was time to introduce the clothes that needed washing, and it was always the ‘whites’ first. Mother added washing powder into the boiler, brands I remember included – Oxydol, Omo, Persil & Rinso.

Part of Mothers equipment on washday was a wooden stick, not any old stick, this was a very useful tool, which was about 2 feet long. It was 1-inch square at the end where you held it, and then it had been turned in a lathe, so that it tapered from a start point, about 4 inches from one end, becoming circular, and about 3/8-inch diameter at the opposite end.

She used this stick to periodically stir the water, whilst the clothes were in the boiler, and then to scoop them out of the very hot water, after about a good hour on the boil.

They were placed into an oval galvanised laundry tub, which had handles at either end. She then transferred them to the dolly tub that was located at the opposite end of the kitchen, where, it stood on the low level slatted wooden shelf of the laundry stand. She transferred clean hot water from the sink, again, by means of the enamel bucket

It was now the turn of the ‘dolly peg’ that was used to swish the clothes in the water with an agitating motion, applied by holding the handle with both hands.

This was the start of the rinsing process, which only lasted a few minutes. The laundry stick was then used to scoop out an item of washing, which was then fed through the wringer, thereby removing most of the water in preparation for the second rinse. Once through the mangle all the items from the white wash were stacked in the oval galvanised tub before going back into the dolly tub for the second and final rinse.

Having removed all the whites from the dolly tube the first rinse water was all ladled into the enamel bucket, and then poured down the sink.

When the dolly tub was empty once more, it was filled again, this time with cold water from the sink.

When all the whites had been returned into the dolly tub, Mother added a product known as a ‘dolly blue’.

A ‘dolly blue’ was about the size of an Oxo cube and it contained special ingredients to add to the whiteness of the finished washing. The ingredients comprised a mixture of synthetic ultramarine and baking soda, which were contained in a small muslin bag tied up with string.

The dolly blue bag was introduced to the second rinsing water and the dolly peg came into action one more time to give the washing a thorough swishing around to remove as much of the dirty as possible, whilst making sure that each item in the tub was exposed to the effects of the ‘dolly blue’.

The ‘dolly blue’ works by leaving a trace of blue dye in the washing and it’s this that gives the finished laundry a brilliant whiteness when exposed to the daylight.

The ‘dolly blue’ was saved afterwards, as they could be used several times before they needed replacing.

I always remember that a ‘dolly blue’ weighed one ounce, which is another bit of useless information stored in my memory!!

After the second rinse was completed, the items were passed through the ringer and then placed in a willow laundry basket, to be carried to the garden, where they were pegged out on the washing line.

If the weather was inclement, the items were hung in the kitchen on the maiden airer, which hung from the kitchen ceiling alongside the electric cooker.

The maiden airer which can still be purchased today, comprises several wooden slats mounted at each end in a metal bracket. There are two sets of pulleys secured to the ceiling, which support ropes attached the brackets, and these provide the means to hoist the assembled rack aloft, within close proximity of the ceiling.

The double rope leading from the pulleys was tied off to a wall mounted, cleat hook bracket, located at a accessible height.

The airer when not in use was stored at its highest position, and when it was to be used, it was first lowered, loaded with the damp washing, and then elevated as high as possible. A knot was tied in the twin ropes to act as a stop when it reached the set of twin pulleys, and this held the rack firmly at its lowest position. When the loaded rack had been hoisted aloft, the twin ropes were tied off and secured around a wall mounted cleat bracket.

Mother also had a folding wooden clothes maid, which she used on inclement weather days to dry the larger items of washing such as double bed cotton sheets. This was positioned in the living room, in front of the open coal fire.

I shall always remember Mother’s washday, which was jolly hard work in those post war days.

Anyone wishing me to elaborate upon any of the equipment used during Mother’s washday are welcome to get in touch pownall27@btinternet.com.

By Chris R. Pownall

I was a WW2 baby, born in 1943 in the rural village of Bosley, located in Central England. My Father Robert passed away when I was just 9 years of age, leaving my Mother, Lucy Amelia, widowed, with me and my elder Sister, Cynthia to look after.

I left school before my 15thbirthday with no academic qualifications to my name, but I managed to secure an engineering apprenticeship at a local mill and they sponsored my further education until I was 22 years of age.

I joined the Merchant Navy for a brief spell, sailing as an engineering officer with the famous Blue Funnel Line. My ship was named Talthybius, and she had been constructed in the USA in 1944.

I later met my wife Pat, and I embarked upon a 40-year career with a global engineering manufacturing company.

When I retired, I began writing about my life story plus other things, and details of all my publications to date can be found by visiting my website  https://chrispownall.weebly.com/

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