Washday in the 1930’s

Moiya Chapman

It would begin late Sunday afternoon – the washing would be sorted and placed in the two tubs, which were side by side. The white bed linen, sheets and pillowcases in one tub and the coloured clothes in the other, were left to soak overnight. The tubs were cement and a copper enclosed in brickwork, with a firebox underneath and a chimney to take away the smoke from the burnt wood.

No one would dare start the washing on Sunday – you had to have respect for the Sabbath. ‘Six days thou shalt labour and the seventh day thou shalt rest.’ As for sporting activities on a Sunday, that was for common people, and they were frowned upon.

As a child, when I was old enough and being a girl, during the school holidays, I had to clear the breakfast dishes away and do the washing up, clean the stove down, sweep the floor and make the kitchen tidy. When those tasks were finished I would help my mother with the washing.

I can always remember my mother’s 27th birthday – what was her present? A hand wringer which was screwed between the two tubs.

The whites, when brought to the boil in the copper and poked with the wooden copper stick, were then lifted by the stick into the first tub, rinsed thoroughly with cold water, and folded ready to go through the wringer. (Prior to the wringer, the sheets would be wrung by hand.) Then they went into the second tub where the blue bag had been placed into the water, which added whiteness to the sheets and then they would be placed through the wringer after another rinsing.

Before the sheets could be placed on the lines, which were four lines supported each end with a post and swing arm, which could be lowered and raised, the lines were wiped with a wet cloth to remove any debris which had accumulated during the week. A wooden clothes prop was needed at the center of each line to prevent the washing from dragging on the ground as the lines sagged. A sunny day with a light wind was ideal, and as soon as one lot dried they were removed and folded for ironing the next day, and replaced with another lot. Tuesday was ironing day.

I never heard my mother moan or groan – it was the lot of the wife and mother in those days – her husband out at work and they were fortunate if he was employed and earned the money to pay off the house and bills, feed and clothe the family. This same mother was the first to have an automatic washing machine in the area, and later insisted her daughter buy a dish washer because she had one installed in her home.