As far as I remember my mother washed our ‘smalls’ at the kitchen sink using ‘Lux’ soap flakes and a bar of ‘Lifebuoy’ soap.
Hot water was supplied by a gas Ascot water heater fixed over the sink. I was always afraid that it would blow up if the little blue flame at the bottom went out.
She also used a wash board to scrub the obstinate stains. Heavy sheets and pillowcases went to the White Line Laundry halfway down Blackheath Hill and were returned in blue tissue paper, folded and ironed, in a fibre box with a leather strap round it. This service cost two shillings.
It would have been much cheaper if she had sent me down the hill to the bagwash shop near my school in Royal Hill, Greenwich. These bags could hold about 25lb of ‘whites’ and were made of sturdy thick cotton or linen which was indelibly marked with your name or a number.
A large number of bags were boiled together in a large copper container which had soap and soda in it.
Customers would collect the bag with the washing still damp and unironed and dry it at home either on the clothes line in the garden or on a rack raised or lowered by pulleys in the kitchen.
The heat from the stove helped to dry it, and usually this process made the air so moist that the windows steamed up and the wallpaper peeled off. The rack was called a ‘dolly’ for some reason.
For some reason wash day was on a Monday. Housewives spent long hours on the task. Respectable people never, never washed clothes on a Sunday.
Anyone who hung washing out on the Sabbath was talked about by the neighbours. Tuesday was ironing day. There’s a song about this called Dashing away with the smoothing iron.
‘Rinso’ was the first mass-produced soap powder by Lever Brothers as long ago as 1918.
Sales plummeted in the 1950s when a new detergent, ‘Tide’, appeared on the shop shelves. This in its turn was followed by ‘Surf’, ‘Daz’, ‘Omo’ and ‘Persil’.
Of course, you’ll know that launderettes became popular in the 1960s, which killed off the bagwash shops.
When I used to go to Woolwich on the bus I’d always look out for the one called Dot’s Soap Opera at the corner of Frances Street. What a great name.
Looking at the advert for ‘Rinso’, which I found in an old Kentish Mercury, featuring people with outsize heads, I couldn’t read the story without using a magnifying glass.
For those of you with poor eyesight, I’ve printed it here in larger letters. The advert is banging home the message that ‘Rinso’ is equally effective in cold, hot or boiling water.
“While Mr Jones winds up the grandfather clock, Mrs Jones puts the clothes into soak with ‘Rinso’ overnight. She believes in saving work. (Don’t we all).
Mrs Brown likes to do things herself. She doesn’t believe in leaving things to anyone or anything. She washes the clothes herself in hot water and ‘Rinso’.
Nothing will persuade Mrs Robinson that boiling isn’t necessary. She tells Mrs Smith so (over the garden fence) after she has put the white things in the boiler with ‘Rinso’.”
What a palaver! Just bung the clothes in the washing machine with some sensitive non-bio washing liquid, press a few buttons and sit down with a cup of tea. Much easier in 2019.
PS: washboards were used to play skiffle music in the 1950s. What happened to all that stuff?