My Century Home Page

Broadcast on Friday 17th September 1999


My name is Joanna Roberts. I grew up in the East End of London. I was born in 1924.
I want to tell you about my memories of washday, which was always a Monday, which was always a hard day for my mother and I can remember seeing both my mother and my grandmother at the end of washday, absolutely shattered.

And I can remember my Gran. Sunday was the day for getting ready with washing. And what she used to do was she used to get a copper, which was like a large boiler. It had a fire underneath, which you lit. You filled it with water. You put your soap in. And they didn't have soap-powder. Granny used to grate hard soap up and down on a grater and put that into the copper so that it melted, put the washing in, and poke it down with a copper stick, which is rather like a rolling-pin with only one knob on the end. So you pushed it down. And that was multi-purpose, because you used it as a rolling-pin and a washing stick, because it didn't cost you to buy two things. Then when she had got the washing in, she kept the fire going until it actually boiled. And that was on Sunday afternoon. And that was left in there all day, or all the rest of Sunday. The fire went out, but the water would stay hot to soak the dirt out of the clothes.

Monday she got up very early and if it was a good day - sunny, bright - oh, that was great. I mean, she was as happy as Larry. If it was a wet day, she wasn't a happy girl at all. And if it was sunny and blowy, then that was brilliant, because none of the washing was dried indoors. Or if it could possibly be put out, everything was outside in the yard. It wasn't a garden, it was a backyard. It was a slab of concrete. And when she had done the rinsing, she would get my Mum to help and they would squeeze out as much water as they possibly could, then back out into the yard, with the bath again, struggling away, because it was very heavy. And they had a wringer, or a mangle, it was called. And it was very large, made of cast-iron. One turned, and the other one fed through. You had to have a bucket underneath, or a big bowl, otherwise your feet got soaking wet, because the water would come belching out. And if you weren't smart, you see, you would get your feet absolutely soaked. If it was a good day, the washing would go out, it would be hoisted up as high as you could get it, so that you got all of the blow. And Mondays being washing day, nearly the whole of the street, you could see washing from one end of the street to the other, and it was a really nice thing to see. You used to get the dry washing back again, into the basket.

That went indoors and that was looked after until Tuesday, because Tuesday was an ironing day. You didn't use the iron on the Monday. It was just sheer going through every bit of washing. You can see the amount of time, energy, work, thought, everything that women had to put into doing this, even though it was only once a week. Washday was revolutionised really, in the late nineteen-thirties, forties, when the washing machine became something that one could afford. So washing machines revolutionised women's lives really, made them different. It made them easier. They could go out more. My Mum did different things. She got herself a job. Basically, that washday went forever."