Photo courtesy of Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery




Does anyone remember that funny old song about Monday being washing day? It went through the whole week, ending in “Is everybody happy? You bet your life we are!” I thought of this as I bundled a load of whites into the washing machine this morning, prior to beginning Chapter 4. A king-size sheet, two pillow cases, a bath sheet and one of Mr B’s white shirts – all were stuffed in the aperture, the washing liquid and fabric conditioner sloshed into the correct holes, the buttons pressed and hey presto – washing done. And the toaster hadn’t even popped in the space of time it took me to do this. One hour and twenty-five minutes later it’s done and ready to be put out to dry. 

I never take my washing machine for granted, remembering only too well what it’s like not to have one. Washing machines are one of the wonderful inventions that liberated women from some of the household drudgery. Without one it takes hours and hours a week to keep a family in clean clothes and bed-linen. I was aware of this when writing my books. At Stonewylde there’s a Laundry House in the Village and of course the Hall has its own laundry. This is where Rowan worked and where Magus first approached her to ask if she’d do him the honour of being his May Queen at Beltane. You can imagine how time-consuming it must be for Villagers to do their laundry and how much more effort it takes to keep everything clean. But at Stonewylde the emphasis has never been on doing things quickly. When you think how long it takes to actually produce a shirt, for instance – grow and harvest the flax, spin and dye the fibre, weave the cloth, cut and sew the garment – the washing of it would also be done mindfully and carefully.

Two of my sons are about to move into a new house-share and have found somewhere lovely. Their new place of course includes a washing machine, and this made me wonder how many people in western society today don’t have access to a washing machine, or failing that, a launderette? They’re good around the house, but I don’t think my sons would have a clue how to wash clothes by hand. I remember when they were born I washed everything by hand. It took a large chunk of my morning, every single morning, to wash the family’s clothes and worst of all, the nappies! I boiled those in a big pan, having soaked them overnight in a bucket. All the washing was wrung out by hand, which was a difficult job, especially for the big things like sheets. I used to long for a mangle like the one I remember my grandmother using. Then the dripping items would be hung out on the line, and in the winter it really was a nightmare getting everything dry. I bet older readers will have similar memories.

As finances improved, we bought a second hand spin-drier – that was a dream come true even though it skidded across the floor if you didn’t hold on tight. Then we stretched to an ancient twin-tub – it leaked horribly and still took ages, but it seemed like luxury! And finally we managed to get an automatic washing machine. Sadly by then the nappies had more or less finished, but the bliss of being able to put the washing on and then get on with something else – I shall never take that for granted. So this morning, after I’d put the washing on and then sat with my toast and coffee, I thought of the women of Stonewylde and their Laundry House.


As a post-script, I’d like to thank the Schools Liaison unit in Birmingham for their kind permission to use the photo above. I’m never quite sure about copyright for pictures on blogs – so many are beautifully illustrated but there’s often no credit to anyone, and I wonder how that works with copyright? I’d be really interested to hear from other bloggers about this. Do you bother asking permission? I spent about ten minutes on the phone getting permission to use the photo above, and in some blogs I read there are loads of different pictures – it would take for ever to ask everyone concerned. Of course normally I try to use my own pictures but that’s not always possible. I’d welcome any advice on this from anyone who knows. 

Right – back to Chapter 4 then. The writing has started to flow, the threads have been picked up again (so tricky by the fifth book as there are so many of them) and it’s all happening in my head. Phew! Have a good week, Stonewylders!


Comments are closed.

  1. Wild Roses 13 years ago

    I remember watching “Victorian Farm” last year and any hankering after living in the “old ways” disappeared completely after seeing Ruth Goodman’s hands after washing day or rather days – it basically took all week to wash dry and iron all the clothes .. only to start again – but of course if you are Hallfolk .. well someone else does it for you !! xx

  2. Jae Fae in Avalon 12 years ago

    My mum had a mangle when I was a child!

  3. Rose 12 years ago

    How bizarre – I took my class to Birmingham Museum and art gallery for a World war 2 workshop last week! We were in the Schools Liason unit and walked right past that dolly and laundry equipment!

  4. kay 12 years ago

    My mum had a twin tub and I remember having to drag it out from under the counter on wash days, and then falling over the piles of washing on the kitchen floor. She had a mangle for back up if twin tub failed I couldn’t move the handle. so glad they invented automatics

  5. Kit Berry 12 years ago

    I thought there’d be some who’d remember the old ways of washing! Yes, dragging out the twin tub and putting those hoses onto the taps and into the sink …

    Rose – when I spoke to the lady to ask permission to use the photo, I thought of you! She sounded just like you and I wondered then if you ever visited with your class.

  6. laoi gaul~williams 12 years ago

    my nan used a small copper boiler to do her washing right up to the week she died and for much of my childhood so did my auntie. as far as i know she still uses it now!
    i do wash some things by hand and i always try to explain to swampy why i do but he cannot understand!

Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?