Stoke-on-Trent - photo of the week


contents: 2008 photos


click for
previous
photos

 

Washing Day in the Potteries

Washing Day in the Potteries
(Sid Kirkham)
 


Smuts!

"My mother was horrified by the Potteries. Partly by its poverty, for it was a low-wage area, as were all industries in those days which employed a high percentage of women and girls. Even so, there was much unemployment. My mother wept at the poverty and said, 'They are so long-suffering, the poor people. They never grumble. I have not heard many complaints since we came here, I'll give them that.'

But more important to her than the poverty, I think, was the dirt. 'Manchester is a factory town but it is not a dirty town. It is wet but there is no mud. The factory chimneys are tall and puff the smoke high into the sky, and then the wind from the Irish Sea or the Pennines carries it away. But in the Potteries the pot-banks are so low that smoke just tumbles down into the houses. And those horrible pot-banks are everywhere, close up to where people live.

They burn disgusting cheap slack instead of real Wigan coal, and you can hear it exploding in the ovens and see it jumping up the pot-banks in great showers of sparks like nasty Japanese fireworks, and coming down everywhere in smuts. Smuts!'  Her voice swelled with outrage as she pronounced the deadly word. 'In Manchester you could not get a smut bigger than the head of a pin but here there are half-crown smuts and smuts that would cover a brass plaque on a doctor's surgery door. What is to be done in a place where a beautifully washed man's shirt comes back in the evening battle-ship grey, or worse? And a girl's nice new blouse is filthy she even gets to school, poor little thing."

Paul Johnson The Vanished Landscape - a 1930s Childhood in the Potteries

 

"the pot-banks are so low that smoke just tumbles down into the houses"
"the pot-banks are so low that smoke just tumbles down into the houses"

 

Washing day
(Alan Chell's memories)

Monday was always traditionally washing day. It started early in the morning. The first job was to fill the big iron boiler with water; this was located in the back kitchen. It was brick built with a fire hole at the base and a small iron door. After filling the boiler the fire hole was cleaned out and the fire kindled.

 

The washing was put into the boiler and, when it had been boiled other utensils used in washing were used : dolly peg, dolly tub, and last, but not least, the mangle with its large wooden rollers and a very large iron wheel with which to turn it - no automatic washers in the days; and of course, Robin starch for the shirt collars. When wearing the collars, one took great care not to turn one's head quickly as this may have caused decapitation!  

 

Robin Starch
Robin Starch

dolly tub and peg
dolly tub and peg
washing laundry using a dolly peg and tub.

photo: Alstonefield Local History Society
Staffordshire Past Tracks
 

Domestic life

 

Of course the domestic scene in those days was vastly different from today. There were no fully automatic waning machines which could be switched on and left to complete the task, The first thing that was required was to get up early on a Monday morning, go into the back kitchen, get a quantity of coal and sticks and light a fire under the brick built boiler which was situated in one corner. While the fire was kindling, we would get a bucket and fill the boiler with several buckets of cold water from the tap over the sink as that was the only supply available.

 

Back kitchen range - James & Tatton, Longton
Back kitchen range - James & Tatton, Longton

 

There was no hot water tap or immersion heater to be seen. Usually other items used in the washing day chores could be seen standing around; items such as a dolly peg which was the forerunner of today's washing machine agitator.