Friday, 5 December 2014


A small section of my stores of laundered French linen and hemp sheets, all  measured, laundered and stacked.
 I have known three professional laundresses in my life and I have always admired their professional way with washing, ironing and folding family linen.  The first was a Lancashire woman who lived in a lodge near my home and did all my mother's washing in the Victorian laundry in our rambling old house (long since demolished). Jessie, a lovely red-haired Lancashire lass,  and another local woman, spent two days there working the old machines, heating the coppers, pulsing the linen with a dolly, rinsing, soaking, drying, airing, ironing and folding. Jessie took much of the ironing home to the lodge. Ironing boards were unknown there and she used her kitchen table with an old blanket and old linen sheet, standing in front of her little kitchen stove, and watching various pots bubbling away with soda, soap shredded into flakes and other cleansers.  Large folding drying racks were ranged round the kitchen with loads of snowy linen airing,  folded and ready to pack into the wicker laundry baskets that had our house name in large black letters on the lid.  They were heavy and the farm cart was used to transport them back to the house where all was neatly stowed away in a huge slatted linen cupboard near the kitchen.  In grander houses they would have been placed in the housekeeper's linen cupboards, where everything was listed and kept under lock and key.  
  My next laundress was really just a 'presser' - she was my weekly cleaner when I was first living and working in London and she had worked in an Irish shirt factory, ironing the newly stitched gentlemen's shirts as they came off the sewing machines - I had no idea how to iron my new husband's city shirts so was grateful for some very expert help - she always said that it took her exactly 20 minutes to iron a shirt, pressing every seam, and then pinning it all down in a box ready for sale.
   I have written elsewhere about my grandmother's laundry and also about my Breton friend's laundress mother;  these women worked immensely hard with a lot of very heavy carrying of buckets and wet washing, the endless scrubbing and rinsing and long hours of ironing with their heavy irons, gophering irons and other metal equipment and I have to remember that clothes on a farm were very dirty with all the rain and dirt making everything muddy as people worked on the land.  There was no special protective work-wear then, plastic was unknown and there were only old sacks and rubber- lined mackintoshes to keep you dry and warm with a length of binder twine to hold all in place - not the Burberry touch!  An old felt hat or a sou'wester kept some of the rain off your head and shoulders. and after work all had to be steamed dry in front of the kitchen range - airing cupboards were a luxury., but it was very usual (in Wales) to have a heavy brass rail, highly polished, just below the mantlepiece, to carry everything that needed heat and airing.  You might think these were curtain poles, but they were often bevelled so the clothes did not slip off on the stove!

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