Get the washing on the line!

It’s a lovely day! Quick, chuck some washing in the machine and in an hour it will be out on the line, drying in the sunshine! Tonight I’ll do the ironing, watching some rubbish on TV… some crime drama probably… and if by some chance, despite the lovely day not everything is dry, I can put it in the airing cupboard and by tomorrow it can be put away. In the winter, when lovely days are rarer, I can hang the damp clothes on the clothes-horse and they will dry in the warm, centrally heated atmosphere. As a last resort I can put really damp stuff in the tumble dryer…

How easy for me, and how hard it was in past generations; the mum and daughters would be up early to light the fire under the copper to heat the water – in even earlier generations I guess it would be pans of water over the fire, or just using cold water from the pump or nearby stream or river. Once the water was hot, then the clothes could be washed – or in case of whites, boiled, along with some powder or soap to get the marks out. Things would have been scrubbed, washboards used, things pounded on slabs, or stones by the river. To get rid of excess water the washing would be squeezed and wrung and passed through a mangle. Then the laundry could be put on a line, or thrown over a bush, or laid out on clean pasture. Wooden pegs, wooden clothes props, and wooden clothes horses… I do have wooden pegs, but I have a whirligig clothes line and plastic-coated, metal clothes horse.

It was all so weather dependent… no wonder people didn’t wash their clothes as often, how could they? My grandma who lived in the pub had outbuildings where the washing could go, but where did my other grandma who lived in an ordinary cottage, where did she put her washing on a wet day – on clothes horses around the fire? Some houses had a drying rack suspended from the ceiling which could be raised or lowered by a rope and pulley… I have seen these in modern kitchens now used for hanging saucepans and cooking equipment. Then once everything was dry or nearly dry there was the ironing, actual iron irons heated by the fire, different eights for different fabrics.

What energy do I expend in my washing? Barely any… I take a basket of laundry downstairs, bend down to put it in the machine, take it out and carry it into the garden then lifting my arms to peg it on the line.  Not many of the clothes are cotton, even fewer are linen, they weigh barely anything.  And ironing? An electric iron which glides over the clothes and can be adjusted to temperature… so easy.

Compare that to my tiny little grandmas… one pumping water in the cottage garden before carrying it to the copper – the other at least did have a water supply to hers, both up early to light the fire and give the water time to heat. Carrying the actual baskets (not plastic) full of clothes, loading and then unloading the heavy waterlogged items out of the copper, wringing them, turning the mangle, maybe a couple of times for each item, pegging them out on the line then using the clothes prop to elevate it.

What hard work… how time-consuming… I have such respect for them, strong women in every sense!


  1. David Lewis

    I went to a country heritage and farm museum close to us years ago and lining the walls were pictures of some of the early settlers and there families. I commented that none of them were smiling and were maybe afraid of the camera. The curator said that there wasn’t much to smile about because there lives was all toil and drudgery. No need for dancercize back then.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. David Lewis

    They had to walk 15 miles to the creek to do there laundry through dense bush and wild animals and it was uphill both ways. They were a tough bunch for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

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