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Friday, 30 December 2011

Dolly tubs, podgers and mangles ... life in the 1950s.

Imagine the scene, it’s the mid to late 1950s on a large and relatively new built housing estate near Derby, pretty ice patterns are forming on the inside of the house windows,  there’s no central heating, a smoky coal fire warms the living room. Lino and Formica grace the kitchen. No fridges or freezers, so food was kept cool in a larder or pantry. In winter time the rented council houses were freezing enough anyway. The solution to being cold was to put on more layers of clothes and then wrap a blanket round you. If you were still cold, you could always jump up and down a bit or skip with a skipping rope.

Once in bed you covered yourself in layers of sheets and a heavy eiderdown and warmed your stockinged feet on a stone hot water bottle. This was domestic life for me and my family in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I started to think about this after using my new luxurious washing machine after five weeks of hand washing and being blessed with good drying weather. How times have changed.

stone hot water bottle

ice patterns on the glass

Only fifty years ago (when I was five years old) my Mum  Marjorie would have had her work cut out on a Monday doing all the  clothes washing in a dolly tub in the kitchen. The soapy wet fabrics were pummelled with the podger and then she would have freshened the washing with clean tap water and afterwards squeezed all the moisture out with the hand operated mangle. Hard manual work. Every week for the then foreseeable future.

Subsequently, the washing was hung out on the washing line secured with dolly pegs and hoisted up in the air with a big wooden clothes prop. The concrete washing line posts were supplied in every back yard or garden courtesy of the local County Council. The washing itself would very often freeze on bitterly cold days and the frosty stiff ice filled clothes were carried in and defrosted in front of the coal fire on a wooden clothes horse. The steam produced made the bay windows run with condensation. The bay window net curtains would then have to be washed too before the constant damp caused them to rot. In the mid sixties my family got a spin dryer which danced dangerously around the kitchen and made a terrible racket but saved a lot of the damp problems and served as cheap entertainment.
Dolly Tub and podger
slightly more modern washing machine
Housework in the fifties followed a rigid timetable, regardless of the weather or anything else. Mondays were wash days and the day for making Bubble and Squeak from the leftovers of the Sunday dinner. Tuesdays were dedicated to the massive amount of ironing. We may have had an electric iron but my grannies definitely used a flat iron that was heated up on the gas stove and ironed clothes on the kitchen table covered with an ironing cloth to protect it. This item also needed to be kept immaculately clean by sandpapering and polishing it. Dusting and polishing were always done on Thursdays, the big shop on Fridays. The shop would mainly take place at the Co-Op store to take advantage of Green Shield stamps or Co-Op dividend points. But, generally, folk back then shopped with a variety of local tradesmen too including a grocery van that came every week. Nothing whatsoever was done on Sunday – excepting making a roast dinner and then doing all the washing up with hot water from the hot water tank. A roast chicken for dinner was seen as a luxury, more commonly and, less expensively for the tight family budget, a joint of brisket or a lamb joint would be the meat of the Sunday dinner. Any leftover meat would be eaten cold for as many days as it took to get rid of it all without wastage.

The kitchen at Perth Street was also the dining room and under the bright, patterned, curtained storage space next to the huge porcelain kitchen sink and draining board, were products like Zal Pine Fluid disinfectant,  Vim for cleaning the kitchen sink and bath, Starch, Reckitt’s blue bags, slabs of green Fairy soap for clothes washing, body and hair washing too, a collection of stout bottles for returning to the Off Licence, a tub of Vick’s vapour rub for chesty colds, shoe blackening polish for keeping the family shoes shiny like in the army and a few of my boys toys like toy soldiers given free with Kellogg’s Cornflakes.

My Mum liked to bake and the kitchen would often be filled with the scent of freshly baked Fairy cakes and Victoria sponges and many other confections. I don’t think that she would have baked bread though as our bread diet was mostly in the form of Hovis loaves, large, white and sliced and perfect for making toast on the coal fire with an extendable toasting fork. Aside from home made jam, one of the fave things to eat on the toast was beef dripping as well as lard sprinkled with Saxa salt. Oh we knew how to live back then!

toasting fork
When the chimney got full of soot my Dad even had his own set of chimney brushes to do the chimney sweeping job himself to save money. All the furniture got covered in sheets as my Dad huffed and puffed and manually forced the stiff brushes up the chimney to dislodge the black soot. The resulting soot then got taken outside and spread about the garden to warm and condition the clay soil for the Spring and to deter soil pests like slugs.
Funny what thoughts can be generated by appreciating the modern gadgets that we take for granted sometimes. Oh well, must get the washing done. Now, where's me podger gone?


Karen said...

So many 'happy' memories - I think my childhood was fairly similar (we're the same age), although I spent the first year or so living with my parents in a caravan on an RAF base as at the time my Dad didn't qualify for married quarters. And when he did, they were not at all exotic, just the Ministry of Defence equivalent of a Council House, only probably even more basic. Yet I look back on those mornings, all to frequent, when the metal framed windows were thick with frost,coal had to be carried in a wionky handled bucket from the shed in the garden before you could have warmth in the house, & it was colder inside than out, the joys of helping Mum with the mangle (squashed fingers often featured) & Listen with Mother on the radio with affection, & I swear it made me appreciate my modern day comforts even more.
Kids these days don't realise how lucky they are....& if I sound like an Old Fogey I make no apologies. I can remember when a halfpenny bought a small bar of chocolate!

talesfromagarden said...

Hello and a Happy New Year to you!
I have never commented before but follow your most interesting blog here in Ireland!
Your latest post brought back memories to me too(I am 58!).I can remember my late Mother ringing out the wet clothes on the mangle too,the vim for cleaning and the green shield stamps!We had a meat safe attached to the outside wall to store meat and eggs too.Housework was a daily drudge back then all right.My husband who is one of 9 children says when his Mother got her first automatic washing machine she complained about how slow it was and was frustrated waiting to hang out the wash!I remember heavy overcoats served as great duvets too!And the amazing thing is with all our mod cons we still feel we are very busy all day!

Gailsman said...

Oh, it sounds like you had a hard life back then, but I bet it was a happy one on the whole.

Jean said...

Oh my goodness, what a fantastic post. You have described my childhood exactly and I remember every detail in technicolour !!

I remember with great fondness my grandmother using the dolly tub on the back yard to do the washing (we lived with my grandmother for most of my childhood), except that we called the stick thing a ponch, not a podger (which sound faintly rude for some reason that escapes me).

Life back then didn't seem hard at all - it was the norm and everyone else was the same. Only looking back do we think it must have been hard, from the molly-coddled perspective of how we live nowadays. When I think that I was brought up on home-cooked food and home grown vegetables, lots of fresh air and wholesome exercise (riding my bicycle and climbing trees)....we were actually quite priviledged. Happy days.

Margaret Ann said...

What a lovely blog I enjoyed reading every bit of it including the comments. I can identify with just about everything that you have written here. My experiences were very similar to yours. Thank you for sharing this, and for evoking memories of a very happy time :D