Updated 7 Jan 2008

WIRKSWORTH Parish Records 1600-1900

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Washday memories

Some readers sent in these memories of washday around 1950. Anyone with similar memories, please send them to who will add them to this webpage if suitable. The subject was aired on DERBYSGEN.

Emails on the subject

    My mum and dad were young newly-weds living in the police house in Tissington - facing the village pond - in the 1930s. Every night, dad scooped their night soil into a bucket and deposited it in Sir William FitzHerbert's orchard, until the sergeant summoned him to the police station in Ashbourne. "Constable, someone is putting night soil into Sir William's orchard. I want you to keep watch until you catch the b." Dad never caught the culprit but was successful in stopping this disgraceful behaviour.
    Jim Whetton
    All the accounts of wash days etc bring to mind the meal I had of a on Monday when I came home from school for dinner - it was always bubble & squeak!

    Then there was the fire guard & clothes horse which could be covered by any old sheet to form a little den when not being used for their proper purpose!!!!

    Well I really had to join in, though I'm not sure how much of this has been given already. Monday was wash day in our house in Old Danesmoor near Clay Cross in the 1950s (it wasn't till the 60s that we had a twin tub!)
    This would involve a boiler, poncher, rubbing board and wringer (I worked the handle, mother manoevred the sheets). Sheets were flanette (very heavy and difficult to dry) or in summer bri-nylon (you literally slipped into them and for some reason they were always blue). On wet days they were hung between the beams to dry in our little cottage, and steamed merrily. The need to `get the washing dry`, preferrably before Dad came home from work, was paramount. If it was `a good drying day` and they were hung in the communal yard, a weather eye was kept and there was a quick dash to gather if it started to rain.
    Tuesday was ironing day with two flat irons used in turn and heated on the range. Temperature was checked by spitting on the iron and if Mum was wrong a large patch of iron-shaped brown decorated the sheet (older sheets had a number of these) but I was always worried when my best dresses were being ironed. Collars and frilly petticoats were starched with enthusiasm and became stiff and board-like, giving father a red neck and me snags all over my precious new nylons.
    PS Hot fires- my white cat Towser used to regularly try to sit on the grate when the fire was lit for maximum warmth. She had little sense and had regularly to be hurried off, her side singed brown by the flames!
    Yes! we always used the term 'ponch' - I was born and grew up in Mansfield, Notts.
    You can read my memories of washday, coal fires etc in Chapter 9 "Domestic Bliss" of my boyhood memories (URL below):
    Geoff Heath
    Mellor, Stockport, Cheshire, UK
    For the story of my boyhood in Mellor, see
    When I was at grammar school my friend's mum rinsed her PT blouse with Reckitts blue-bag, but my mum didn't use it. I always felt like the rather sad one in the Persil advert, with a grubby blouse, stood next to the girl with a sparkling white one! I was no good at games or PT either!
    I remember my (Derbyshire) mum using a ponch, and there were also 'dolly legs', which was rather like a milking stool at the bottom of a big stick. They were both used to 'agitate' the clothes in the dolly tub. God bless the inventer of the washing machine, especially the automatic. :-)
    You've forgotten the scrubbing board - a wooden frame with a ribbed metal board (used by the occasional band when it wasn't wash day.) Heavily soiled clothes would be soaked and rubbed vigorously over the board to get them clean. My mother also had a boiler - much like a washing machine, but with no agitation unless you count the wooden stick used manually. Whites would be literally boiled - and the little bag of blue added at some time, but I can't remember when. Clothes were hung out on the line to dry. There were no trees in our garden (in South Wales), so we had 3 metal poles. The centre one was taller, and had a pulley at the top. A rope passed through this and was fixed to the centre of the washing line. When all the washing was out it was then pulled up to keep it clear of the floor, and catch the wind better. All lines had to be wiped with a cloth first to get rid of dust from the chimneys / coal mines/ steelworks / oil refinery.
    Have to add my memories of washday etc.

    I was brought up in a farm cottage in Yorkshire - my mum was from a south Yorks, via Derbyshire, mining family and married my dad, a West Yorkshire farmer.

    We had an outside earth toilet until my younger brother (born in 57) was toilet trained then they added a porch extension to the cottage containing a cloakroom and toilet.

    How mum's dad, who was injured in WWI and had difficulty walking managed when he lived with us after gran died, managed I cannot imagine. Maybe that was why he left to the civilisation of living with his sister in Notts.

    Our washing day was always Monday and the equipment was the same, apart from the water was heated by a back boiler in the black lead stove (no gas in the countryside - even today unless you have LPG Tank) we had a posser - maybe a West Yorks version of the Poncher and the corrugated iron container was called a dolly tub.

    In more recent years when I bought my own house some 24 years ago my first washing machine was a single tub electric with a wringer on (bought for 1 at the local sale room)- good thing I was washing for one at the time not a family!

    I also had a coal fire but when I worked long hours in Leeds mum and dad bought me my first gas fire to save work and time warming up on winter evenings.

    Mum still has an open fire at the bungalow which was built for my paternal grandparents to retire to, which she lets for holidays and some of her guests will not come again if she gets rid of it! However, she also has electric storage heating and an electric fire for those who "don't do coal" What would our ancestors have made of all our mod-cons - my step son even has a remote control for his gas fire!
    Regards to all
    Just a short note but I have to say there's nothing like a tin bath in front of a coal fire on a cold winter night. I'd love to put a fire in my bathroom! By the way in Nottingham we called a posser a ponch. Anyone else use that term?
    Joyce Jupp
    Transcriber for FreeBMD
    ----------1--Email sent 6 Jan 2008----------------------
    Washday was always Wednesday in Worksop, Notts, 1945-1955. We had a washhouse, with sink, clotheshorse, wringer, gasfired wall water heater, ironing board, corrugated iron water container and 'ponch'. Outside were clothesline, wooden props and the gypsies called on Monday trying to sell wooden pegs. Once my Mum started boiling water you couldn't see across the washroom. I used to 'help' ponching the clothes then turning the wringer handle. She did the ironing and pegged the clothes on the line from a big basket also sold by the gypsies. Dad never showed up to help, ever. It wasn't expected. I remember the big bang when the gas heater was lit, that noise seemed to be the start of washday. A tree at the bottom of the garden was used to fasten the clothesline to. Its still there, I can see it on Google Earth. What would my parents have made of emails and Google?
    John Palmer, Dorset, England
    Author of Wirksworth website

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