The days when The Laundry was to be carried out obviously loomed large in the Hall calendar. Small wonder when you consider the palaver, involving the servants from before dawn, and lasting all day, as they fetched and heated water, rubbed and scrubbed, rinsed and squeezed and so on all day and, as per the diary entry of July 9th and 10th, sometimes for two whole days. It was only when I read the excellent article by Maria Grace on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog (details at the end of this post) that I appreciated just how complicated it all was.
Mind you, cleanliness was never next to godliness in my God-fearing family: indeed to do the laundry more often than four times a year would have been unthinkable, as shown by the fact that from July there was a gap of four months until Wash Day on 13th November, and that lasted through until the end of March, when presumably a spring-clean was somewhat overdue!
I know from Richard’s diary that he only took a bath every couple of months so it is surprising to see how much he spent on soap – it was obviously a very expensive commodity if it was only brought out for high days and holidays. His accounts show an expenditure of just over a pound per annum on soap (equivalent to maybe 120 dollars nowadays) – roughly 25% of what he spent each year on light i.e. candles.
That then is the background to this rather nice cartoon from the Lewis Walpole Library Site entitled The Steam Washing Company, because it gives some idea of the frenetic activity on laundry day. And no, I have no idea why it shows the Archbishop washing out his smalls, or what the Scotsman in his tartan is washing (because presumably he didn’t wear smalls…). On the right a woman is adding Dolly Blue as a whitener.
A rather more rural view of the same activity, and with a lot more leg but rather less steam, is shown in Scotch Washing (also from Lewis Walpole). The girls are treading the laundry in wash tubs, while on the right a girl takes time off from beating the linen with a paddle or oar, (presumably to loosen the grime and rinse away the dirt in the stream) in order to give a soaking to a passer-by .
The title on this one on the right is “Lady’s Maid Soaping Linnen” – all very genteel, but make no mistake, washing was a chore, albeit one which gave employment to an army of servants. Substantially the same picture is shown in the image on the left, but with a chair supporting the washbasin. It was painted by Henry Robert Morland and was called “Woman Doing Laundry”.
Just think of the mayhem which must have been caused when, horror of horrors, a machine came along to eliminate those washday blues! Or not as the case may be…In January 1750 the Gentleman’s Magazine carried this drawing of what it describes as a Yorkshire Maiden.
Attempts had been made for some time to mechanise the washing and drying process and by the end of the century there were advertisements such as this one for Beethams Royal Patent Washing Mill (“If economy be necessary, or cleanliness desirable, this is the way to obtain it”) and below it the Patent Chain Net (“for Wringing, facilitates their almost immediate Drying”).
It seems as if everybody tried to get in on the act with their own clothes washing machinery – so here we have a trade card for a Carpenter, General Joiner, and a ‘decent performing undertaker’ (so much better than the indecent variety!) who also doubles up as a maker of “washing engines”.
Again, I am grateful to the Lewis Walpole site for all the images.
P.S. The article on washing appears at the EHFA site here.