Based on childhood recollections
of working class family life in north London in Edwardian times.
In the early 1900s when I was a child growing up on the working class
Huxley housing estate of
Victorian-style terraces, it was a matter
of principle that we - and indeed adults too - were kept clean.
Bathing for adults -The 'bathroom'
Generally adults didn't bath. They just had a good wash down at the
scullery sink. This was even though
there was, in fact, a full-sized bath in the house. It was upstairs inside a large cupboard in a small room which was called
the offroom - and which in later years had the grand name of bathroom.
Galvanised tin bucket, as used for filling a copper and carrying hot water from the copper up to the bath.
Photographed in Fagans Museum of Welsh Life.
reasons this bath was hardly ever used because of it having no running
If someone wanted the luxury of a bath, they had to work for it. They first
had to fill the copper in the scullery with water, then light the copper fire,
which incidentally could be very temperamental. Then, once the water was hot,
they had to ladle it into a bucket and carry it upstairs. A bath took a number
of bucketsful and was never filled very deeply. The full buckets were heavy and it was all too easy to spill
the hot water and scald oneself.
If the adults had so wished, they could always have a bath at the
Bathing for children
It was standard practice for children to be bathed on Saturday nights in
a galvanised tin bath in front of the
open coal fire in the
kitchen. The kitchen was effectively our living
room and it always felt cosy.
A relative playing in a tin bath in the 1930s. Imagine this scene in front of a
coal fired kitchen range, and you have a picture of what bathing was like for children in the early 1900s.
Bathing us children was - like everything else for my mother - hard
work. Because there was no running hot water anywhere in the
Victorian style houses
of working class families such as ours, bathing necessitated lighting the fire
of the copper well in advance and then pouring
buckets of cold water into it to heat up.
Then, when the water was hot, it had to be ladled out into buckets and carried
to the tin bath in the kitchen.
We children bathed one at a time in the same
water. The soap was ordinary household soap.
We had our hair washed while sitting in the bath. Our hair was lathered with
the household soap and then rinsed with a jug of hot water poured over our heads.
There wasn't time to say, "Ouch, it's too hot" or, "Ooooh, it's cold!".
After children were bathed
We children always had our clean night clothes put on after our baths, followed by
a dose of brimstone and treacle, which was rather ridiculous as it made me
feel sick and, if I was, I risked dirtying my clean nightdress which my mother
had gone to so much effort to wash and
iron earlier in the week. Brimstone and
treacle was a laxative, which, it was considered, was always necessary for
children once a week.
Sometimes after our bath my mother would you read to us. I only remember
two books Peep behind the scenes and Cast your bread upon the waters.
The first book was about circus life where a little girl called Rosaly lived with
her mother in a caravan. The mother was very ill with consumption and little
Rosaly had to perform in a circus every night. I think the reason for me to
remember this so well was because I was fascinated with the little girl's dress
which was a typical circus dress, it had a tight bodice and a billowing white
skirt with red roses round at the bottom. Actually it was a very sad story.
The other book, I suspect had a moral to it and was based on the proverb, Cast
your bread upon the waters and ye shall find it to returned after many days.
It left no lasting impact on me.
This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in early to mid 20th century Britain, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.