logo - Join me in the 1900s early C20th
Florence Cole as a child

How people washed themselves
in Victorian and Edwardian England

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In the early 1900s when I was a child growing up on the working class housing estate of Victorian-style terraces, it was a matter of principle that we - and indeed adults too - were kept clean.

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Where we washed

We washed every day in the scullery in a little alcove with a curtain across that provided some privacy.

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The 'wash basin' - the scullery sink

Old stoneware sink with a single brass cold water tap above it

Stoneware sink with a single brass cold water tap above it. Photographed in Fagans Museum of Welsh Life.

The 'wash basin' was the sink that was used for washing up.

Old white enamel washing-up bowl

Enamel washing-up bowl. Photographed in Milton Keynes Museum.

It was a large box-like 'glazed stone' affair with a single brass cold-water tap in the wall above it.

Sometimes we used an enamel bowl in it.

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The soap

A wooden soap box was also on the wall. No exotic soap ever found its way there. It was always general household soap, usually Sunlight, which invariably had little pieces of grit embedded in where my mother had used it to wash the floor. I don't think our complexions suffered as a result. I was reputed to have had a very good complexion as a child.

old bar of Sunlight household soap from the early 1900s, used for washing the floor 
		as well as washing oneself

Sunlight household soap, used for washing the floor as well as washing oneself.

So the Sunlight soap did little harm, although I well recall having little patches of dry skin in on my chin in the winter. This was quite common with most children and was treated with Vaseline.

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The temperature of the water

We usually washed in cold water, but sometimes as a luxury we had warm water if the copper was lit, or if someone bothered to boil a kettle on the range.

In summer when it was too hot to light a fire, water was probably heated on a primus stove. My cousin who lived with my grandparents in World War Two reports that that was what happened there.

Pat Cryer, webmaster and daughter of the author

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The flannel

Flannels were squares of towelling.

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Being washed as a young child

I always remember my great grandmother washing me at the scullery sink. It wasn't a case of just wiping sticky hands. It was a good old wash, and my ears burnt for hours afterwards. Her generation seemed to have a thing about ears. It was always, "Have you washed behind your ears?". It could have been why earache seemed so prevalent in those days. We children always had a twisted corner of the flannel rammed down our ears.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.