Based on childhood recollections
of working class family life in north London in Edwardian times.
Provided the weather was reasonably fine, the
washing was always dried outside
in the garden. The rule of thumb seemed to be that if the pavements were dry
and if there were no heavy clouds in the sky, out went the washing.
The clothes line
The washing was pegged onto clothes lines that were simply lengths of thin
rope, slung between trees or hooks in the garden.
My mother and her next door neighbour would often find themselves in their
gardens at the same time on Monday washday, and they would give one another
cups of tea over the fence. I don't think there was time for much chatting.
Clothes pegs, known as 'gypsy clothes pegs' because
gypsies made them and came round knocking at front doors selling them.
Pegs were made of pieces of split wood held together with a
nailed-on strip of tin can.
The pegs were what were known as 'gypsy clothes pegs' because gypsies made
them and came round knocking at front doors selling them. Each peg was made
from a piece of wood, split lengthways and held together with a nailed-on strip of tin can.
How the washing was pegged
Each item of the wash had to be pegged in such a way that the wind would
blow through it to blow out the creases. This was to make Tuesday's
ironing easier. The collars of shirts would
be bent taut over the line and pegged where the collar met the rest of the shirt,
and pillowcases would be pegged at the open end loosely and on one side only
so that they would billow out as the wind blew through them. Sheets were folded
double and pegged at each end, with one side pegged taut along its whole
length and the other side sagging slightly.
The clothes prop
Wooden clothes prop made from a sawn-off branch of a
tree, raising the washing line up high to catch the wind - photographed
at Telford Rural Life Centre. My mother's recollections of the early 1900s
would have put the shirt the other way up with the collar folded and pegged
over the line. Pat Cryer
Once the clothes were pegged into position, the lines were propped up high
in the air with wooden props so as to catch the wind. A prop was a length of
wood about nine feet long and an inch and a half square with a slot in the top
to hold the rope. Specially made props could be bought but some women often used
a suitably sawn-off trunk or branch of a small tree.
Taking the washing down
When the washing was reasonably dry, it was brought in and folded. If the
wind had blown the sheets or tablecloths out of shape, I had to hold them while
my mother tugged them back. With her greater strength, she would often pull
them out of my hands. This made her very cross, and she would say, "Haven't
you got any gumption?" I only learnt later much later that gumption meant energy
and commitment. Yes, I did have gumption, but I was a few stones lighter than
The whites were rolled up while they were slightly damp, ready for
ironing the next day, and if they were too dry
my mother would sprinkle them with water first.
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. It is © Pat Cryer.