Wash Day in Anfield, 1920

The vat in the cellar of our house was large enough to boil
a human in, and its lid might have been purloined
from a Roman chariot. Mum used a wooden ladle
which could have been a giant’s spoon, a three-
legged dolly, a corrugated zinc washboard,
and a couple of large galvanized steel wash tubs.
It was like a scene from the Spanish Inquisition.

Mum had to go down on her knees to light
the gas ring that lay almost concealed
under the bowels of the bricked-in boiler.

The dolly was used to agitate the bubbling mass of clothes,
its ungainly little three legs thrust into the steaming mess.
She used the washboard to rub the very life
out of small articles. One of the tubs, filled
with water, was ready for clothes to be bleached,
and the other had a bobbin of bluing for the final rinse.
The air was filled with the smell of Fels Naptha.

When the laundry had passed through both tubs, it was ready
for the wringer. Mum would twist the tap and release
the scalding soapy water from the boiler. It would cascade
and snake along the floor until it disappeared down the drain.
It gurgled, leaving an igloo of rainbow suds.

Now came the ordeal of turning the wheel of the rack. . .
or should I say the wringer? The clothes had to be folded
in a certain way, otherwise the buttons would be crushed,
for these large wooden rollers would show no mercy.
Pushing reluctant dripping clothes into the slit
between the massive rollers was no work for a weakling!
The water was squeezed out, and went falling down to find
its own way to the grid. The clothes, exhausted and defeated,
would capitulate into the wicker basket, thin and flat
like so many layers of unleavened bread, ready to be hauled
up the stairs and hung on the clothes-line in the back yard.

Note: Fels Naptha was a large bar of laundry-soap, still sold today. During the 1920s and 1930s, Fels Naptha was often said to be the preferred soap for washing out the mouth of a child who had used bad language. Numerous people from this era attest to having been disciplined in this way. The large size of the bar made the discipline all the more dramatic. (Information from “Wikipedia.”)

By Margaret Goings