This is a photograph of my nan outside an Aberdeen wash house in the 1930s. I wish I knew more about this picture and have spent time researching the wash houses that flourished right up to the 1960s. Below is a short piece of writing inspired by the photograph.
Last Day at the Wash House
Look, that’s me on the front row. May’s got her arm round my shoulders. My hair looks terrible we had to wear it all pinned up otherwise we’d be in trouble with Mrs Evans. The aprons not that glamorous either, it’s covering up my floral frock. It was nice having my sister May with me. We’d have a laugh – us and all the gals. You wouldn’t think it would be much fun in there being so hot, but we got used to it and we were in it together. It was a social outing bringing in the washing; women would be queuing up outside first thing on a Saturday morning. They’d put all their laundry in a pram and push it to the wash house. It would be funny seeing the bairns heaped in with the dirty trousers, skirts and socks. Most of the women did their own washing, made a day of it, brought their sandwiches with them. At lunch time they’d sit outside on the stone wall having a chat.
It was like a factory inside. Well, there was so much washing, it had to be big. There were at least twelve of us keeping the place spick and span. Some who had a bit of money paid us to do theirs for them. We took it in turns to do the different bits. If you were on the washing it would be hot boiling water and you’d have to put your arms right in. They’d be red raw at the end of a shift, the soap was strong stuff that made your skin smart. I’d have to put cream all over them. By the time I got home on a cold day my hands would crack and bleed if I wasn’t careful. If we weren’t on the washing we’d be hanging it up on steel rod hangers and then putting it into the dryers. Lastly, you’d have to put the clothes and linen through a mangle to flatten them and then there was the folding. My mam did all the washing at home she felt sorry for me, she thought it was enough to be doing it all day long. She needed my bit of money as there were six of us still at home, three to a bed.
It was my last day in that picture. I was getting married on the Saturday and my new hubby said ‘I’m not having my lass working in there.’ He was a bit of a snob. I missed it when I left.