Rachel alerted me to a mention of the arrival of launderettes in David Kynaston’s Austerity Britain 1945-1951.
Chapter 3, Jolly good as a whole, p.325 “Britain’s first self-service, coin-operated launderette opened, for a six-month trial, at 184 Queensway in Bayswater on 10 May. ‘All that housewives have to do is bring the washing, put it in the machine and come back 30 minutes later (charge 2s 6d for 9lbs)’, explained the local paper.’
An anecdote from Janet Street-Porter in the same chapter ‘as we didn’t have a television, I found the hour or so spent watching the sheets and towels being washed in a machine every week totally mesmeric’. (p.326) echoes Viv Newman’s experience in Kensington 10 years later https://spinningstories.wordpress.com/2009/07/24/laundry-memories-by-viv-newman/
On Sunday I went to my local launderette to dry some towels and a dressing gown that I had washed at home but had nowhere to hang up. An older woman engaged me in conversation – first complaining that the spinners weren’t working (which makes the drying very expensive) – and then telling me a bit about herself. She had met the Queen twice, and Princess Diana once – “before the gossip killed her”.
Filed under: Contemporary Launderettes, Contributions, Laundry Stories, Storytelling, Transcripts
Well actually the first time in living memory or my living memory that I went to a laundrette was in Wood Green. And I had just moved to London. I had to walk a long, long way and this is winter so of course it was dark and I was quite afraid to be in London. And I went into this laundrette on the estate. It seemed to the only form of illumination. Everything else was sulphury, orange street light and then this beacon of the laundrette. And I went in and it was incredibly busy but it’s very, very aggressive. And I was quite afraid of just even technologically figuring it all out, where to put the money, how the driers work. And it really felt like walking into a real urban, and it shows you how green I was, a real urban garden but they weren’t delights just like grime and grit.
And there was old lady there and I was talking to her and I suppose I thought I was being nice trying to empathise. And she was saying it wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for them. And I said who do you mean, and she kept talking them, they might come through the window at any time. And there were some black kids in the launderette and she gestured towards them and then she said them, them, the blacks. And I went through the rest of the ritual but my clothes as much as I could, tipped them back in the bag and I just vowed never to use a laundrette again. And I didn’t. I only would only get a service wash. That is my story.
After that encounter the whole sum total of it, it just felt like it was too much of… but having said that there is one other story of the laundrette which was on Bethnal Green Road. I was walking home drunk 20 years later and there was a man and his dog on a dirty blanket and a girl, like a punk girl sitting on the washing machine. And I think there was another guy asleep on top of the machines while they were working wrapped up in a sleeping bag. And I went in and I had a little party with them and we had a really good laugh.
Transcribed from an interview, August 2009
One of my more recent laundry stories is that living in my flat obviously I have neighbours beneath and above. And my neighbour above has a washing machine that periodically leaks into my flat. And this happened for the first time about a year ago. Water comes through the ceiling and drips onto the floor and onto the cooker and onto the worktops in the kitchen. So I tried to correspond with him over this and he was always “very sorry, it won’t happen again.” And this happened like four/five/six times and I was absolutely at my wits end just trying to deal with the council to intervene and stop it from happening and trying to communicate with him. It was very distressing actually and it really confirmed in my mind that people shouldn’t have washing machines at home in blocks of flats because they do leak even if you’re not stoned and you don’t fall asleep it can still happen. And they should go to the launderette, because it washes things better and it takes the noise away from the home and the risk of leaks. So I’m still considering mounting a Stage 2 complaint with the council because I’m not satisfied with the response to my Stage 1 complaint. But so far so good, there’s been no more leaks and as far as I understand the washing machine has been completely disabled. But I’ll really only believe it’s over when I see it’s leaving the flat.
Transcribed from an interview at the Boundary Estate Community Launderette, 30th July 2009
Filed under: Contributions, Historic Launderettes and Laundrys, Laundry Stories, Storytelling, Transcripts | Tags: John De Tytyng, Laundry Stories, winchester
There’s a contrast in the attitude in medieval Winchester between laundry and personal hygiene and washing. We know there is one of the first recorded fines for an environmental offence in Winchester when a washer woman was took to court on very wealth man called John De Tytyng for animal offal and other nasty things in one of the open brooks which endangered her livelihood as a washer woman. And amazing enough her case was upheld… and John De Tytyng this very, very wealthy man, was fined and told to desist from putting pollutants in the brooks because it was seriously effecting this woman’s livelihood as a washer woman.
Now contrast this with what we know about bath houses in medieval Winchester which were regarded as basically a bathhouse was euphemism for a place of ill repute. Why else would you go somewhere and take your clothes off. There were several bathhouses but they had to be, because of their bad reputation, outside the town walls. They were areas of ill repute so by contrast where the open brooks were kept clean so you could do your laundry or have a washer woman do your laundry, personal bathing was a bid odd, somewhat perverse and had to be kept outside the walled area.
Transcript from an interview with Ken Qualmann at the Boundary Estate Community Launderette, 10th August 2009
I went for a beer in the american bar on Broadway Market last night, and overheard people at the next table talking about their laundry woes.
They were a group of 5 or 6 men and women who obviously shared a flat, or at least used to. They were talking about how the girls would use the washing machine in the flat, and hang their washing all over the place to dry – but that it took days – especially in the winter – and that the flat was damp so that made it even worse. Because of this there was never any room, so the two men would always go to the launderette instead – even though they had the machine as then it was “just over and done with – you do the washing, it’s dry, done, put it away”.
One of the men then went on to say that in his new flat he’d just discovered (after a few uses) that the washing machine is actually a washer-dryer combined, but that things seem to dry much quicker in the new place – it’s sunnier.
Filed under: Laundry Stories
The woman who works in the launderette under our flat is concerned about a thief who seems to come in at nights to steal the Cup-a-Soup and jam tarts that she keeps in the back of the shop. We haven’t heard anything. And since there’s no sign of a break-in, we think it must be someone with a key and also someone who is - as she says – “hungry”.
Filed under: Laundry Stories
Whilst talking about laundry today at the Boundary Estate Community Launderette research afternoon, I remembered moving a washing machine with my friend Becky almost exactly 10 years ago in Liverpool. We were moving out of our student flat on Gambier Terrace, which was about to be stripped out and refurbished. Ours was the last flat occupied and the landlord had told us we could take whatever we wanted – as they were just going to throw it all away. Becky was moving a few doors down, to a flat without a washing machine, so it seemed sensible……..
The old flat had a little laundry room in a small extension on the back of the building, with a double sink, the washing machine, and drying racks. You accessed it via 3 steps down from the bathroom. We began to realise the scale of the task on those first 3 steps – we managed to haul it up – but realised that we would need additional kit to get it down the 4 flights of stairs to the ground floor, down the 4 or 5 steps to the pavement, up the steps to the new front door, and down into her new basement flat.
In the end we got it down the stairs by sliding it down a plank of wood, with one of us holding it from above by a rope, and the other crouching underneath it using their shoulder to stop it from slipping out of control.
I cannot recommend this method.
The sweet chemical scent of nature bouncing fabric via drum beats of forever The peeling cardboard ceiling can't hide the dust-heavy pipes that lead the way to a padlocked door and days forgotten they were given and no, the laundry lady with the blue sleepy eyes doesn't work here anymore. The foaming, funny smell of people whispering words and promises of forever
It wasn’t exactly overhead. It was half directed to me, a conversation between the launderette lady and another very old local lady that was in there. They were, I don’t know, they must have been in their 70s. The lady that lives near me near Murray Grove, and she had been away for a week or so and I’d gone to do my laundry. And then she was saying there was a shooting just outside the shop. Somebody was killed the other day just outside the shops over there and they were talking about it. And then she started going on and on but what was the matter anyway, it was just a bit of piss and blood and vomit anyway. That’s what makes the world go round and I thought that was…
Interviewer: a bit of philosophy.
Respondent: Yeah, wisdom.
Transcribed from an interview, August 2009