Spinning Stories


Spinning Stories walk by cqualmann

Some photos from this morning’s guided walk, thanks to Barney Hewlett for taking these.

If you’d like to do the walk you can pick up a printed guide at The Women’s Library,

or download the PDF version here you’ll also need the map PDF version here.

1. Setting off from The Women’s Library

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2. Rothschild Arch

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3. Bengal Cuisine, site of Cash Wash Launderette

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4. Bangla City Cash and Carr, site of the Russian Vapour Baths

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5. St Anne’s Church

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6. Cheshire Street Baths, Abbey Street Laundry

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7. Smarty pants Launderette and Dry Cleaners

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8. Princess Launderette

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9. The Old Laundry, Boundary Estate

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10. The Boundary Estate Community Launderette

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Launderette encounters by cqualmann
September 12, 2009, 12:55 pm
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



Gossip as virus by ebutterworth
September 3, 2009, 7:09 pm
Filed under: Storytelling, Uncategorized

Gossip and rumour are often described as a kind of virus, spreading unseen and unheeded through an unwitting population, sowing devastation in their wake. They infect people with a kind of fever – a mania to pass on what they’ve heard, to spread the news.

‘Within the social organism the bacilli of rumor are always active. Sometimes they move sluggishly in nonvirulent fashion. Sometimes they burst into a fever of violent activity. The fever, unfortunately, burns most dangerously when the health of the social organism is least able to withstand its ravages.’ (Gordon W. Allport and Leo Postman, The Psychology of Rumor, 1947)



Laundry and washing in Medieval Winchester by cqualmann

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



Laundry and Gossip in German by ebutterworth
September 3, 2009, 8:33 am
Filed under: Storytelling, Uncategorized

The etymology of gossip in German (Klatsch) suggests an intriguing connection with laundry, as well as reinforcing yet again the traditional link between gossip and women.

While a ‘gossip’ in English was originally a godparent, Klatsch has a more diffuse and even physical origin. It means at least three things: (1) ‘a resounding slap’, a kind of onomatopoeia; (2) a stain; (3) a pejorative word for prattle, typical of women’s conversation. These three meanings come together in the image of the communal laundry: washerwomen beat at their linen, washing and scrubbing away stains, while exchanging news, views and opinions on their neighbours. The dirty clothes retain the bodily dirt of their owner, so, in washing, washerwomen publicly reveal private and intimate secrets – stains, holes, worn-out places. They are in a privileged position to acquire morally dubious information about the laundry’s owners – hidden information about their private affairs – along with the power and opportunity to disseminate this information. The ‘resounding slap’ of their tools (mallets, mangles, scrubbing boards) signal to the rest of the neighbourhood what is going on: not just the washing of dirty linen, but the exchange of (dirty?) secrets. This privileged access to private information may well have appeared threatening to those not privy to it (especially men?)

The communal laundry appears in this image as the perfect place to reveal secrets about absent neighbours, and to discuss interpretations, memories and comments. The laundry is also a picture of the unequal distribution of power in gossip: not everyone has access to the places in which this kind of knowledge is exchanged.

Women have traditionally had easier access to these kind of places because of the division of labour between the sexes. This might help explain why women are also traditionally branded ‘gossips’, even if men and women are no different in their actual production of and participation in gossip.

(Jörg R. Bergman. Discreet Indiscretions: The Social Organization of Gossip, 1993)



Overheard laundry talk by cqualmann
August 29, 2009, 2:20 pm
Filed under: Laundry Stories, Storytelling

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.



An anthropology of gossip by ebutterworth
August 28, 2009, 9:36 am
Filed under: Storytelling, Uncategorized

In about the last fifty or sixty years, anthropology has turned its attention to gossip: an activity that was previously considered marginal and unworthy of serious consideration (perhaps because it was linked to unofficial talk, frivolity and women…) Anthropologists now take gossip very seriously, trying to figure out its function and place in social groups and struggles for power. Here are some rival interpretations of what gossip is about:

Gossip is a game, undertaken by members of a social group in order to maintain the coherence and unity of that group. When people gossip about each other, and about outsiders, they make ethical judgements about behaviour and maintain their group’s social values. At the same time, gossip is a means of social control: it polices acceptable behaviour and reinforces the values and demands of the dominant group. It’s like a ‘social weapon’ that members of the group can use against each other. So gossip is not idle: it is an important means by which conflicts are resolved or exacerbated, values are maintained and transmitted, and group unity is reinforced. It has social functions and rules, and the right to gossip about others is not automatic: you have to properly belong to a group before you’re allowed to gossip. (Max Gluckman, ‘Gossip and Scandal’, Current Anthropology 4:3 (1963), 307-16)

Some anthropologists have a problem with Gluckman’s idea of gossip as social glue: that is, that it’s the individual who gossips, and not the society. Perhaps, then, gossip is a type of communication – it transmits information that protects an individual’s self-interest. Gossip is a device that the individual can manipulate to increase his or her standing in the community. The gossiper tries to collect information that he or she can then use to forward their self-interest: he or she tries to make their version of a story prevail, but also makes sure they have access to the flow of information. So gossip is still about control, but it’s the individual’s control of information that increases or decreases their social status, rather than social control of the group. (Robert Paine, ‘What is Gossip About? An Alternative Hypothesis’, Man new series 2:2 (1967), 278-85)

There have been attempts to reconcile these two points of view, arguing that gossip was both social (like Gluckman) and psychological (like Paine): it is individual activity in a social setting. Gossip is fundamentally about reputation – about the good names of the gossipers. This poses a problem for the anthropologist, who is particularly interested in social status and reputation, but who perhaps doesn’t understand the stakes involved in trying to get a sample group to share this kind of information with an outsider: where the anthropologist thinks he or she is being scientific, neutral, their subjects see a gossip who is trying to steal their good names (and write the information down, setting it in stone for ever). Passing on gossip to an anthropologist is, then, a means of confusing the issues and trying to mislead the questioner: gossip is a means of misleading others, throwing sand in their eyes, so they don’t form prejudicial – or even just firm – views on someone’s standing or status. (Peter J. Wilson, ‘Filcher of Good Names: An Enquiry into Anthropology and Gossip’, Man new series 9:1 (1974), 93-102)

Or perhaps gossip is like an economic transaction, in which information is exchanged for profit and mutual benefit. It can be informative – trading news, providing a kind of map of the social environment; moralising (when used to manipulate others or to bargain for psychological or even economic environment); or entertaining (when it’s exchanged between people in an equal setting). (Ralph L. Rosnow and Gary Alan Fine, Rumor and Gossip: The Social Psychology of Hearsay. New York: Elsevier, 1976)

Gossip is good for you. Perhaps it is the development and equivalence of mutual grooming among other primate species, and that human language evolved precisely for this purpose: to soothe, reassure, and strengthen the bonds that exist in a community. Where chimpanzees will spend hours grooming each other’s fur, human beings will sit and chat for ages – in fact gossip makes up most of our everyday conversations – and the result is the same: a feeling of well-being and belonging. Rather than to make hunting in teams easier, or to allow us to express some metaphysical truths, language evolved to enable us to gossip. (Robin Dunbar, Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language. London: Faber and Faber, 1996)