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Banburyshire Family History

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go back to the last page you were on Memories of the 40s : Double, double, toil and bubble!


It looked like the cauldron from an opening scene of the Scottish Play, but was, in fact, the latest labour-saving device. Water was heated in large saucepans over the fire and tipped into this copper tub: then in went the dirty washing and soap, to produce an unforgettable aroma. The operation could be conducted indoors, but with the amount of steam and condensation, plus the physical size of involved machinery, outdoor operation was strongly recommended. After some ten minutes of simmering, the soaking cycle was complete and the physical work began.

The dolly was a giant version of the implement used to unblock drains. It was made in wood, and stood some four foot in height. This was lowered into the hot soapy water and by twisting and lifting, a skilled operator could agitate the mixture. This was the cleaning cycle: hard manual work, which I watched with interest whilst waiting in the wings (I was the spin cycle).

Enter the mangle. This basically consisted of two horizontal rubber rollers, rotated in opposite directions toward each other by a large handle. A sort of silent hurdy-gurdy, rated at one boy-power. The senior washing operator would lift items of clothing out of the steaming copper tub with what looked like a giant pair of wooden nutcrackers, and offer them to the jaws of the mangle. Away I would go.

Out of the back of the mangle appeared a smoking strip of very hot, damp, and flattened items of clothing, to fall into a zinc bath containing cold water. The was the rinse cycle. When all items were safely in the cold bath the mangle was repositioned, and the cold spin cycle could begin. Clothes were then pegged out (weather permitting) or draped around the house to dry and raise ambient humidity. Who can forget the sight and feel of clothes hung out to dry before a frost, and subsequently frozen stiff as boards.

Mangle operating was (modest cough) a responsible position. Long before the advent of Health & Safety, a mangle was a lethal assembly of rollers and gear wheels. Setting the gap between the rollers was a fine art, and operating responsibilities included keeping younger company employees at a distance. My mangling skills were also called upon during the Summer, when apples in stockings were fed through as part of a domestic cider manufacturing process. On completion the cider was stored in large versions of the pottery hot-water bottles. On occasion, one of these would explode during further fermentation, but that's another tale.

Written by Smokey