A Tour of the Laundry – The Victorian Way


You see, I have just written to our local
Member of Parliament and I’m hoping he’s going to represent our views in the next
debate on women’s suffrage. Oh I see Well don’t you take any interest in
these affairs Mrs. Crocombe? Oh I don’t know that I have the time! I think that Lady Braybrooke is an example to follow. She takes a great interest in all the local
affairs, you might have noticed? After all the things she has done for the
necessitous children of Walden, all her charitable activities and so forth…
– Well, I’ll think about it. Oh look! Here’s your applicant for the laundry. Ah good morning! I see that you’re
punctual – very good. I daresay you’d like a tour of the service wing?
We shall go to the laundry directly. This is the wet laundry. Now, I understand
you’ve been assisting your mother with her local cottage laundry but you will
find this a very different proposition at Audley End. You see you will have to
deal with 600 towels every week, for example, and you must be quite robust
because we do like our laundry maids to have stamina. We would never take a girl
fresh from school, for example. They simply don’t have the right
experience or the strength. And we certainly wouldn’t take somebody
from the workhouse. We are scrupulous about hygiene here at Audley End. For instance in one country house that shall be nameless, do you know
a case of scarlet fever was brought in with a laundry basket. Huh! Quelle horreur. That would never happen here. So, we operate on a weekly laundry cycle here. The laundry is delivered every Sunday evening by rail depending on where Lord and Lady
Braybrooke have been staying. Typically their London residence up at Brook Street, or it
could be Bournemouth. Or Scotland. You must rise at 3:00 on Monday morning to
make sure all the fires are lit. Then you can return to bed for a couple of hours,
and then rise again to take a cup of tea to your laundry superiors – Ellen and
Sarah. You must make sure you show them all due respect at all times for you are their junior. You must know how to identify various stains. Now, Lady Braybrooke’s personal maid will deal with any stains pertaining to her lace, for example. But there are many other stains aren’t there. For example, how would you deal with, say, ink stains? Of course. You would use buttermilk, wouldn’t you? And now let’s move on to the coppers shall we? There are many different types of
treatment depending on the nature of the laundry. For instance, Mrs. Crocombe’s kitchen
cloths will need a very hot boil. So we put the washing in the copper here
when it’s quite an average temperature and then we wait for the temperature to
come to the boil. Mrs. Crocombe as you will know maintains very high standards of hygiene in her kitchen. I’m sure you’re quite aufait with wringing out
excess water but you may well find that this mangle helps you in that process.
Always be sure to use a mangle cloth. And do be careful. Don’t trap your fingers in it. The laundry drying lawn is just out there behind the cloud hedge, where the
family’s laundry can dry in privacy. You do know how to bleach your laundry don’t you? We sometimes use the rather quaint method of using the action of the sun
upon our linens to make them whiter. Quite often our linens are cream-colored
and to reach the optimum level of white well we might have to to and fro for
quite some months before we reach that white that we so desire. We usually
prefer our grass that we lay our linens upon to be of medium height and
preferably on a frosty day. And however long it takes…well, so be it. Patience is a virtue! Now, we’ve done the washing and the ringing Now it’s time to do the ironing and the finishing. Now, we like to iron things when they’re
slightly damp. You must supply your own iron cloth. You only pick up an iron
without an iron cloth once. I don’t know whether your mother has one
of these in her small laundry but if ever see you using a box mangle to wring
out excess water you will be instantly dismissed. Think of it as a flattening machine. Always use a mangle cloth and everything that comes out of it should
be perfectly flat and perfectly shiny. Now, we come to Saturday. That’s when we
parcel up all the finished laundry, we send it off to where it has to go
and that means labelling it. It’s another reason why we don’t use commercial
laundries. So what we have to do is make sure it’s dated, numbered, the house it’s
going from, the house it’s going to, so on and so forth. Now, do you have any questions? I’m sorry, what was that? Do we have a washing machine? [laughs] No, we certainly don’t! It’s far too much effort! Why would we go
to all that trouble? Does your mother have one? Do you want to do yourself out of a job! So, I think that we’ve seen all we need to now. I shall perhaps usher you into the servants hall and Mrs Crocombe will procure you a cup of tea.
I shall read through your character and we shall give you your expenses for your fare. Thank you so very much for coming to see us. We’ll let you know.

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