Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Daily Life at Grandma's.

As I said previously, no-one used their front doors, especially on Harrington Street as the railway line ran along the opposite side of the road so all the places we needed to go were out from the back of the house.  Bikes, prams & shopping all came through the back passages and into the back door.
Despite this, once a week, the front doorstep had to be cleaned.  It was made from York stone and was a pale creamy yellow colour so soon picked up all the airborne dust and pollution.  In those days everyone had coal fires so the atmosphere would be thick with smoke and soot.  The step would be scrubbed with soapy water  and then "stoned" with a very hard "step stone" which brought it up sparkling, bright and spotlessly clean.  It was a matter of pride and quite a bit of rivalry for the housewife to ensure their step was the cleanest in the street.  Some steps had a distinct dip in the middle where the housewife had been a bit too "enthusiastic"!
If there was a brass letterbox it too would receive a good polish!

In any house the front room was hardly ever used, the exception would be for funerals!
The next room, the middle room in the house, was the main room where the whole family lived and gathered together to eat, relax and listen to the radio.  The radio was the main form of entertainment. 
Another important function for this room was to get bathed, once a
week, on a Friday night in front of the fire. We bathed in a tin bath which was kept outside and all the water had to be brought in, heated on the fire and then emptied into the bath.  It was a long process so we had to share the water.  I got bathed first, then my sister Kathleen had her turn and I seem to remember my mother would have her bath after we had been put to bed.  Years later my mam told me she always bathed us on a Friday night and then went early to bed herself because that was the night my grandparents went to play whist (a card game played by 2 people as a team against another 2 people) and if my grandmother had made a mistake and let their side down
(apparently it often happened) there would be an argument when they got home, my granddad was quite competitive!
The next room in the house was the kitchen which was used for cooking.  Washing, by that I mean the laundry, took place in an outside building known as the wash house.

Wash day always took place on a Monday and would require a very early start and would occupy the whole day.  First job was to light the fire under the copper in the wash house.  The copper was a brick built structure with a large bowl made of stone above an enclosed fire below. The bowl had to be filled with water and the fire lit below by 6 - 6:30 am!  My grandmother would do this and then make cheese sandwiches for my granddads morning break. Sometime he forgot them and I would eat them for breakfast.
Image courstesy of
It took all day to do the weekly wash and I hated it!  Not because I had to help, but I was expected to keep out of the way and occupy myself until it was all done.
Washing was carried out using dolly tubs & wash boards.  The order of work was wash, rinse, mangle (put through a mangle or ringer to get out excess water) and finally hang out to dry on the washing line.  I can still remember the sound of bed sheets "cracking" on the line.  If it was raining then all had to be dried indoors.  It was a matter of pride who had the whitest, cleanest washing and they would use Reckitts Blue Bag, placed in the water
A typical flat iron.  Image courtesy of 'Tiverton Museum of Mid Devon Life'
to make them whiter.  Finally all the washing had to be ironed using a flat iron.  A flat iron was a none electric,  solid iron and had to be heated up on a fire, there would be 2 in use, one on the fire while 

the other was being used.  
The whole process took all day but came to a break when my granddad would come home from work at dinnertime.  Dinner on  Monday was always cold meat from the Sunday roast with perhaps some bubble & squeak (fried mashed potatoe and brussel sprouts mashed together).  My job was to keep looking out of the window of the middle room so I could have a clear view down the back passage and tell my grandmother when my granddad was almost home.  In the summer I would wait in the garden and would know he was on his way when I heard his "seggs" scraping along the passage.  Seggs were the metal studs that manual workers hammered into the soles of their boots to stop them slipping and also made the soles last longer.
The only other diversion for me was when my sister Kathleen returned home from school and was expected to entertain me!

Meals were always taken sat at a table, with a tablecloth (no lap trays and TV meals then) and we were taught to eat properly.  No elbows on the table, eat with your mouth closed and replace the knife & fork together on the plate when finished.  Always ask permission to leave the table... "please may I leave the table ?" 
 Sometimes there might be an accident and a cup of tea would get spilled, grandma would immediately wipe it up but then place a saucer below the table cloth to prevent it staining the polished wooded top below.
Despite being taught all these things my granddad would be allowed to prop his newspaper up at the table to read while he ate!  I was told I would be allowed to do this when I was "grown up" too!
We were taught general good manners, to say please & thank you, never walk between two people talking or interrupt.  It was all done in a firm but friendly way and I'm grateful as it has stood me in good stead all of my life.
Going to bed was not my happiest time of day, there being no electricity upstairs we had to light our way with a candle to go upstairs and then, when in bed my mother would leave us with a couple of nite-lites in saucers of water.  They were similar to modern T-Lites but without the scent!  In the winter we had hot
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
water bottles to  keep us warm, the houses were extremely cold, no central heating!!  Often we awoke to find frost on the inside of the windows and the curtains stuck to the glass!  Surprisingly I remember they were rubber hot water bottles although my grandparents insisted on using the older stoneware hot water bottles.

This image courtesy of 'Tiverton Museum of Mid Devon Life' 


  1. David, I am thoroughly enjoying these posts! I especially like the way you begin with a reminder of the last one. That is very helpful to give the sense of continuity of day to day life. I still have my mother's flat iron and can imagine why "ironing day" was a full day! Coal certainly made things dirty but thankfully kept us warm. Our parents were so industrious and had expectations that we kids would mind our manners, be polite and kind, and sit down to each meal with gratitude and courtesy. It sounds like your's expected the same. I think it was a very good thing.

    1. Thank you, I'm pleased you're enjoying this new blog.