Working Class Life in the 1940s and 50s The Old Tin Bath

The Area I Lived in

When I was young I lived in a working class area in the city of Nottingham. The housing was predominantly small two up two down Victorian terraced houses. The majority of the houses were built in the mid to late 1800s.

Most of the housing on our street was of the same design which was quite usual.

If you moved over to the next street you might find the houses there slightly different to those on our street.

There were some differences between the streets. Some streets had small bay windows, some three bedrooms instead of two. But usually houses on the same street tended to be of the same design.

The streets varied a little in their design but one thing remained the same. It was the standard of the indoor plumbing.

Each house in our working class neighbourhood usually had one cold water tap indoors.

The Street that I lived on

Notice in the above photo that there are only two cars parked on the street, and neither of them belonged to anyone on our street.
Notice in the above photo that there are only two cars parked on the street, and neither of them belonged to anyone on our street. | Source

No Bathroom

Every house that I knew of in my neighbourhood had a toilet that was outside. Also far as I can remember none of the homes that I knew had a bathroom. So as you may imagine taking a bath was not the simple and easy task that it is today.

Most of us back then would have a bath once a week. You may think that taking a bath once a week is a long time between baths. If you do, then it may surprise you to know that there were many people that would only take a bath once a fortnight.

I want to give you a little insight into just what involved in taking a bath back then. I think then you will understand why for most of us it was only a once a week event.

Back then, no one would think that taking only one bath a week was unusual because that is what most of us did.

Most people got over the problem of no bathroom in the house by having a large galvanised tin bath. The tin bath was usually stored by hanging it on a nail that had hammered into a wall.

If you click on the blue link above you can hear a delightful song about the old tin bath sung by Harvey Andrews.

Sometimes the wall would be inside the house, like a wall in the pantry. But often the nail for hanging the tin bath on would be an outside wall in the backyard.

Friday night was bath night

Friday night was our bath night as kids, and I cannot remember ever having a bath on another night back then. . Back in the forties and fifties we seemed to be creatures of habit, often I suppose for very practical reasons.

Taking a bath today, only really involves an individual deciding that they want to take one. It is easy now because all that taking a bath entails these days is the turn of a couple of taps. Most people today, well at least most people in the UK, have access to running hot water.

Having hot water on demand was most unusual in the working class neighbourhood that I grew up in. In fact, the only two places that I can remember seeing hot water on tap in our neighbourhood was at the public Wash-house and the slipper baths.

The public wash house was where people could do their weekly load of washing. The Slipper baths was the place where for a small sum of money you could have a hot bath, but more of the slipper baths in a later hub.

As I have said, most homes in our neighbourhood had one indoor cold water tap. If we wanted hot water for anything we had to heat it.

When my brother and I were really small we would take our bath in the large stone sink in the scullery. When we outgrew this we progressed to a medium sized galvanised tin bath that mum used for rinsing her washing on wash day.

Even though the medium sized tin baths were a lot smaller than the large tin bath, the amount of water needed still took some time to heat.

Filling up the tin bath

When we finally graduated to the large tin bath, bath night was a much more time-consuming task for my mum.

We had a stone copper in the corner of the scullery which mum used for boiling the white items on washday. The copper would be pressed into action on a bath night.

My mum would fill the copper with water and a fire would be lit underneath it. Mum would also light the four gas rings on the top of the cooker to heat more water needed for a bath.

Mum would put on the cooker top the large kettle and an assortment of pans filled with water. When we had a range in the living room mum would put utensils filled with water there also. Mum would bring all the water filled containers to the boil.

It was only when the water in all the different containers was hot enough that the water would be poured into the tin bath. The hot water all had to go in at the same time because as soon as the water hit the tin bath the water would begin to lose its heat quickly.

Red Quarry style Pantiles

Source
Cardinal Polish
Cardinal Polish | Source

Our scullery was a cold place

Our scullery was always a cold place at the best of times. It was not a large room, only something like nine feet by seven feet at most. Our scullery had red pan-tiles on the floor which are red quarry style tiles they were about 6 inches by 9 inches and about an inch thick. These tiles seemed always to radiate cold.

Our scullery had red pantiles on the floor. Pantiles are red quarry style tiles which were about 6 inches by 9 inches and about an inch thick. These tiles seemed always to radiate cold. There was a polish that

The red pantiles seemed to be what most people in our neighbourhood had in their pantry and scullery. There was a polish that specifically made for these red tiles, they looked nice after you had done them. But like most things back then polishing the floor took a lot of elbow grease and the red seemed to get all over.

The cold radiating off the scullery floor could drain the tin bath of its heat quickly. So I had to be in and out as quick as possible so that my brother would still have some heat left in the bathwater.

tin bath

Hot body and cold bum

When mum was heating all this water, the scullery walls would become covered in condensation. The walls in the scullery were gloss painted. Because of the coldness of the scullery walls condensation would run down. Little puddles of cold water would gather where the walls and the floor met.

There was just enough room in our scullery for the tin bath to be placed on the floor between the wall with the sink and the wall with the cooker on.

Because of the pan-tiles on the floor even when our tin bath had hot water in, the base of the bath could still feel cold. The bottom of the bath stayed cold until the heat of the water in the bath warmed the tiles underneath up.

I remember the feeling of sitting on the cold bottom of a tin bath filled with hot water. Sitting in water as hot as you can stand but with your bum sat on the cold bottom of the tin bath was an odd sensation.

Heating up all this water for a bath seemed to be mammoth task and one that I am sure that my mum did not look forward to at all.

The privilege of taking the first bath

Because heating the water up involved such a lot of work, my brother and I did not have the luxury of each of us having fresh bath water for our bath.

When we were small my brother and I would share the bath. But as we grew older and bigger we graduated to the large tin bath where bathed separately.

As the eldest I would have the privilege of taking the first bath, this was one of the few things that being eldest brought with it.

The Oven

Taking the chill off the scullery

As I have said before the scullery was cold and damp, and my mum came up with a way to take some of the chill out of the scullery while we had our bath. While we were in the bath my mum would light the oven and put it on full. Mum would leave the oven door open to try to take the chill off the scullery. We had no such luxury back then as central heating, in fact back then I had no idea that there was such a thing as central heating.

As long as we were in the bath mum would leave the oven door open to take the chill off the scullery. We had no such luxury back then as central heating, in fact back then I had no idea that there was such a thing as central heating.

I thought that the heat from the oven was only a little better than nothing. Still it was better than nothing and mum bless her heart always thinking of us, did the best she could with what she had.

Lifebouy Soap

More Endured than Enjoyed

Because of the cold and damp I found that most of the time taking a bath in our scullery was not a particularly pleasant experience. Bath time was not a task that I ever wanted to dawdle over. Back then, a bath time was something that I more endured than enjoyed.

The soap that my mum used back then was either Lifebuoy toilet soap or Carbolic soap. Lifebuoy used to boast that it got rid of the germs as well as the dirt. But I reckon that my mum really didn't need to use any soap. Because mum seemed to rub hard enough with the flannel and the loofa to remove the dirt and germs and top couple of layers of skin too LOL...

Colourful Pit Towel

Pit Towels

One thing that I can remember is the bath towels we had. My dad was a coal miner and he used to buy pit towels. Because miners had to bathe each time they came off shift the Pit subsidised the price of the soap and towels.

The pit towels were big and colourful. I can still remember the feeling of being rubbed dry in front of the fire in the living room by my mum or dad using these towels. Unlike the bath itself, the drying part of the experience is a pleasant one.

In the photograph, you can see my brother and he is standing in front of a pit towel. I was taking this photo with my new colour camera. It was the first time we had taken any colour photographs, and my mum wanted to make sure that we got our money's worth out of the colour film. Mum made me drape the towel as a backdrop so that all the colours on the film would be used.

A Mammoth Task

Filling the bath was a mammoth task but even emptying it was no walk in the park.

It seems the work involved in preparing a bath, like most things in those days took an awful lot of time and energy. I think this is one of the reasons that my generation appreciates and enjoys so much the things we have now. We don't tend take things for granted and we are grateful that we have access to so many labour saving devices.

If you have managed to stay with me to the end, thank you so much for takiing the time to take a stroll with me down a small part of my memory lane.


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22 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 19 months ago from Olympia, WA

You brought back some memories with this fine reflection. Visits to my grandparents' home in Iowa was very similar. Great memories now but darned chilly and inconvenient back then.


drbj profile image

drbj 19 months ago from south Florida

Your mother was definitely a saint, m'dear, to take all that time and effort and trouble to keep you both clean. From your colorful description of the entire bath night process, I can easily understand why many folks bathed less than weekly. :)


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 19 months ago from Houston, Texas

That certainly sounded like a monumental job each week getting that bath water ready! I would have assumed that the cleanest person bathed first and the dirtiest one last. Ha! I was lucky in that I did grow up with indoor plumbing and hot water. I did have a great aunt that had to heat her water and she had an outhouse until later years. Will share this bit of history with others.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 19 months ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

I really enjoyed reading this, maggs. As billybuc said, it brought back some childhood memories. For me that would be in Hall Green on the southern edge of Birmingham in the early Fifties. Yes, we had the tin bathtub, too, but no car, no refrigerator, no phone, just our feet (or a bicycle) and a pantry. For emergencies, our neighbor's phone came in handy. Now in Iowa, I have a hot shower every morning, grab the milk from the fridge, check my smartphone for messages and hop in the car for my 35 minute commute. I liked it better back then... but how much is that related to being young and full of dreams? Thanks for the memories.


CASE1WORKER profile image

CASE1WORKER 19 months ago from UNITED KINGDOM

I guess if you took a photo of that street now it would be jammed with cars. My mother in law said that the red polish they used on the quarry tiles used to get everywhere- she used to hate doing it. All those terraced houses will now have a bathroom- in the boxroom or if lucky in an extension. I still remember meeting a lad from Leicester in the 1970s and visiting his grandad who didn't have a bathroom and the loo was in the yard!


k@ri profile image

k@ri 19 months ago from Sunny Southern California

I enjoyed this look into the past. It makes me even more grateful for all of our conveniences. :)


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 19 months ago from Sunny Spain Author

@billybuc One of the benefits of living back then was that we knew no different so it was just what it was. We didn't feel hard done by or underprivileged because that was all anyone had in our neighbourhood. I am glad that it brought back some pleasant memories of visiting your grandmother :D


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 19 months ago from Sunny Spain Author

@drbj You are quite right my mum went above and beyond when it came to looking after my brother and I. How she managed to do all that she did back then is beyond me, and a tribute to her loving nature.


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 19 months ago from Sunny Spain Author

@Peggy W Thank you Peggy for commenting and for sharing both are appreciated very much. I must admit that I would find that being without hot water on tap now a real problem. In a lot of areas just day to living back then involved a lot more work for all concerned.


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 19 months ago from Sunny Spain Author

@UnnamedHarald I am so pleased that this hub brought back some happy memories of living in Brum back in the 1950s.

I think that you are right in that youth and memories of the life we lived are mixed and melded together. It is hard to tease out if we would have been more aware of the hardships if we had been older. Maybe our memories might not have been so happy if we were older back then.


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 19 months ago from Sunny Spain Author

@CASE1WORKER Unfortunately, this street like the rest of the neighbourhood was demolished in the misguided slum clearance schemes that were popular in the early 1970s.

Your Mother-in-law was right the red Cardinal polish did get everywhere, and like her I hated doing it, and black-leading the range too.


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 19 months ago from Sunny Spain Author

@k@ri I know exactly what you mean, I can still remember the day that I got my first automatic washing machine. I could not believe that doing the washing could be so easy. I certainly would not like to go back to the old-fashioned way of doing the washing. Thanks for commenting :D


Dig 19 months ago

Hi Maggs, Do you remember when mum got here first washing machine with and electric mangle on it? She hadn't quite got used to it when one day we heard her shouting for you from in the kitchen because she had got her hand stuck in the mangle and couldn't reach to switch it off. We laughed about it afterwards but mum was a bit panicy at the time I thinkComment...


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 19 months ago from Sunny Spain Author

Hi Dig I do remember when mum got her arm trapped by the electric mangle. The power of that mangle was incredible. I managed to hit the stop button and the release button but not before it had pulled mum's arm through up nearly to her elbow. Mum's arm was black and blue for weeks afterwards.

Mum was right to be a bit panicky because we saw a young child in the burns unit who had caught her arm in an electric mangle and the plastic surgeons said that the resulting crush injuries were serious and hard to treat.

I don't miss those bath nights one little bit do you? lol...


tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 19 months ago from California

Fascinating hub about the scrub and rub after a bath in a tin tub.


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 19 months ago from Sunny Spain Author

@tirelesstraveler I am so pleased that you found this peek into this part of my past fascinating. Though there is much that I miss about this period, the old tin bath and the work that went with it I do not miss at all lol...


JaneA profile image

JaneA 18 months ago from California

Beautiful evocation. Thanks for sharing. My circumstances were not as rustic, but still a lot harsher things were for my kids. It's all relative, I guess.


travmaj profile image

travmaj 18 months ago from australia

Oh yes, I remember those days - can't really recall questioning why we didn't have what mum referred to as 'modern cons' That's just the way it was and we got on with it. Those two up two down terraced homes have really changed, I'm impressed. But have lovely memories of ours, just the way it was.


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 18 months ago from Sunny Spain Author

@ JaneA Yes, you are right Jane the kids of today do have many things that make their lives easier than ours were, but I am not sure that the trade-off is worth it sometimes.

I would much rather have had my childhood with all its lack of mod cons than have the typical childhood of today's children.


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 18 months ago from Sunny Spain Author

You are so right travmaj 'That's just the way it was and we got on with it.'

When just about everyone that you know lives in a similar way to you, then you don't question it, you get on with it :D

Thank you for commenting


Melanie Weiss (WARD) 13 months ago

I lived at 51 Havelock street Preston Lancs. Life was good everyone said Hello and look out for each other. Gave birth to my second child with the same midwife my mother had years before. Things are not the same in England. Now live in Newmarket Ontario Canada


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 13 months ago from Sunny Spain Author

Melanie that is so cool, I had the same Gynecologist as my mum did when she had my brother. He was a big bear of a man and frightened the life out of us both lol.. You are right things are not the same in England now, but then again everywhere in the world has moved on from those days. Not all the changes are for the better but some things are much better.

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