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Working Class Life 1940’s and 50’s - The Scullery
Back in the 1940s and 50s most working class homes had a scullery. The scullery was sometimes also known as the back kitchen.
Scullery is an old fashioned word that is rarely heard these days. That is why I want to tell you a little about this small room. The scullery was the smallest room in the house it was around 9 or 10ft long by about 5ft wide. The Scullery was at the back of the house and had the back door in it which opened into our back yard.
Sculleries generally had a large sink, a brick copper and a cooker in them. In our working class neighbourhood some houses did not have indoor plumbing. Where a house had no water plumbed in there would be a communal tap situated somewhere in the shared back yard.
In the photo below you can see a woman filling up her kettle to make a cup of tea. The tap is outside her back door on a wall in the back yard. The area around the tap is very damp, in fact the whole wall looks damp and there is green mould on many of the bricks.
Woman filling kettle from tap in the back yard
Scullery sinks were usually located against the outside wall. This was so that any water that had to be carried in from outside only had to travel a short distance. Believe me this is important if you are the one having to carry the water in and out to the sink.
We were fortunate because the houses on our street all had a cold-water tap in the scullery. Our cold water tap was above the scullery sink.
If you are young you must find it hard to imagine how we managed with only one cold-water tap in the house. But because most of the people we knew only had a cold water tap too, we never thought anything about it. .
Those homes that did not have a cold-water tap indoors usually had access to a tap close by usually in a communal part of a back yard, or court area.
The outside tap was communal , and so many neighbours had to share the one outside tap.
Scullery sinks were usually located against the outside wall. This was so that any water that had to be brought in from outside only had to travel a short distance. This is important if you are the one having to carry the water in and out to the sink.
We were fortunate and the houses on our street all had a cold-water tap in the scullery. Our cold water tap was above the scullery sink like the one in the photograph.
The scullery sink was where all the washing took place. We washed everything in that sink. We washed pots and pans, cups and saucers etc in the scullery sink. We also did all the hand washed woollens and delicate fabrics in that sink. It was also where we would wash ourselves.
The sinks were very big so it would take a lot of water to use. So when washing the pots or washing yourself you would usually use a small bowl that would sit in the the sink.
We used a yellow enamel bowl and that was much easier to fill with hot water than the large kitchen sink. Because we used such a lot of water in the scullery, on washday's particularly, the floor could get very wet.
Water would go on to the floor as we moved the wet washing from dolly tub to the sink. Or when we moved washing from the big copper to the sink to rinse.
So the scullery and pantry floors had solid floors, ours had red terracotta tiles. Winter or summer these tiles always felt cold, the tiles seemed to radiate the cold.
Scullery Sink with Enamel Washing up bowl
Yellow Enamel Bowl
We did not feel hard done by
Contrary to what you might think, we did not feel hard done by or lacking, by only having a cold-water tap. We just did not know anything different, and most of our parents if they knew anything different, it was usually worse.
My home was a two up two down terraced house, as were most of the homes in our neighbour hood. Even within a working class district there was a noticeable difference between some of the streets. Some streets were poorer looking than the one I lived on, and some looked a little posher.
No matter what kind of street you lived on, back then, your house would still most likely have had only one a cold water tap indoors.
We didn't have a mat in the scullery but we did have like a slatted wood mat. So when you were stood for any length of time at the sink your feet didn't get so damp and cold.
The scullery floor was about 5 or 6 inches lower than the downstairs floors. So you stepped down into the scullery from the living room.
The scullery sink was also where we woule peel and prepare vegetables ready for cooking. The water from the scullery sink ran out through a short length of pipe. The pipe came out of the wall into the back yard and emptied into a small grate.
This worked well, because the pipe only had to travel a short distance. So if the scullery sink got blocked, as it some times did, the amount of pipe to unblock was not very long.
To the right of the sink was a slightly sloping draining board that you put what ever you had been washing to drain. The draining board was attached to the sink at one end and to the edge of the brick built copper at the other end.
Slattered Wooden Mat
Having only a cold-tap, meant that whenever we needed hot water for something, we had to heat it some way. When I was young, we had a small kitchen range in the living room.
When the range was lit, my mam would put a large kettle filled with water, on the range, to heat up.
In the summer months when there was often no fire, we could not use the range to heat any water. When there was no fire, then we use the gas stove in the scullery to heat water
All our personal daily bathing would take place in the scullery in this sink, while we were small enough this sink also served as our bath. My mam bathed us in the scullery sink until we were about three or four years old, the sinks were quite large and easily held us.
The scullery sink served us well as a bath, up until we were too big for my mam to lift us up and put us in the sink.
Every morning everyone would have a wash at the scullery sink. This morning wash usually only involved washing our hands and faces.
Because the scullery sinks were so big, we had a yellow enamel washing-up bowl like the one in the photo above. This enamel bowl was what we used to hold the water for our wash, and we also used this bowl to wash our pots in.
Off the scullery was a small pantry, both of these rooms had red terracota tiled floors. We would clean the tiles with cardinal floor polish.
Shaving with a cut-throat razor
We heated our hot water on the gas stove, which was opposite the sink. The scullery was so narrow that you only had to turn around from the sink to use the gas stove.
Above the sink hanging from a small hook on the wall was a small mirror that my dad used when he had his shave.
When I was young my dad had a cut-throat razor, which he use to sharpen on a leather strop, which hung on a hook in the scullery.
I use to love watching my dad shave, he had a soft brush that he would apply his shaving soap to his face with.
The two silver tubes on the photo to the right, looked like the ones that my dad had, these tubes held the stick of shaving soap.
I think that cut-throat razors were not easy things to use, because I can remember my dad’s face often had tiny bits of newspaper stuck on.
Dad would put these tiny bits of paper to help dry up the blood where he had accidentally nicked himself while shaving.
I remember when my dad changed over to a safety razor, his face ceased to have those tiny bits of paper adorning it after he had his shave.
My dad was proud of his new safety razor, it was a Rolls Razor. This Rolls razor came in its own silver coloured case and in the bottom of the case, it had a small built in strop. Dad sharpened the blade of his new razor on this strop, just as he had sharpened the old cut-throat razor.
My Dad and Mam
A Terrible Accident in the scullery
I remember when I was about three or four years old, going into the scullery as dad was preparing to have a shave.
Dad had just turned to the gas stove to take off the kettle, which had just begun to boil. Dad lifted the kettle off the stove to pour the boiling water into the enamel bowl in the sink ready for his wash and shave.
Our kettle was a big metal kettle and the handle would become quite hot when we heated water in it.
My mam always used a padded material potholder to pick up the hot kettle with, but my dad didn’t use anything. Dad always just picked the hot kettle up with his bare hands, and emptied it quick before the heat from the handle burned his hand.
This day my dad swung round to the sink and began pouring the scalding water straight into the bowl. The only problem was, I had come in behind him when he turned to the gas stove, to pick up the kettle. As he turned back he did not see me there, and I had my little arms dangling over the sink.
I am not sure now, why I was dangling my arms over the edge of the sink. I must have had a reason, but goodness knows what that reason was, and sixty plus years later, I have no idea why.
By the time my dad realised I was there, he had poured the scalding water from the kettle into the bowl in the sink. Unfortunately, most of that scalding water went over my little bare arms too.
Within seconds, the scalding water had covered my little arms in big blisters. My poor dad almost fainted when he saw what he had done. Dad was not good at dealing with us when we were hurt in any way, and that task usually fell to mam to do.
I can remember my dad took me up to the hospital by bus. The trolley bus had two long seats facing each other near the entrance in the bus and we sat on one of them.
Soon people were talking about the little girl with burns on her arms. Even this young I could talk the hind legs off a donkey. Soon I was telling the people on the bus how my dad had poured the boiling water over me, much to his embarrassment.
My poor dad was having trouble dealing with what had happened to me. Now thanks to me,, he found himself having to explain to a bus-load of strangers what had really happened.
The burns caused by the scalding water. healed quickly, and left no scars behind. I think I had no scarring because my dad had poured cold water onto my arms immediately afterwards.
Having a strip wash
Every day we had a wash at that scullery sink. Usually we would just wash our hands and face, but every few days you had to have what my mum would call a strip wash.
I hated having a strip wash, so having to have a strip wash was not something that I looked forward at all. I especially hated a strip wash in the winter, because there was no heating in the scullery.
For a strip wash, I would strip down to my liberty bodice and knickers. Then using a flannel made soapy with Lifebuoy toilet soap, my mam would wash every piece of exposed flesh that she could see.
I kept my eyes tight shut when my mam washed my face because if the Lifebuoy soap suds got into your eyes it stung.
While my mam was just about rubbing the skin off the top half of my body, my bare feet would be freezing from standing on those icy cold pan tiles. After my mam felt that, she had taken every bit of dirt that she could see with her naked eye, off the top half of my body, she would then towel me dry.
Although in reality I was not standing there long before my mam finished towelling me dry, it seemed like it took her ages.
It was the length of time between mam washing me down with the soapy flannel and rinsing the soap off that I really hated. It was then that my little body felt like it was going into hypothermia.
When my mam had finished doing the top half of me then she would put the enamel bowl on the scullery floor and make me stand in it. This of course only lasted only as long my feet were small enough to fit in the enamel bowl.
Standing in the enamel bowl made it much easier for my mam to wash and rinse my legs without getting water all over the floor. I always felt cold when having a strip wash, and because of this, I did not like having to have a strip wash at all.
Jug and Bowl set
Wash Bowl and Jug Set
I remember in my bedroom, and in my mam and dad's bedroom, there was a wash-bowl and jug set. The only time that I remember when we used either of these water bowl and jug sets was when someone was ill and confined to bed.
If we were sick then my mam would fill the jug with hot water. Mam would bring the jug up to the bedroom and pour the hot water into the bowl, and she would give us a wash in bed.
Most of the time the wash-bowl and jug set were just decorative pieces that sat on top of the chest of drawers in the bedroom. I liked the one in my bedroom I thought that it was pretty.
For those of you who have managed to read this hub this far, a big thank you. I hope that you have enjoyed a small peek into my past.
I know that I have enjoyed sharing this brief glimpse of life back then with you. I would love to hear any of your stories about life before all these modern conveniences became the norm.
I would love it if you were able to share some of your own reminisces in my comments. When you leave your own stories as comment, it enhances the post and everyone’s enjoyment.
In conclusion, I just want to tell you all that I had a happy childhood. But, as you have read for yourself, it was not because of those strip washes in the scullery.
I was glad when we had a gas ascot put in the scullery it certainly made life a lot easier for my mam, and by that time, I could take care of myself when it came time for a strip wash.
How did we manage when it came to having a bath? Well if you want to find out you will have to read my next hub.