Working Class Life 1940’s and 50’s - A Wash at the Scullery Sink
Cold Water Tap
Back in the forties and early fifties one cold water tap in the scullery was all that most working class homes had.
Back then there were still quite a lots of homes that were not fortunate enough even to have a cold-water tap indoors.
Our cold water tap was above the big sink in the scullery, this tap was the only running water inside the house.
If you are young you must find it hard to imagine how we managed with only one cold-water tap in the house. 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 a tap outside in a communal part of a back yard, or court area.
The outside tap was communal , and many neighbours had to share the outside tap.
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.
Scullery Sink with Enamel Washing up bowl
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 an 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.
The scullery or as it was sometimes called the back kitchen, was only a small room, maybe about eight or nine feet by about seven. Off the scullery was a small pantry, both of these rooms had red pan tiled floors. We would clean the pan tiles with cardinal floor polish; we never had any mats or carpet in the scullery or pantry just bare tiles.
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.