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Working Class Life 1940’s and 50’s - A Wash at the Scullery Sink

Updated on February 5, 2015

Cold Water Tap


Indoor Plumbing

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


Scullery Sink

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.



Rolls Razor


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.

Pot holders


My Dad and Mam

My lovely mam and dad outside the back door
My lovely mam and dad outside the back door | Source

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.

Liberty Bodice


Lifebuoy Soap


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.

Thank You

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

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.


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    • maggs224 profile image

      maggs224 3 years ago from Sunny Spain

      It sounds like you had a wonderful night. I remember the first time I read the book I couldn't put it down. It is not much different now it is still a rivetting book to read and we'll both probably reading it still for the next thirty lol...

    • jandee profile image

      jandee 3 years ago from Liverpool.U.K

      Maggs,about ten years ago I was listening to Radio Merseyside-The Billy Mars show. He did a little phone in competition and two questions were asked ,what was my favourite book ,how many times had I read it ?

      I answered that It was 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' and I was still reading it after 30 years. Outcome was I won a meal for Two in a lovely French Restaurant(my husband started to play the piano and they enjoyed it so much they waived the charge for our guests meal-she was on a visit from Jersey,my sister-in -law.( Restaurant was close to the cavern,Button lane) best from jandee..

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 3 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama


      Thank you so very much for your warm wish. I hope that you and your family have the BEST Thanksgiving and Christmas season EVER.

      But I need one thing from you: Keep in touch with me. Thanks.

    • maggs224 profile image

      maggs224 3 years ago from Sunny Spain

      Thank you Kenneth, I hope that you and your family will have a joyous Thanksgiving too. I shall be in the States for Thanksgiving visiting my daughter, it will be my first time in the States at Thanksgiving. I have spent quite a few Christmases and New Years but never a Thanksgiving before, so I am looking forward to this new experience.

    • maggs224 profile image

      maggs224 3 years ago from Sunny Spain

      Thank you so much for commenting Rochelle I am so pleased that you enjoyed a peek into my past. You are certainly right, life has change a lot since those days.

      I don't miss the outside toilet or having to rely on a single cold water tap, but there are some things that I do miss :D

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 3 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama


      I hope that you and yours have a joyous Thanksgiving and you keep on turning out wonderful hubs like this.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 3 years ago from California Gold Country

      What a wonderful remembrance of your young days! You described it so well.

      I think, when we are young, we think of or circumstance as "normal". I'm sure your parents were very glad to have an indoor water tap. From their photo, they look like lovely people, and they obviously cared for you very well.

      When I was young, we lived for a few years in an old apartment house that my grandfather had built in 1916. There was a bathroom that had been added on in later years, and most of the electrical wiring, for lights, was on the outside of the house-- since that convenience had been added years later.

      How life has changed.

    • maggs224 profile image

      maggs224 3 years ago from Sunny Spain

      likewise jandee and that sound about right as I am often on jabo's bubbles. I actually met up with Janet (jabo) when she came to Spain on holiday earlier this year :D

    • jandee profile image

      jandee 3 years ago from Liverpool.U.K

      maggs,Lovely to meet a 'Ragged' fan ! Thanks! I think I met you through reading one of jabos lovely pieces.

      best from jandee

    • maggs224 profile image

      maggs224 3 years ago from Sunny Spain

      @jandee Thank you so much for your lovely comment, I am so pleased that you enjoyed reading my hub. I love your profile comment, I too am a big fan of the 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' it has to be one of my favourite books.

      Like you I never get tired of reading it. I see something new each time. Sorry I have taken so long to respond I am not on Hubpages very often these days though I do keep meaning to get back and write some more Hubs lol...

    • jandee profile image

      jandee 3 years ago from Liverpool.U.K

      Hello Maggs, I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed your story of the olde days,absolutely accurate,not my life but my cousins ! My mums youngest sister had 10 children,their father was a plumber and they had a toilet which was reached by going down the basement stairs,the toilet never worked !! Summer hols. the 3 elder girls stayed with us in our very modern house which was close to Ringway airport (Manchester Airport now)

      They tell me these days, that those six week long holidays was like going to wonderland ,with all the wonderful woods &countryside to freely wander in, after the life in the poor areas that you so competently described.. your write was a treat indeed for us nostalgia freaks,

      best regards ,


    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 3 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama


      I share the same opinion about you. It is my pleasure to meet you and I do look forward to reading more of your works like this for they are a door open back to when my life was very simple and really adventurous.

      Thanks too, for the following. That in itself, means the world to me.

      Have a Peaceful night and

      keep in touch with me.


    • maggs224 profile image

      maggs224 3 years ago from Sunny Spain

      I can see that you and I are alike in many respects Kenneth, getting carried away easily is one of them, and fond memories of cherished times is another.

      It is real nice to make your acquaintance Kenneth and I look forward to getting to know you through your Hubs

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 3 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama


      Great! I did have a great time reading this work for it carried me back ever so gently to those simple times that I thought would never end and my loved ones, parents, sister, would live forever.

      Back then I cherished each sunrise and each sunset.

      Threw myself into each adventure every kid should experience--feeding our livestock, getting dirty, having imaginary "wars: with Indians and monsters, it was time, 1955, that we almost starved to death--even then in our county in northwest Alabama, Marion, jobs were scarce, but if you had fifty-bucks, you could "buy" a job from our state representative who owned the country because of his wealth and power.

      My dad swallowed his pride and talked with him. I never knew of this guy gave him a job, but not long after they talked, my dad laid down his share cropping that he loved, to work in a machine shop in a nearby town.

      I get carried away easily as you can see.

      Welcome back to HubPages. I wish you the Very Best.

    • maggs224 profile image

      maggs224 3 years ago from Sunny Spain

      Hi Kenneth,

      What a wonderful comment to find on one of my hubs, it was a delight to read, just one comment like yours is enough to make me want to write another one lol...

      I have been away from Hubpages recently busy on other sites but I think after reading a wonderful comment like yours I have been away too long and it is time to get back to writing Hubs once again. Thank you for the kindness you have shown me in this comment and for the encouragement it has given me. Thank you also for the vote up and hitting the buttons

      I shall be over to see you soon

      Maggie :D

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 3 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama


      What memories this brings back to me. I am from a sharecropper's family. This is where a man does the work and farms the land for the owner and gets a share of the harvest for his own and my dad did this for years.

      I was so poor that we thought the entire world was poor.

      And to have hot water meant heat it on the stove.

      I enjoyed this hub so much.

      This is an excellent piece of writing. Amazing, to be perfectly-honest.

      I loved every word--and the lay-out was superb. Interesting, in-depth,

      helpful, and very informative. Great job.

      Voted up and all the choices because you deserve it.

      You have such a gift for writing.


      Kenneth Avery, Hamilton, Alabama

    • maggs224 profile image

      maggs224 3 years ago from Sunny Spain

      TurtleDog thank you for your comment, yes it was a much simpler life style and as you say in some areas physically much harder than it is today, and those big sinks are cool :D

    • profile image

      sheilamyers 3 years ago

      Maggs: You're very welcome. I really do enjoy reading history from the perspective of the working class, common soldier, etc. I think they're more likely to point out the hardships and mistakes instead of only the more positive aspects of life. I look forward to reading more of your hubs.

    • maggs224 profile image

      maggs224 3 years ago from Sunny Spain

      @sheilamyers Thank you for your lovely comment, my aim in writing these series of hubs about working class life in the 40s and 50s is precisely for the reasons you mention in your last sentence.

      The ordinary everyday lives of normal people doing normal things, are not the stuff of our history books, and I felt that I want to to leave a glimpse into working class life, and your comment has thrilled me to know that at least in your case I had achieve what I set out to do. So thank you very much for your comment :D

    • maggs224 profile image

      maggs224 3 years ago from Sunny Spain

      Thank you Eddy for your vote up and share, I am glad you enjoyed the hub and I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

    • TurtleDog profile image

      TurtleDog 3 years ago

      Great post. A much more simple life in some ways, more difficult in others. I'd love to have that scullery sink in my home by the way. Love the look :-) Voted up

    • profile image

      sheilamyers 3 years ago

      I really enjoyed reading this hub. I'm young enough that we had all the indoor plumbing and hot water heaters; however, I know my grandparents or great-grandparents probably experienced the same thing as you. With all the questions I asked them about the family history, I never thought to ask them about this kind of thing. I'm glad you wrote this hub so I can get a glimpse of not only your life, but the lives of my family's past generations.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

      Interesting and very useful ; voted up and shared.