logo - Join me in the 1900s early C20th
Florence Cole as a child

Mondays: drying the weekly wash
in good weather, early 1900s

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Wooden clothes prop made from a sawn-off branch of a tree, raising the washing line up high to catch the wind.

Wooden clothes prop made from a sawn-off branch of a tree, raising the washing line up high to catch the wind - photographed at Telford Rural Life Centre. My mother's recollections of the early 1900s would have put the shirt the other way up with the collar folded and pegged over the line. Pat Cryer

When I was a child in the early 1900s, the washing was always dried outside in the garden, provided the weather was reasonably fine. The rule of thumb seemed to be that if the pavements were dry and if there were no heavy clouds in the sky, out went the washing.

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The clothes line

The washing was taken out into the garden in a cane basket. Then it was pegged onto clothes lines that were simply lengths of thin rope, slung between trees or hooks in the garden.

My mother and her next door neighbour would often find themselves in their gardens at the same time on Monday washday, and they would give one another cups of tea over the fence. I don't think there was time for much chatting.

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The pegs

The pegs were what were known as 'gypsy clothes pegs' because gypsies made them and came round knocking at front doors selling them.

Old gypsy Clothes pegs for pegging washing onto lines to dry.

Clothes pegs, known as 'gypsy clothes pegs' because gypsies made them and came round knocking at front doors selling them. Pegs were made of pieces of split wood held together with a nailed-on strip of tin can.

Each peg was made from a piece of wood, split lengthways and held together with a nailed-on strip of tin can.

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How the washing was pegged

Each item of the wash had to be pegged in such a way that the wind would blow through it to blow out the creases. This was to make Tuesday's ironing easier. The collars of shirts would be bent taut over the line and pegged where the collar met the rest of the shirt, and pillowcases would be pegged at the open end loosely and on one side only so that they would billow out as the wind blew through them. Sheets were folded double and pegged at each end, with one side pegged taut along its whole length and the other side sagging slightly.

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The clothes prop

Once the clothes were pegged into position, the lines were propped up high in the air with wooden props so as to catch the wind.

Wooden clothes prop with planed sides and a notch at the top

A wooden clothes prop with planed sides and a notch at the top. Note the wicker work clothes basket.

Specially made props could be bought. Such a prop was a length of wood between nine and twelve feet long and about an inch and a half square with a slot in the top to hold the rope.

Some women, though, tended to use a suitably sawn-off forked trunk or branch of a small tree, as shown in the top photo, but these could be dirty to handle. They were most common in rural areas.

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Taking the washing down

When the washing was reasonably dry, it was brought in and folded. If the wind had blown the sheets or tablecloths out of shape, I had to hold them while my mother tugged them back. With her greater strength, she would often pull them out of my hands. This made her very cross, and she would say, "Haven't you got any gumption?" I only learnt later much later that gumption meant energy and commitment. Yes, I did have gumption, but I was a few stones lighter than she was.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster

The whites were rolled up while they were slightly damp, ready for ironing the next day, and if they were too dry my mother would sprinkle them with water first.

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Tidying up

The pegs were taken off the line and stored in the peg bag, the line was coiled and hung up in the yard and the clothes prop was lent against the house

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