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The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as a young child

The 1940s suburban house:
facilities for ironing

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The electric iron

Basic electric iron, as used in 1940s England

Early electric iron, photographed in the Bakelite Museum.

In the 1940s and early 1950s my mother used an electric iron, which was a far cry from the old flat irons that she had been used to before she was married, which had to be heated on the kitchen range. Sometime in the 1950s, when it stopped working, she was persuaded to buy a newer version which was thermostated, but as far as I know, her early electric iron wasn't. She had to keep testing it in the time-honoured way of dabbing it with a licked finger and judging its temperature from the sound it made.

It was a very basic iron, just like the one in the photo. Not only was there no thermostat, there was also no mechanism for damping the clothes. So again, my mother had to use the time-honoured way of catching the clothes on the line when they were not quite dry and rolling them up to keep that moisture in.

The flex was coated with rubber.

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The electricity supply for the iron

Early ceiling adapter to take an electric iron as well as a light bulb, standard in 1940s England and possibly before

Early ceiling adapter to take an electric iron as well as a light bulb. Photo courtesy of Desmond Dyer.

Electric irons were not plugged into wall sockets, but into the ceiling socket of the light bulb. There were special adapters so that a light bulb could receive power from one side and the iron (or other electrical device) from the other.

Old round pin electric plug for a wall socket, 1940s and 1950s UK

Round pin electric plug for a wall socket, found in my mother's effects.

I am not sure why this was, but can say that the lead, coming as it did, from high up, kept well out of the way of the iron and the clothes. I understand, though, that there was some trouble with overloading the electric system so that the fuse burnt out.

I only have a vague memory of the ceiling adapter, as later on the irons were fitted with the round pin wall plug that fitted into wall sockets. At that time, no electrical devices were sold with plugs attached. Everyone had to buy plugs separately and fit them themselves.

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The ironing board

Ironing boards had wooden frames - not that my mother ever possessed such a thing. Like her mother before her, she used an old blanket, folded to pad it out, with an old sheet on top, on the kitchen table.

Old ironing board on a wooden frame, as used before plastics and plastic coatings became common place

Ironing board on a wooden frame. Photographed at Fagans Museum of Welsh Life.

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The clothes horse

My mother used a clothes horse to hang the ironed clothes over. It too had a wooden frame.

Old wooden clothes horse, as used before plastics and plastic coatings became common place

Clothes horse on a wooden frame. Photographed at the Black Country Museum.