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Before the arrival of spin dryers around the 1950s, all but the very poorest of households had a mangle. It was used on washday to remove the majority of the water from the wash after washing and after each rinse.
The mangle was a heavy contraption about four or five feet high with a handle that turned two rollers. Wet items were fed through the rollers which squeezed out the water into a bowl underneath.
There was a screw on top of the mangle to adjust the distance between the rollers according to the thickness of the fabric. For blankets, for example, the screw was let out as far as possible.
As the mangle was so large and took up so much room, it was kept outside the back door with a sheet of tarpaulin over it to protect it from the weather. This was usual practice in the Victorian terraces where I grew up in the early 1900s. (Later when I was married, mangles were smaller and mine fitted in to the kitchen of my 1930s/1940s house.)
In good weather the mangling could be done outside where the mangle stood, but in bad weather it had to be rolled indoors, into the scullery.
Small clothes like socks could go through the rollers as they were, but larger items had to be folded into strips which were narrow enough to go through the rollers.
For sheets and blankets this folding was a two-person job, with one person at each end of the sheet or blanket, and care had to be taken to keep the sheet or blanket off the floor. If no-one was available to help, the pegs on the clothes line could replace of the second person.
When my brothers and I came home from school for our mid-day meal, mangling was still in progress. A lot of energy was needed for it, and I had to help by holding the sheets as straight as I could while my mother turned the handle of the mangle. It was by no means unusual for children to get their fingers caught in the rollers.
When the items had gone through the rollers, they almost looked as if they had been ironed already, but there were still quite damp.
In the 1940s, while I was growing up, it was not unusual to see people with broken buttons, almost certainly because someone had risked using the mangle on them.
Pat Cryer, webmaster
As there were no zips, clothes fastened with buttons. Some were extremely decorative, but the problem was that they would not go through the rollers of the mangle.
Sometimes, women risked it, rather than having to wring the water out by hand, but then the buttons invariably chipped under the pressure of the rollers, even with the top adjustment loosened.
So buttons on clothes that were often washed, particularly on men's shirts, were made of woven linen so that they wouldn't break under the pressure of the mangle rollers.
Clothes like heavy overalls needed heavier buttons. The solution was to have buttons with metal shanks which, rather than being sewn in place, were poked through small holes and held in place with studs or clips. The clips were rather like short hair grips. Then every time that the item was washed, the buttons were removed and then clipped back into place afterwards. The holes for the shanks were sewn just like regular button holes except that they were much smaller and round.