Beattie’s Laundry in Widford

THIS ARTICLE is extracted from Mrs Beattie Dorken’s original that appeared in Widford’s parish magazine many years ago.  It is now part of the Widford Archives. As a three-year-old in 1900 Beattie Hatton came with her parents and six older siblings to live in the White Swan (in the photograph, with the thatched barn that was used as a bowling alley – now Swan House and Swan Barn).  Her father ran the pub and also did a fish round. Her sister Jennie went off to learn the laundry trade and in 1904 the family set up in business, moving to Medcalf Hill in 1927.  The laundry ran in Widford for 46 years, and then for another four in Hunsdon, before it finally closed down in 1954.

LaundryDIRTY CLOTHES were collected in hampers from the larger houses in the area. I can remember there used to be four or five from Blakesware.   Water had to be fetched from the river, down Pegs Lane, in a large tank on four wheels pulled by a horse. We used to get port wine barrels from Benskins Brewery in Bishop’s Stortford, and saw them in half to make large tubs in which to soak the clothes. Soap flakes were made by shredding up large 3lb blocks of bar soap. The clothes were then ‘possed’ (pushed down) with a poss stick. After soaking they were wrung out and anything that was extra dirty was taken to be scrubbed. All clothes were then put in the copper, which had been lit earlier in the morning, and boiled up with soda and soap flakes.   Then they were carried on racks to the rinsing tubs which were divided into two parts with a wringer in the middle. After the first rinse they were wrung out before going into the second rinse in clearer water. If it was fine they were dried on the drying meadow opposite the Drill Hall [where Bell Lane houses are now], with sheets etc just laid flat on the ground. If it was wet they had to be hung indoors on lines and clothes horses round the hot stove. I remember once the collar of a silk blouse, belonging to a very fussy lady, got too close and got singed. A friend of mine bought some material and made a new collar, and the owner was never any the wiser! Before drying, the clothes had been sorted out for those needing starching. Stiff fronted dress shirts needed cold water starch and had to be absolutely dry beforehand or they would ‘blister’ (the top layer of material coming up in little bumps) when ironed. These stiff fronts and collars were polished with a little round polishing iron and the collars had to be ‘curled’. Laundry2 I could iron and polish a dress shirt when I was eleven years old and it took about half an hour to do. All the frills and lace on petticoats, bonnets, baby clothes etc had to be dipped carefully in starch and then pressed with ‘goffering’ tongs.  We had about twenty irons, each weighing between 10 – 12 lbs, all heating up on ledges round the ironing stove.  Long ironing benches were covered in cotton cloth with felt underneath and we lubricated the irons with bees’ wax.   The linen table cloths, several yards long, were difficult to do and were jobs for my brother Jim and Mr Bert Groom.  I once counted and found I did two hundred shirts in a day! After the ironing and folding, all the clothes had to be put back in their respective hampers. Not always easy if you had 200 to 300 handkerchiefs all looking alike! Some of the prices I remember: Pillowcase ½d, Sheet and Ordinary Shirt 2d, Blouse 3d; stiff fronted Dress Shirt 4d