Cleaning and Polishing the Home

Continuing my Mum’s remembrances about how life used to be, here are her thoughts on cleaning the home.

One thing which I remember clearly is the making of our own furniture and floor polish. The only polish we could buy was called MANSION polish. I believe it could be in short supply and so we were taught to make our own. We grated beeswax into the empty Mansion polish tin and covered it with turpentine leaving it overnight to soften. If we had any brown shoe polish to spare a little of it was added to this mixture when it had softened and all ingredients stirred in well. The beeswax had soaked up the turpentine and was easily mixed to look like bought polish. It was applied to either the furniture or the floor and even tiles, rubbed in well with a lot of elbow grease and then it all had to be buffed with much elbow grease, so that it all shone with no smear marks. It was a very good way of avoiding “batwings”. This expression was unheard of in those days.

Mansion polish

Mansion polish

Dusters were made from old soft cotton vests of no longer use. Sometimes to make a soft polishing pad, the leg part of old socks were cut off from the well darned foot part and sewn up one end. Old bits of soft cotton material were used to fill that sock part and then the other end sewn up. It was easier to use that to buff the floor as it was not hard on the hands trying to polish with a scrap of cloth.

When I was in the boarding school we all had our jobs to do before breakfast. One girl, bigger and older than me, was responsible for polishing the boot-room floor (where we hung our coats and kept our shoes in a long row of individual lockers on which we sat to change our shoes). After putting on the polish by hand, she used a very heavy “donkey”, made of heavy iron, which was pushed back and forth with a thick cloth pad underneath which “buffed” the floor to a shine. There was an inbuilt felt pad but after it had been used after  so, so many times the bottom got flat and shiny and did not do it’s job so well.  So a cloth was tied around the head to be more effective.  The cloth was tied on to keep it in place and stop it flying off along the floor whilst pushing it in a backwards and forwards motion.

No bleach to put into toilets to keep them clean and white. It needed boiling hot water mixed with soda then poured into it and left to clean the toilet, or else hard scrubbing with the loo brush. Often the loo seats were unpainted and being made of wood it required scrubbing underneath and the top with very hot soda water and scrubbing brush to keep it clean and fresh. No rubber gloves those days to protect the hands from the harsh soda water. At home we had two toilets, one upstairs in the bathroom and the other one was an outside toilet which was joined to the house and guaranteed to freezing up completely in the bitter winter months and far too cold to be used.

There was no heating in kitchens, nor in the bathrooms unless my mother lit a paraffin stove to warm it first when we had baths. It meant that the lead pipes were prone to freezing solid and the plumber had to be called to repair the pipes that bulged and split when there was a thaw. He was in great demand at these times as it was normal for most homes to have lead pipes then.


Knitting and Sewing

Crafts are coming back into fashion again, but rather as a hobby than a necessity. In this post, my Mum looks back to the knitting and sewing during the war and post war years.

As it was after the World War Two, new clothes were not plentiful as they are today. Second hand shops, church hall sales or people wanting to sell on clothes no longer wanted, was the norm for those days. There were the clothes in shops but it was not the price that put people off from buying them but more so if they had enough “clothes coupons” left to buy anything. The local Post Office/shop at Weston would have a bit of everything to sell including tea sets, cutlery and men’s heavy working leather boots and shoes.

Go Through Your Wardrobe from the book Make Do and Mend

Go Through Your Wardrobe from the book Make Do and Mend

Sometimes my mother would send me bits of fabric to make things for the children. She was excellent at making things for them. At least she had a sewing machine. She would buy an old coat and from the best parts cut out and make warm coats for the children. That gave me the idea to make what I could make out of any fabrics of any old, but serviceable material. Even to making pinafores, with frilled edges, out of the backs of shirts when I could no longer use bits of it to replace the shirt collars when the original one was worn. The backs of shirts in those days had long tails to tuck well into the trousers for warmth. That tail end bit was sacrificed to make new collars using the old collar, carefully unpicked from where it was attached to the shirt, then pressed flat and used as an exact pattern. The difference being that I did not have a sewing machine. It called on all my skills in hand sewing, hemming, pleating, run-and-fell etc, that I had learned as a teenager. I was always proud of my results. It was quite a few years later that I acquired a sewing machine because my husband worked overtime when he could, and saved the money till he had enough. It was an old crank handle sewing machine that you had to keep turning. I was so grateful for that machine and it is a wonder I never wore it out with use. I realised then that I could buy dress patterns and make a new dress for myself which fitted better and with the length that I wanted.

I was also pleased too that as a little girl my mother insisted that I and my elder and younger sisters learned to knit. Being able to buy wool during the war years was a godsend as it meant having a nice warm jumper or cardigan for the winter. Wool was bought in skeins, not the ready-to-use balls of wool that we can buy today. It was mostly all 3ply wool. It took two to wind the wool – one with two hands apart with the skeins hooked over the back of the hand and between the closed fingers and thumbs. I know because I was the one holding the skeins up on aching arms whilst my big sister did the winding as she was more experienced with the winding than I was. After about the fourth skein I often protested and was allowed to rest my arms. Often the wool winding was done without a light on because of the blackout times. The wool was wound by the light of the coal fire which gave enough light to see by.

Our age and size determined how many stitches we cast on to make jumpers and how long the length had to be before it reached from waist to armpit and then the relief of having less stitches to work on after the armpit. The ribbing was my main bugbear. Often after reaching the required length of ribbing, my mother inspected it for mistakes. I always made mistakes and so the knitting was taken off the needles and the work pulled undone till it reached the mistake and then I had to thread the stitches back on again in the right order and do the unwound work all over again. I remember one day the postman bought a huge parcel for my mother. When she opened it, it was full of skeins of wool. It was a present from my father’s brother in Australia who had a sheep farm. The wool from the sheep was dyed and sold but he kept some of it back to send to us to make a jumper or cardigan each. In fact it made all of us each a matching jumper and cardigan for all 3 girls and for my mother. It did mean going through all the arm aching chore of holding the skeins for my big sister to wind.

How to Darn Holes and Tears from the book Make Do and Mend.

How to Darn Holes and Tears from the book Make Do and Mend.

I took full advantage of the ability to knit before and after our marriage, to be everlasting knitting for my growing family, the Matinee coats, bootee’s, little bonnets, jumpers, pullovers, gloves, woollen socks for adults, baby shawls, baby blankets, tea cosies (we used them in those days) and, in fact, anything that could be knitted because it was needed. It was a wonder I did not drive your father crazy with the incessant clicking of needles every evening when we sat down after the children went to bed. He never, ever, minded because he knew that I was doing everything I could to care for all the family needs in keeping them warm, neat and tidy. Many years later I did manage to buy a knitting machine but the results were not as good as hand knitted garments, so I sold it.

There was always the mending to do to patch up clothes. Another skill I learned as a teenager was the darning of socks and lisle stockings with the aid of a wooden “mushroom” which one would push inside the sock till the hole was located and then the hole was darned. Sometimes it meant darning over the previous darn or pulling the worn darn out and redoing it again which called for all my expertise so as not to pucker the material around the hole but for the material to lay nice and flat. If it was puckered it would rub the skin and cause a blister. Do we darn socks today? No way. We either discard them or buy socks that last.


Using and Cleaning the Kitchen Range

Continuing my Mum’s recollections of how life used to be for her, here are her thoughts on cleaning in the kitchen.

In the summer of my 5th year we moved from a small bungalow where we lived in Peel Common, just outside Fareham, Hampshire. It was very exciting because we moved by horse and cart. It was a huge shire horse and an open cart belonging to people who had befriended my Dad and Mum. The owner wanted to place me on the horse to have a ride but I recoiled from this huge animal. So, life started for us at 21 Beaconsfield Rd, Fareham.

Beaconsfield Road, Fareham

Beaconsfield Road, Fareham c.1959

It was huge after the small bungalow. No more bathing in the tin bath in front of the fire; Mum washing us and Dad drying us and helping us into our nightclothes. Instead, we now had a bathroom upstairs with a washbasin and a toilet. Hot water for the bath was obtained by lighting a gas water heater. Still only a cold water tap for the wash basin which meant we had to carry a kettle of hot water up the stairs to put in the basin when we just had washes. We had three bedrooms too, two large and one small.

Downstairs was the kitchen where we had a gas boiler for washing the clothes and a gas cooker but still only the cold water tap for the sink. There were fireplaces in the two bedrooms and the two rooms downstairs. It was a luxury after the bungalow. Dad always dug the garden to produce carrots, lettuce, potatoes, cabbages etc. There were rhubarb, raspberry, gooseberry and blackcurrant bushes. He also kept 2 ferrets to go rabbiting to eke out his money. Such a different life to when I married. I had never seen a black kitchen range till I saw one in the kitchen of my future mother-in-law, Mrs Clark.

An example of a kitchen range. (Photo from Join Me In The 1900s).

For us in the old thatched house, the toilet was a bucket in the outhouse. There was a tiny kitchen with the usual cold water tap at the sink and no cupboards to put things in. All hot water had to be got by boiling it on the black kitchen range. Some days it was so hard to light. If there was a damp wind that blew downwards it blew the smoke back down the chimney and into the room. Very often I ended up with a sooty face in trying to “draw” the fire to make it burn. Once a week the range had to be cleaned of all ashes and the soot scraped out from between the space between the top of the oven and the top of the range. A long narrow brush cleaned out the pipe which led from the range to up the chimney. I always got so dirty with the soot. I had to wash my hair (with Sunlight soap) have a wash from top to toe and change my clothes. I soon learned that it was easier to don one of your Dad’s all in one, boiler suits that he had for work in the winter, pile my hair on top of my head and pull one of his caps on over my hair. I still got a sooty face and even dirtier hands. By cleaning out the soot it was better when lighting the fire as it heated up the oven better and the top got hot more quickly for cooking with saucepans and heating the irons for ironing. When the cleaning out of the soot was finished the whole of the cold range was polished with Zebo. It was a special polish for ranges, which meant that after I rubbed the black liquid all over it, I had to use a lot of elbow grease in brushing the whole range using a special brush till it gleamed. I would stand back and admire my handiwork. The gleam only lasted for about two days as the heat from the fire soon dulled it all.

An example of a copper. (Photo from Join Me In The 1900s).

In the outhouse, as I explained before, was the copper to do the hot water for washing the clothes. When we wanted a bath, that copper had to be lit to get hot water for the tin bath that could be put in front of the warm range. It was quite something to empty out the bath afterwards. The empty tin bath was then carried outside and hung back up in the outhouse. Getting the hot water from the copper was a little easier for my mother-in-law as their copper was in an alcove in the kitchen near the range in their house (that was a modern arrangement). They also had a bath in the kitchen. It was still a lot of work for her as her family was much larger than ours. Then there was all the hot water she needed to do her large wash, get it dry and then iron it with irons heated on a Primus stove. On a good drying day, she would fill up her long line and then as it dried, put up more washing to dry. This she kept up all day till she got to the end of the pile of wet washing and then it was time to go and fetch the children from school in the village.

This is just a bit more of past life that was once mine too. How things have changed in our time to make life less of a drudgery.